God isolates faith, which means “trust,” or “confidence,” as the single most important element of relationship with Him (Heb. 11:6, et al.). That makes sense because we all recognize the importance of trust in our relationships, and we evaluate their quality by how much trust is present. Trust implies something or someone to trust in. To have faith in God is to trust Him, and thus to have a relationship with Him. The more intimate and trusting that relationship, the more mutually satisfying it is for both parties.
“Faith” can also be understood as “confident expectation.” It is looking to the future with confidence because God is a faithful provider of all that we need. There is motivational power in one’s expectations, and this has been explored in literature and proven by scientific experiments. In business literature, “The Pygmalion Effect” or “The Gallatea Effect,” refers to the demonstrable tendency of a person to rise (or fall) to the expectation level of his authority figures. When a leader is positive about the potential contribution of a person, he or she tends to be more productive and achieve goals. In medicine, the “Placebo Effect” is the well-demonstrated tendency for people to show medical benefit from the intake of substances to which they attach an expectation of benefit, whether there is any objective reason for such expectation.
The quality of faith as trust is best evidenced by the life of Jesus Christ, who did all he did by way of his unflagging trust in his heavenly Father. Abraham is the chief Old Testament example of faith, and the Apostle Paul’s life and writings give us a brilliant New Testament example. It is important that we understand what faith is, and what it isn’t, because it is often said to be something that God’s Word does not teach. If we buy into a false concept of faith, we will suffer the consequences of discouragement, pride, denial, heartache, and perhaps even sickness and death.
Many people now affiliated with Spirit & Truth Fellowship were once part of a church in the “Faith Movement,” identified by church historians as a branch of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism that began early in the 1900s. We also may know it as promoting a “health and wealth gospel,” which propounds the idea that if we have enough faith, we can live a life without suffering, problems, or satanic attack. It is often connected to other doctrines or practices such as tithing or prayer in the spirit. The idea is that if we are properly related to the God of victory, we will always manifest victory in the short term as well as ultimately.
This proposition fails to consider many Scriptures, as well as the experience of many, many believers through the centuries. It also fails to pass “the Apostle Paul test,” which we will explain shortly. The Scriptures that contradict this notion are plenteous, but one of my favorites is Hebrews 11, an entire chapter about faith. How could we ever get the idea that faith guarantees temporal victory when the chapter concludes by saying that many heroes of faith did not see such victory in this life—yet they had great faith!
(35b) Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.
(36) Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.
(37) They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
(38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
(39) These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
(40) God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
(1) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
The faith of these committed believers was demonstrated by their belief in God’s promise, even though they didn’t see it come to pass. We must understand that although God fervently desires to heal, deliver, and bless His people, He cannot always do so in this natural, temporal domain. This is due both to people’s free-will decisions to disobey Him, and to satanic opposition. That is why the future Millennial Kingdom (and the Paradise to follow) is necessary—to provide a time, place, and situation where His will can truly be accomplished. As Jesus said when he taught his disciples to pray, “…Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10-KJV). We need to pray that prayer because God’s will does not automatically happen. It happens when and if He has people who will work with Him in faith. This is the same truth as expressed in Philippians 2:13:
Philippians 2:12b and 13
(12b) continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
(13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Although God occasionally acts without a human agent, Scripture teaches that He almost always limits Himself to such “fellow laborers.” Our faith is in God, but most of the time He supplies our needs through people whom He sends our way. Our relationships with God and people are therefore very intertwined. Getting closer to God means having more close and meaningful interdependent relationships with people, but they are still imperfect people who will let us down at times.
Jesus modeled the ultimate faith, and is therefore called the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2-KJV). He not only modeled perfect faith, but also made it available for those who believe in him to have similar trust in God. Jesus’ faith did not exempt him from the suffering to which he was called, but rather carried him through it. Jesus is the example of looking beyond the temporal circumstances to the joy and victory that lay around the corner—via his resurrection.
The Apostle Paul experienced many things that are not consistent with the “faith conquers all” idea. As he chronicles in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, he suffered many things in the course of following Christ. He would no doubt find it both amusing and sad that his writings have been twisted to support a view of faith that is closer to a metaphysical guarantee of prosperity and health than a biblical truth. That is why we refer to “the Apostle Paul test,” because any view of faith has to square with his writings and experience. He did not swim around in the Mediterranean Sea for 24 hours because he lacked faith. It happened because Satan did everything he could to hinder Paul, whose faith kept him enduring and persisting despite the opposition.
“Health and wealth” teaching can only be propounded in a country that enjoys plenty of prosperity and rewards entrepreneurship and faithfulness in workers. In poor countries that suffer from stagnant or inflationary economies, with high unemployment and government greed and mismanagement of resources, the idea that one can overcome all by faith will not catch on. Nevertheless, many Christians in such places demonstrate great faith in just getting through each day with joy, love, and hope. We who are used to more creature comforts and the benefits of “prosperity” may too often find that our faith is quite provisional—we have it as long as we can be comfortable at the same time. A leaky roof or a missed meal can be all it takes to put us in a tailspin.
