We are told, 'The just (upright) shall live by faith.' So I have a question for the Christians here. How do you understand faith? This does not have to be strictly biblical (since the scripture does not interpret itself, except where it really explicitly does so) but can also use anecdotal, philosophical or logical proofs/reasons for your explanation.

A good definition an agnostic gave me once was, 'A strong trust in someone or something'.

Consider the following two sided propositions:

Does faith refer to a blind acceptance?

  • We are often told, no, and consider the case of Gideon, but --
  • Job is told he does not understand -- he is expected to accept the goodness of God without an explanation he can grasp

Is faith rational?

  • In some cases, we are told yes, consider the phrase, 'a reason to believe'... but --
  • Abraham is asked to do something wrong on orders from God; that he really will go through with it is met with 'Now I know that you are faithful.'

Does faith itself save a person?

  • John 3:16 suggests this, as do some of Jesus' words, but --
  • We are repeatedly told, 'Those who endure until the end shall be saved.'

Is faith a work?

  • In some traditions, faith is contrasted against works, but --
  • James the Just tells us 'faith without works is dead' and in another place equates Abrahams faith and works ('see how he was justified by works...') and indeed many passages where we have the word 'faith', it is really 'faithing', i.e. trusting, meaning something active: a work.

Is doubt a sin, or at least, the lack of faith?

  • Jesus warns against doubt as does James the Just, but --
  • The Apostle Thomas is in our tradition lauded for his doubt ('the precious doubt of Thomas' it is called) and we are also confronted with a contradiction where the man in the Gospels says, 'I believe, help my unbelief' - suggesting doubt and faith can coexist.

Is faith a source of knowledge?

  • Paul suggests so 'evidence of things not seen'
  • But we have numerous examples where faith itself is only a substitute for knowledge (for example, Abraham's case.)

What is the 'faith of Christ' (pisteis Christou)?

  • Some suggest it is Christ's faith, i.e. his personal faith, but
  • The verbiage is vague, and may be interpreted as 'faith in Christ', i.e. believing in him.

We use faith generically, but is this even correct?

  • Is having faith in Christ the same as having faith that space aliens exist?
  • or does our definition of 'faith' implicitly include the object of that faith?

Is it possible to overemphasize faith, as opposed to questioning?

  • On the one hand, we are told we must enter the Kingdom as little children: that's radical acceptance
  • We are also told that false Christs will come with false signs and to test all of the spirits. That seems like pretty radical skepticism there.

You may either answer personally or for your tradition, or for another person's interpretation. But most of all, I'm hoping to find a consensus on some if not all of these points. It does not have to be either/or, it can be both/and, but if so, why?

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    We'll need a mod's input, but I think that even though these are all very good questions and they are related to the topic of 'faith,' this seems like a shotgun approach to asking the questions. Most of these should be their own question. Otherwise, you will blend very good answers to one question with poor answers (or no attempt at an answer) to another, and what exactly would we be up or down voting for the text in an answer? It also makes comparing one answer to another very difficult. Apr 20, 2012 at 14:23
  • I think there can be a unitary answer to all of this, but those are all aspects that need to be covered by the answer, even if implicitly. So quoting a single scripture is insufficient (since there is difference between scriptures on the matter.)
    – user304
    Apr 20, 2012 at 15:47
  • It sounds like this is just asking for a more in depth answer to What is Faith. Or am I missing something and you are after something different?
    – jimreed
    Apr 20, 2012 at 17:01
  • I'm asking for a definition which answers my questions, which include questions often posed by agnostics and atheists about faith. Most answers are fragmentary on the topic, like asking 'what is the Nous'?
    – user304
    Apr 20, 2012 at 17:04
  • 3
    Case in point, Greg McNulty's answer. It doesn't answer most of what you've asked, it gives a cute little saying that is mostly meaningless unless you already know what it means, it gives an explanation that explains nothing, then it quotes scripture regarding where the Holy Spirit is and how He got there, with no reference at all to what it has to do with faith. These are the types of answers we will get with this approach to questioning. (No offense meant, Greg. I don't even disagree with you) Apr 20, 2012 at 17:16

4 Answers 4


Faith is the conviction and acceptance of what God has revealed to you. Faith persists even when challenged or confronted with reasons to not accept what God has revealed to you.

The object of Christian faith is always God. Christian faith is not blind or baseless, rather it derives it's strength and endurance from it's source: God.

Since faith is based on God's revelation, it outweighs any other form of evidence that one may base a conclusion on. It may coexist with doubt when doubt is caused by some evidence contrary to what God has revealed, but faith will always win out.

  • nice........... Apr 20, 2012 at 18:39
  • Eloquent and accurate. +1
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 21, 2012 at 4:56
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    I like this answer, but it still doesn't quite address two points: 1. Abraham following orders that are ostensibly wicked, 2. The Faith of/in Jesus Christ. Does faith reach then, beyond the revelation itself in some way? And what is the significance of Jesus Christ here, as opposed to the generic term 'God'?
    – user304
    Apr 23, 2012 at 19:45

Regarding the faith of Job and Abraham, remember that the tests of faith that they underwent, for both men, came towards the end of their lives, not the beginning. For both, this trial was the keystone of a long career of living and learning by faith.

