The Bible’s definition of faith is simple, easy, and straightforward. But there are influences both inside and outside the church that confuse the biblical definition. Imagine the biblical definition as the ingredients to a fruit smoothie and the bad influences are chocolate, salt and pepper, and fish. When you blend it all together the once delicious drink is now a goopy mess, not exactly appetizing; a definition that the world laughs at. The sneaky part about the smoothie illustration is this: the false information that gets blended in with the definition of faith looks appealing, but it ultimately leads to a definition so unlike the original that it changes the meaning. Christians cannot allow false teachers and the world to define our terms. When we lose our definitions, we lose our control of the conversation. Atheistic professors, youtube personalities, and zealous social media commenters devour unsuspecting christians when they ask, “so you are saying that you believe in a god without evidence? And that’s what faith is? Why don’t you believe in something based on evidence??”
But is faith a belief without evidence? Is it something else? Here are The Top Five Reasons Faith is Not What You Think It Is.
Faith is not Blind
I really believe that this misunderstanding comes from a bad interpretation of a familiar bible passage. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (ESV) People then take this passage to mean that faith is sightless or blind. As if to be a christian is to walk around with your eyes closed. The best advice I’ve heard about reading the bible is this, never read a bible verse. Meaning, do not read only one verse- always check the context.
Even from just a quick glance of the context, the apostle Paul is talking about how this world is not our home. His point in 5:7 is for believers to not be so focused on this world that they forget that they are not in their true home. In other words, don’t get so caught up with this world that you forget about the next – the next one that we yet do not see.
Faith is not “Belief Without Evidence”
We at FreeThinking Ministries often quote atheists to see from the horse’s mouth what is being said about Christianity. Here is Richard Dawkins, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” (footnote 1) Surely that is the straw man that Dawkins would like to raise, and even Christians will take this definition and run with it! But is it really the definition of the Bible?
Alan Shlemon, a contributor for Stand to Reason, writes,
“But this definition is foreign to the Bible. The Greek word for faith, pistis, is derived from the verb pisteuo, which means “to convince by argument.” Hebrews 11:1 explains that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations replace “conviction” with “evidence.” Faith, then, is being convinced that the things we can’t see (e.g. God, heaven, the resurrection, etc.) are real.” (Link to rest of article)
Shlemon points out that when the author of Hebrews says, “conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) he means that we simply do not yet see those things! He does not mean that we cannot see them, or that the only way to know they are real is by seeing. It’s a rhetorical question, “Do you see Jesus in front of you? No? Then it’s a conviction in him who we can’t yet see.”
Faith is not a Leap
Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century philosopher, coined or is at least attributed the phrase, “the leap of faith.” This builds off our previous points, because Kierkegaard has shaped our understanding of faith in the west so substantially. Kierkegaard’s understanding of belief was much like ours; the belief must be justified and be true. But Kierkegaard divorced faith with evidence, and made faith out to be more experiential than a proposition about reality. He said that faith must be met with intense self-reflection, and the life of faith is ultimately submitting yourself to something that cannot be known in any real sense. To Kierkegaard, faith is closing your eyes and jumping out of a plane. Maybe Jesus will show up and give you a parachute halfway down? But it is not certain. But on Kierkegaard’s view, faith is a flip of a coin kind of leap – maybe you make it, and maybe you do not. But our faith is confident because Jesus is who he says he is, and he does what he says he does.
Faith is not All or Nothing
Preachers and pastors either explicitly or imply that if you are not 100% all in than you do not believe at all. But the Bible teaches a different story.
Mark 9:23-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the father of the child cried out[a] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
If we are honest, all of us can identify with this man. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a perfect summary of the internal struggle that every Christian experiences. It’s like reaching for Jesus to pull you out of the water when you have a weight tied to your ankle. In that moment you are focused on the weights keeping you under, but your heart is yearning to look up! So look to Jesus! The point of this passage is this: even if you are only 51% sure that Jesus will do what he says, He can work with that. Here’s the thing, the only things that you know with 100% certainty is that you exist, because you are a thinking thing, and logical and mathematical laws like “1+1=2.” Other than that we need to be ok living in the tension of doubt and unanswered questions. Jesus never promises to answer all of our questions. Most of the time he says something like, “Trust me and let me work.” Do not be afraid of doubt or unanswered questions, because God meets you there. Our beliefs need to have reasons behind them, and they must best correspond to reality. But if your expectation is that Christianity will bring you to a place of 100% certainty, the flesh will do a lot of damage to you when you never get there.
Faith is not a Substance
This one will sting, because I see church-goers eating this stuff up. The sad thing is, I do not blame them! It is trendy, “spiritual,” and you find more of this false teaching in book stores than Bibles! This is the word-faith movement, or word-of-faith movement. I will write more about this later, but like a window-seat passenger on a flight home they can look out the window and notice some key landmarks.
The most effective false teachers in the church will use the same vocabulary but use a different dictionary. In other words, they use the same words to make it sound like they are preaching orthodox church doctrine when in fact they are sneaking in ideas that are bad philosophy.
Let me paint a picture:
Your son is sick in the hospital. You have been praying faithfully for months for a cure… you know that it is life threatening. Your prayers are fervent and continuous, but by his hospital bed you are at the end of your rope. Just then, you see your pastor walk in the room. He embraces you in the midst of hopelessness, and you begin to explain the situation. After he hears it all, he offers this advice, “Well it seems to me that God wants to heal your son through your prayers… but you don’t have enough faith. If you had enough faith God would heal him.”
Have you ever heard that? “You don’t have enough faith?” Have you even thought that? Let me be clear, nowhere in scripture is there even a hint of this idea. Faith is confidence! Assurance! Trust in a trustworthy person! Faith is not a substance or thing, it is the sure road to Jesus. Jesus says clearly, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) It’s not about the amount of your faith, it’s about the object of your faith. God created mountains, if he wants to move them he can!
So What Is Faith?
Faith, in it’s purist definition is near indistinguishable from the word belief, except for one key component: if faith is 51% or more, trust makes up the difference. Faith is confidence, assuredness, and sturdy, but knowledge can never bring us to 100% certainty. There is always a healthy dose of unanswered questions that every person deals with. The difference is that Christianity offers a person, Jesus Christ, in whom we place our trust in the unanswered questions. The God of Christianity is a maximally great being, he cannot lie, he cannot sin, he is faithful, he is good, he is just, he is loving, etc. The unanswered questions find rest in God’s character. Do not be afraid to doubt, but bring those doubts to the foot of the cross. May your faith be characterized by the man who in full and utter vulnerability from his heart cries, “I believe… help my unbelief!”
1. A lecture by Richard Dawkins extracted from The Nullifidian (Dec 94),
2. http://www.str.org/articles/is-faith-blind#.VrTQzDYrJmA (accessed 2/5/16)