What is Faith — Really?

A Sunday School lad was asked what he thought the word “faith” meant. He said, “Faith means believing what you know ain’t so.”

The boy’s response may seem extreme, but not entirely off-base because, at times, what you call faith may seem almost non-existent. There is a God; of that you’re sure. But when unexpected adversity strikes, the robust faith that others seem to have is just not there for you. It leaves you asking: what is faith — really?

Here’s an answer right out of the Scriptures: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1).

The first word of importance here is hope. We usually use the word in mundane ways: “After college. I hope to go to graduate school.” Or “I hope the doctor’s report will be positive.” What we get from such sentences is that hope means optimism about our unforeseen future, and we all need some of that.

But the author of Hebrews uses the word in a much more comprehensive way. It has to do not only with the world our five senses experience but also with the unseen world our spiritual senses engage – the world where God dwells. Elsewhere the writer says that hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” and this anchor binds us to where “Jesus who went before us” is (Heb. 6:19,20).

Faith insists that there is more to reality than what we perceive in the moment. In fact, this broader understanding of reality makes one think of St. Paul’s caution to the Corinthian church: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:19). We believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and based on that belief we must hold our promised resurrection dear.

So, when the author of the Hebrews says “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” he is saying that our trust in Christ for both time and eternity gives us a certainty that anchors the life we live here and now – this life with its hurts and disappointments as well as its pleasures and surprises. This faith makes us sure of Christ; we are sure of our salvation; we are sure that Our Lord will not leave us alone in the tough times; and this faith makes us sure that our faith in Christ makes our eternal future in him secure.

The author of the Hebrews tells us also that faith makes us “certain of what we do not see” — at least what we do not see with our physical eyes. Here again reality for Christians has a broader perspective than just the here-and-now. We have eyes to see in this life and we use them with joy, but there is a larger reality that goes beyond the physical act of seeing. When Jesus promised his disciples that, “where I am you will be also” he was thinking with this larger vision (John 14:3). When this faith is fully exercised, it grounds our lives in a certainty. Call it Heaven.

We need not be in a hurry to get there. We don’t have to renounce the goodness of our present life or our challenges as God presents them in the here-and-now. The call to faith is never a call to be gloomy. In fact, our life needs this broader perspective in order for us to function with strength and joy in the present. So, authentic Christian faith makes us “certain of what we do not see.”

Is there another way to say this? Eugene Peterson in THE MESSAGE paraphrases the verse from Hebrews this way: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”

And Oswald Chambers had a fix on the realities of this kind of faith when he wrote, “Faith is a deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”

Again, Rabindranath Tagore understood that faith makes us adequate and keeps us calm when the stresses of the here-and-now are severe. He wrote: “Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.”

So, the faith we are called to in the Scriptures is really the opposite of “believing what we know ain’t so.” It is being assured of the reality of what we hope for (in Christ) and made certain of what we do not see (with our physical eyes but do see with our spiritual eyes). We know what faith is and, taken this way, it gives us solid footing for life!

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2 thoughts on “What is Faith — Really?

  1. Dear “Pastor” Bastian
    I would call you Bishop but apparently you love and cherish your identity as a Pastor….and I think that’s wonderful. I appreciated today’s column particularly because of my interest….and maybe small knowledge….about “Faith.” Certainly my comments here will be brief and not nearly so inclusive….or as profound as yours.
    I like The Living Bible in Hebrews 11:1 which reads: “WHAT IS FAITH? It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”
    Then, I remember the Scripture of old which we’ve all heard hundreds of times: “Faith comes by hearing…and hearing by the Word of God.” I can’t remember just whom but one modern day writer says it like this: “Faith comes by hearing…and hearing…and hearing…and hearing the Word of God.” To me….re-stating it that way was very meaningful. So, it is good to “saturate” ourselves in the Scriptures so that the truth therein becomes an integral part of our minds and our very being! Thank you for sharing!

    • Hello, Jim: Your comments only enhance in a very positive way my original thoughts on the real meaning of faith from a Christian point of view. You’ve heard the quip: “Fear Knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.” Don

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