It's not unlike having a close friend, who you have known for many years and who has always dealt fairly with you, and then one day this friend asks something very strange or difficult of you. You have no rational way of knowing that it won't turn out badly, but your years of experience tell you that he has never let you down before. So, do you choose to put your faith in your friend, or to listen to doubts and fears?

We know from the promise made in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God would not have allowed such trials to come upon an someone whose faith was not strong enough to withstand it. And yet, that's all that it is: potential. They still both had their free will, and could have chosen to turn away. (And some people do. Contrast Abraham and Job with such luminaries as Saul, David and Solomon, each of whom was highly favored of the Lord, but fell to temptation anyway, leading Israel to ruin. Perhaps, had someone chosen differently at some point, we would remember his name instead of Abraham's today.)

As for faith, works and salvation, you mention James's exhortation that faith without works is dead. A more full explanation is given by the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7: 16-27, he makes several important points, one right after the other:

  • By their fruits (outward works that a person brings forth) ye shall know them
  • Not everyone who acknowledges Jesus as the Lord will be saved, but those who do the will of God.
  • The previous point notwithstanding, there will be many who do great works, ostensibly in Jesus's name, that he does not recognize at the last day because he never knew them (which, considering God's omniscience, should probably not be understood literally, but as the converse: they never knew him) and thus he counts their works as iniquity.
  • He who hears his words and acts upon them shall be counted as a wise man who builds his home upon a solid foundation that can withstand rough weather, whereas he who hears and does not act accordingly shall be likened unto a foolish man.

So clearly a person's works are very important, but with the caveat that if a person's good works are driven by hypocrisy and do not come from knowing the Lord, they don't count as far as he's concerned. This is in line with Paul's teaching that the works of the Law (meaning the Mosaic law) cannot bring salvation (as the Pharisees believed) because there is no faith behind them and salvation comes through faith. But as James and Jesus both point out, faith without actually acting upon it is useless.

This isn't a particularly strange concept. We're familiar with any number of pairs that are only helpful when used together. A car and its fuel, an electronic device and electricity, the left and right oars of a rowboat, a man and a woman, and so forth. Each one is far more useful with its complement than without, and so it is with faith and works. They work together to accomplish salvation, but are both powerless on their own.

Is faith a source of knowledge? It seems more that, as a form of trust in God, it is the result of knowledge. This sort of goes back to the first point. As we know that he has always been true in things we do understand, we can believe that he will be true in things we do not understand, (and thus have to accept on faith,) and act on this belief to make righteous decisions.

Is having faith in Christ the same as having faith that space aliens exist? Do you have previous experience leading you to believe that they do, even if you can't directly prove it? If not, it's not the same sort of faith as we're discussing here.

Is it possible to overemphasize faith, as opposed to questioning? You answer your own question in the sub-points. True faith is not "blind faith," but faith backed by personal experience. Paul was emphasizing this principle, teaching that when a spiritual manifestation is given that the person has no experience with, to not trust it blindly, but to "test the spirit," to discern whether it is of God or of some other source.

What is the 'faith of Christ' (pisteis Christou)? Where are you getting this phrase from? Some context would make it a lot easier to answer.

  • A well-deserved +1 for managing to answer the whole question. Apr 20, 2012 at 19:56
  • Mason, "to not trust it blindly, but to "test the spirit," to discern whether it is of God or of some other source."...how can you be sure it is from God? Also, isn't it a sin to test God? Apr 20, 2012 at 23:09
  • @Greg: Unfortunately, Paul doesn't explain how this is supposed to work. He most likely thought they already knew, due to teachings from some source that didn't end up passed down to us in the Bible.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Apr 21, 2012 at 0:24
  • Testing the spirits is done like you test anything. You don't believe its true until you understand it. John gives a test (whether or not they accept that Jesus came in the flesh) On Pisteis Christou :There is a question of the meaning of Paul's use of 'Faith of/in Christ' - and this relates to whether a person's faith is 'in' Christ, believing in him, or if it is that their faith is like his either because of ascription or imitation.
    – user304
    Apr 27, 2012 at 18:53
  • @RiverC: ...like you test anything. You don't believe its true until you understand it. I'm not so sure about that as a general principle. For example, I believe in gravity, but I don't understand it, and neither does anyone else. (By which I mean that, as far as I know, there is still no accepted theory describing the details of where gravity actually comes from or the mechanism by which it's transmitted across distances.) But I definitely believe it's real, and I bet you do too.
    – Mason Wheeler
    May 10, 2012 at 21:11

Selecting a "faith"

Let me start with a couple of my favorite quotes about defining the meaning of a word used in scripture:

  • "Words don't have meaning... people have meaning."
  • "The meaning of a word is determined by the context in which it is used."