But neither is the other extreme healthy, which is, favoring poverty as the condition best suited for generating faith. It is possible to so romanticize poverty that it becomes almost a prerequisite to faith—that if one is prosperous he or she cannot really be a person of faith. In that view, somehow having little or nothing is the ground out of which real dependence upon God grows. This erroneous “poverty model” often consigns the poor to remain poor because they never have sufficient hope or energy to work themselves out of poverty. Certainly in every poor country there are those who by virtue of their hard work, determination, and frugality manage to improve their situations. When they trust God to do so, this is faith in action.
“Faithing the Facts”
True faith does not deny temporal realities or senses-knowledge information. It does not refuse to go to the doctor or the dentist when necessary, or refuse to look at problems for fear of being “negative.” In fact, it does just the opposite. True faith acknowledges the facts but recognizes that God’s truth supersedes worldly facts, and that faith-full action can change things. Abraham is a good example of “faithing the facts,” that is, have the courage to look at the hopelessness of circumstances and yet remain expectant that God will provide a way.
(19) Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
(20) Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
(21) being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
True faith in God generates courage to face facts and deal with reality. False faith puts us on shaky ground, more fearful than faithful. True faith not only considers negative circumstances, it allows the seeming hopelessness of such circumstances to drive it to the promises of God. The idea of being “fully” persuaded indicates a progression to get to that point, and Scripture is very clear that faith grows (2 Cor. 10:15; 1 Thess. 3:10). How so? It grows as we learn what God’s promises are, hold them in mind, and act upon them until our obedience becomes “second nature” to us and we have more and more experience of God’s faithfulness to us.
Trust, or faith, is not a power in itself; it requires an object—someone or something to trust in. God is the object of our faith, but to trust Him we must know something about Him, that is, His character and His promises. We cannot really trust anyone unless they express themselves in words, words that arrange themselves in the form of a promise, and one in which we have the confidence that they have the character and resources necessary to keep their promise. Think about it: the better we know God’s character, that is, His willingness to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20-KJV), and the more we know His ability, the more we trust Him and obey Him. When we obey Him, He never fails to prove Himself to us.
Think about someone you love very much. Don’t you want to reach out to her and give? Suppose she chose to prohibit you from doing so by not believing your promises? You: “I’ll pick you up on Saturday night at 7 p.m. and buy you a steak dinner.” She: “I don’t believe you will; I’m going to Bubba’s Burgers by myself.” Would you be pleased? No, because your desire to give to the other would be thwarted.
That’s exactly what Scripture is talking about when it says, “…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6-NASB).  Notice the reciprocal relationship between you and God that is set forth in that great verse. Because we are free-will beings, God had to require something on our part in our relationship with Him, and faith is the simplest thing He could require from free-will beings. There is no real merit on the part of those who have faith, because that faith points them to Another, the One whose promises they choose to believe. The merit is then on the part of Him who keeps His promises, the One who is the Rewarder.
How do we know God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him? How do we know God loves us? If you are answering, “His Word says so,” you are certainly right, but how do you know His Word is true? You only know if He keeps His Word when you act according to what He has promised (John 7:17).
The quality of our Christian life, no matter how mature we become, is directly proportional to our trust in the words of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:2). When has God ever failed us? This is something we should each keep in mind when we come to the next crossroads of Circumstance and Promise. God’s heart yearns to prove Himself to us over and over so that our faith in Him grows. However, He cannot prove Himself to us if we do not “step out of the boat” when He asks us to do so. Had Peter not obeyed Jesus’ simple command (“Come”), God could not have made the water firm beneath His feet (Matt. 14: 29).
Jesus Christ is The Promise. It is he who desires to take our hand and lead us along the path of faith. He knows the way, because it is he who blazed that trail to God’s heart. He is the way, and as we walk in him, his life is manifest within our own. Praise God!
We recommend you read Chapter 10 of our book Don’t Blame God: A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin, and Suffering, because it discusses the whole issue of faith and the confusion among Christians about what faith is. The following are some excerpts from our book to end this article:
Thus it is paramount for a Christian to know the Word of God, because true faith can be based only upon an understanding of the character and promises of God. Faith is simply trust in what God says, and true faith issues in whatever response to His Word is appropriate in the situation. It is each person’s “response-ability” to aggressively seek to understand and appropriate God’s promises.
Sometimes faith is “leaping out” without specific revelation, and not even in obedience to some direct command, but in simple trust in the overall character of God as revealed in His Word. This would be like confidently calling upon a good friend in a time of great need, because his previous actions have shown you that he is always willing to help you. Such faith is certainly rational, but it is also heartfelt and emotional. We see this in the life of the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13) and the Gentile woman (Matt. 15:22-28).
Sometimes such faith is manifest as in those who came touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, crouching to get in Peter’s shadow or touching Paul’s handkerchief. None of these things had power in themselves, but we see that God honors the heart of a person and the faith he has in the power of God resident in His representative. In such cases, people judge themselves worthy of blessing, healing, etc., and receive it by the grace of God, independent of a specific promise from God to them.
Faith is not the power that makes the promise come true. Rather, faith in God “accesses” His power, which is what makes His promises come true. Today, some Christians teach that it is your faith (some call it “believing” or “mental attitude”) or lack of it that is the cause of everything that happens to you, good or bad. If you believe that, you will probably spend more time worrying about how little faith you have than dwelling upon God’s goodness and willingness to help you, which is what will help your faith increase.
 Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.