What Is Faith?

TODAY’S READING: ROMANS 11-14

“The were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.” – Romans 11:20

Paul’s statement above is in the midst of his argument regarding Jews and Gentiles and who will be saved. He says the Jews were cut off because of unbelief but the Gentiles stand through faith.

The Greek word for faith is pistis. The Greek word for unbelief is apistia. The prefix a means not. More literally, Paul is saying that the Gentiles stand in faith while the Jews were cut off in not faith.

Pistis is a noun. The related verb is pisteuo. It is almost always translated believe because it wouldn’t make sense in English to say “I faith in you.”

Romans uses pistis more than any other book in the Bible.

So, what exactly is this thing we call faith?

The dictionary says that faith is an allegiance to duty or a person, belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of religion, firm belief in something for which there is no proof, complete trust, and something that is believed especially with strong conviction.

Okay. Faith is a belief or a trust. And, we are to put our faith, belief, or trust in God.

That is still very nebulous and abstract.

Why am I to put my faith, belief, or trust in God?

If you see God as a homicidal, genocidal killer as he is depicted in the Old Testament and as many Christians proclaim him to the world, then why would someone who does not have faith suddenly put their faith, belief, or trust in God?

Perhaps the scripture that most Christians to turn to get a definition of faith is Hebrews 11:1. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But, that is not really any clearer that the definition from the dictionary above.

This is still far too nebulous and abstract for me.

Therefore, I believe the best definition of faith comes from what Jesus taught the disciples all scripture was witnessing to and the one thing Paul was occupied with.

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46-47)

From the foundation of the world, the Father and the Son’s plan to save us was that the Christ would suffer, die, and rise from the dead.

Jesus partook of flesh and blood. He was made flesh, fully man. (Yes, he was fully God too.)

As fully man, what would it take for Jesus to go along with the plan of him suffering, dying, and rising from the dead?

Faith.

Jesus had to have faith that even though he emptied himself to be born in the likeness of men to suffer and die on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8) for the salvation of others his Father would raise him to life.

From the one thing that is necessary – that the Christ should suffer and die but be raised on the third day – we get our definition of faith.

Faith is to trust God that even though I suffer and die for my enemies God will raise me up to life as well as raise my enemies to life with me.

In “What Is the Righteousness of God and Its Effect?“, I provided my own translation of Romans 3:21-26 based on Paul’s obsession with the necessity of the Christ suffering and being raised from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

“And now the righteousness of God has been manifested without law, but the righteousness of God is being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets through the faith of Jesus Christ to all the believing. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are being justified for no reason by his grace in proof of his righteousness. Because in his divine forbearance he tolerated former sins to prove his righteousness in the appointed time, in being him the just and the justifying one of Jesus’ faith.”

The righteousness of God was manifested on the cross through the faith of Jesus that the even though he would suffer and die his Father would raise him up three days later. Therefore, God justified Jesus’ faith.

This is why Jesus can save believe in me. He can say, “Look at what God did for me. I suffered and died for you. Yet, the Father raised me from the dead. Believe in me. Therefore, pick up your cross and follow me. Suffer with me for others and the Father will raise you from the dead too.”

This is why, after an entire chapter devoted to faith, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Now, go back to what Paul said in Romans 11:20, “They were broken off because of their unbelief [not faith], but you stand fast through faith.”

Why were the Jews broken off?

They did not believe it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They had no faith.

Why were the Gentiles standing, grafted into God’s family?

They believed that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They had faith.

Now, every time I read the word faith I think to myself that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. Doing this brings incredible meaning to the passages that use the word faith (or believe).

As just one example, Romans 12:6-8 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Why does say that the gift of prophecy should be used in proportion to our faith?

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)

To prophesy is to witness to Jesus, which is to say that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And, therefore, it is necessary for you to suffer and rise from the dead to have eternal life too.

That is a dangerous message to prophesy. No community, no culture, no country, wants to hear that message.

Jesus was a prophet. And, when he prophesied that message, it got him crucified.

Therefore, we can only prophesy, witness to, Jesus in proportion to our faith, to the extent that we trust and believe God that was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

If we have only a little faith, then we truly prophesy only a little.

But, if we have great faith, knowing without a doubt that God raises to life those that suffer for their enemies, then we can truly prophesy greatly.

So, what is faith?

Believing and trusting God that he raises to life all those that suffer for their enemies and brings their enemies to life with them.