The English word "faith" can have any number of meanings to me (or any Christian), depending on its context. In reference to scripture, the primary words in question are "pisteuo" and its root "pistis" (Greek), and "batach" (Hebrew). (These are primarily translated into the English words "believe", "faith", and "trust", respectively in the NASB.) It is important to reiterate that the same word may be used in two different places in scripture, and in each case it may have a different meaning or usage (as indicated by its context.) Let me give an example of this:

"Then Jesus told him, 'You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly blessed.'" (John 20:29, NCV)

So a statement such as "Jesus just wanted them to believe" would be inaccurate. Thomas "believed" because Jesus proved His resurrection to him with visible evidence, but this is clearly not the kind of faith Jesus encouraged. (e.g. Matthew 16:4) For the rest of the answer, I will assume you are interested in the kind of faith that God actually desires (i.e. as referenced in Galatians 3:11.)

Defining "the good kind of faith"

If the kind of faith God desires is not a "belief based on visible evidence", what is it?

1) It has to start with "hearing" God (Romans 10:17, John 5:24 + 12:49) (To clarify, I don't think this is exclusively referring to hearing His audible voice.)

2) The next piece is trusting Him and believing what He has said, regardless of what you see, what you think, or what men say to the contrary (2 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 4:19-21, Hebrews 11:1, Proverbs 3:5, Jeremiah 17:5, Psalm 40:4 + Romans 3:10-18, etc.)

3) The last part is living by it (i.e. acting on your alleged "trust".) (James 2:22, Deuteronomy 8:3, Romans 8:14, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 11)

Summary: God desires that we would trust Him with our lives, following Him even when we don't understand, believing His word above all else. If a person will truly do this, it will be evident by the fruit of their life. (Matthew 7:15-20, 1 John 4:7-8,16 + 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, John 13:34-35, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 8:13) If not, their "faith" is useless. (Matthew 7:21-23, James 2:8-20, 1 Corinthians 13:1-2)


Does faith refer to a blind acceptance? (Gideon vs. Job) Physically, yes. Spiritually, no. Our faith should rest not in what we see in the natural, but what we "see" supernaturally. (John 9:39-41) Gideon probably "could have done better," but clearly it took faith to act on God's instructions, despite needing confirmation of the instructions. So I think he's safe. Job? He had enough to go on to know the goodness of the Lord - God didn't need to give him further evidence.

Is faith rational? Nope. At least not in my definitions of the words; rational = natural, faith = not based on the natural. (Of course, one might argue that it would be insane to ignore God when He speaks, but then... men have consistently done this all throughout history and considered it "rational.")

Does faith itself save a person? (John 3:16 vs. Matthew 10:22) If we're talking about "the good kind of faith", then yes. Completely entrusting your life to Christ and following Him is exactly what saves you. ("Endurance" = not falling away from this lifestyle in times of difficulty.)

  • The "faith plus nothing" doctrine Again, I need to clarify that just "believing in God" (He is there, etc.) is a necessary first step, but not enough to save you. (Hebrews 11:6, James 2:19)

Is faith a work? This totally depends on the definitions of the words a person wants to use. If you use my definition of "the good kind of faith," and a definition of works which implies approaching God by your own righteous deeds rather than trusting His Son's sacrifice, no.

Is doubt a sin, or at least, the lack of faith? (warnings vs. Thomas, Mark 9:24) Yes. (Romans 14:23) In regards to the two coexisting, the question becomes "can a person trust God to an extent, but not perfectly?" The answer is yes. (2 Corinthians 10:15) We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2)

Is faith a source of knowledge? (Paul vs. Abraham) Not really. God is the source of true knowledge. (Proverbs 2:6) Faith is the proper response to His revelation. (I think the quote from Hebrews 11:1 may be a weakness in translation. Faith is not natural evidence by which we base decisions; it involves becoming convinced of things not evident in the natural.) Let me know if I misunderstood the question.

What is the 'faith of Christ'? I'm not sure what you're referring to, but A) we should have faith in Christ, and B) Jesus lived as an example of walking by faith. This might sound strange, but in accordance with my explanation of "good" faith, consider the following passages: John 5:19, 6:38, 8:28, 14:24.

We use faith generically, but is this even correct? (God vs. aliens) It's just a word with many meanings... it can be appropriate in the context of discussing salvation, or in the context of science fiction. But when speaking in reference to scripture, it takes more than a single word to represent Christianity, as the history of the "faith vs. works" debate has shown us.

Is it possible to overemphasize faith, as opposed to questioning? (children vs. testing spirits) Our faith should not be based on the word of man, or of an apparent angel of light - true faith starts with hearing the word of God. If someone appears to you teaching strange new things, you would not be out of line to ask some questions... just to ensure you are actually receiving a message from God. (1 John 4:1, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, Galatians 1:8) Once you are sure the message is actually from God, you are good to go! (Matthew 7:24-25)


"Faith is the key to open the door inside of us, that opens to God."

It is the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; -Corinthians 6:19

  • "You may either answer personally or for your tradition" Apr 20, 2012 at 23:04
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    though I'm hoping for an answer that addresses some of my questions.
    – user304
    Apr 23, 2012 at 14:28