What is Faith?
Author: Andy Robbins
What is “faith?” Is it simply a religious affiliation? Is it adherence to a set of dogmas? It might seem that this is all faith means in our present spiritual environment.
The classic definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Literally, faith is a belief in something that is not perceived by the five senses.
Perhaps one of the best contrasting examples of faith is found in Numbers 14 where the faith of two important Old Testament figures, Joshua and Caleb, stands out in stark contrast to the faith of their Jewish counterparts.
Recall that Joshua and Caleb were one of 12 spies sent into Canaan to investigate the condition of the land and its inhabitants. Recall also that God had already promised this land to the Israelites. Yet when the land was thoroughly explored, the powerful war-like people found there intimidated the other ten spies. They brought a bad report back to the camp, saying that the huge people living in the land would swallow them up, and that they would not be able to take the land.
The ten spies are an accurate representation of how a lot of Westernized Christians live their lives. The spies were basing their judgment solely on what they could perceive with their senses. They were in good spirits as long as things looked like they were going their way. But as soon as obstacles stood in their way, all hope vanished. They had not too long before witnessed some of the most spectacular displays of God’s power as He led them out of Egypt. Yet their trust in Him evaporated as soon as they learned they would have to fight for what was promised to them.
Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, said “We are well able to take the land.” What made their perspective so radically different from the other ten spies? Faith! They did not believe that what they saw with their eyes was final and unchangeable. They did believe, on the other hand, in a God Who could split the Red Sea and rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians without a single Israelite being lost. They believed that if God could deliver them from the hands of Pharaoh, He would likewise deliver the Canaanites into their hands. They believed what has become an adage in modern times: Us plus God equals a majority.
The parallels to our lives as Christians in this account are too numerous to elaborate on fully. However, two things deserve special attention.
Firstly, almost every aspect of our lives as Christians requires this kind of faith in the unseen. From believing in a God that we cannot see or feel, to believing in the integrity of His Word enough to obey it, nearly everything we do as Christians requires a blind faith. And it is this kind of faith that gives us hope in God’s promises even when circumstances seem to suggest that those promises somehow don’t apply anymore.
Secondly, Joshua and Caleb show us that sometimes we must fight for what has been promised to us. God never said He would hand out all His goodies on a silver platter. He required the Israelites to invade Canaan and fight against the inhabitants. He never told them that the Promised Land would be given to them without resistance. But like the many modern day Christians, the Israelites wanted the land without a fight.
In keeping with my recent theme of God’s promises of abundance, we see this aspect of having to fight for what is ours in scripture. There are indeed countless promises of health, protection, and financial abundance in God’s Word, but many of those have conditions attached to them. In order to experience these promises, we have to be meditate on God’s Word both day and night (Psalm 1:2), be tenaciously obedient to God’s Word (Deuteronomy 28, among others), speak words that are consistent with what we are believing for (Proverbs 18:20-21, Romans 4:17b), strive for excellence in all we do (Ecclesiastes 10:10), and as we have discussed in detail, we must be generous givers. But of course, the doing must be accompanied by believing.
Believing isn’t trying these principles for a while and hoping it will work out. Granted, I believe God grants some degree of leniency as we learn to walk by faith, but ultimately He wants to be trusted, even and especially in the midst of negative circumstances. Faith perseveres even during the germination period when one is waiting for the harvest of what one has previously planted to come in.
Agriculture provides a perfect analogy. A farmer plants his seed not knowing how it grows. But he trusts that in time it will sprout and eventually produce an abundant harvest. He doesn’t plant his seed and then go out and look at his field the next morning and say, “This stuff doesn’t work! Nothing is happening!” No, he knows there is a germination period. There is a season for planting, a season for cultivation, and a season for harvesting.
Similarly, when we begin planting our financial seeds, we don’t see the results of that sowing right away. Ecclesiastes says that when we cast our bread upon the water, it will come back to us after many days. That’s why you want to get in the habit of being generous all the time so that every month can be a season of harvest. In agriculture, a farmer can reap a harvest only during one month out of the year. But in the life of a Believer, you can eventually reap all the time if you have been in a habit of constant sowing.
If you need something outside of the Word of God to bolster your faith in this process, the concept of sowing and reaping is a universal principle that God has set in place that works for anyone who applies it, just like the law of gravity. The book, The Automatic Millionaire, for example, is written by David Bach, an author who apparently has no Christian convictions, at least none that are obvious. Yet he states in no uncertain terms that one of the ingredients in the recipe for becoming financially secure is the concept of tithing. Of course, he does not insist that the tithe must be given to a church, but he suggests that when a person is in the habit of setting aside a portion of his income (he suggests 10% as a starting place – imagine that!) for purposes of benevolence, money is somehow attracted to him as a result.
The great universal paradox concerning money is that it is attracted to those who are generous, and it is strangely hard to come by for those who are tight-fisted. To be sure, there probably are rich people out there who are not generous, but often those kinds of people live in fear of losing everything and are often not happy people. In contrast, Proverbs 10:22 says that the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and He adds no sorrow to it. That means if you accumulate money God’s way by being benevolent, you don’t have to lose sleep over it or sacrifice relationships or work endless hours. Money is attracted to you when you are generous. That’s how God made the universe to function.
The late Elvis Presley, probably the most famous entertainer of all time, was well-known for his extravagant generosity. While Elvis was raised in church and had a love for gospel music and a sensitivity to spiritual things, the principles of the Bible certainly did not guide his life, at least not in the area of morality. Like most entertainers, Elvis was constantly bombarded with opportunities to be immoral, and he was an eager participant. Even so, his generosity has become legendary. Giving away Cadillacs and houses was a way of life for him. He thoroughly enjoyed it. So extravagant and common were his gifts that his father, Vernon, feared that Elvis would bankrupt himself. But even during the latter years of his life when his performances were less than his best, money kept rolling in nevertheless. At the time of his death in 1977, Elvis’ estate was worth $4.3 BILLION dollars! There is not a single entertainer alive today who is worth even close to that much. Even one of the richest entertainers of today, Paul McCartney, whose career now spans four decades, is worth a fraction of what Elvis was worth, and Elvis’ career was half as long. So even while Elvis may not have been a model of Christian morality, the law of sowing and reaping still worked for him because it is a universal law.
If you are not yet at a place where you have experienced this extraordinary truth, you must first believe that God’s Word is the supreme truth and has the supernatural ability to supersede every natural truth. So I would suggest beginning your journey by filling your mind with the promises of God in order to develop that faith, because “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
And then, of course, follow up that faith with action, because true faith is one that responds with corresponding action (James 2:17).