What is Faith and How Do We Grow in It?

Ask ten people what faith is, and you’re likely to get ten different responses. It’s important to know what faith entails because you can’t please God without it. (See Hebrews 11:6.) Faith is essential for receiving salvation and for the miraculous to be active in our lives. So what are we talking about when we talk about faith?

What Faith Is

One of the best pictures of faith we have in the Bible is that of the Roman centurion.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Matthew 8:5-10 NIV

It seems that what impressed Jesus more than anything was confident trust. Jesus marveled at this G because of his trust. The centurion trusted that Jesus had authority over sickness and a simple word from the Master would be enough to save his servant.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as a confidence and assurance in what we hope for and don’t yet see. The writer of Hebrews goes on to illustrate faith through the lives of the heroes of the Old Testament. Hebrews divides the lives of these heroes into two different categories as we read here:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson  Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect

Hebrews 11:32-40 NIV

In one category we have those who conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched flames, escaped certain death at the edge of the sword and even raised the dead. (It is worth noting that while we know that it was God who did all of these miracles, Hebrews credits those who trusted God with results.)

In the other category are those who trusted God and yet did not see what was promised in their lifetime. These saints of old persevered to the point of death and beyond. They were persecuted, put to death, sawed in two, lived in caves and holes in the ground, and they didn’t receive in this life, that which was promised. Yet they trusted that God would be faithful to His promises even if they didn’t see them fulfilled in their lifetime.

Faith is a confident trust that God is true to His word no matter what. Faith trusts God even when everything in our life seems to scream at us to give up hope. It is the assurance that God will be faithful to us. Faith holds unswervingly to the promises of God in spite of difficulty.

What Faith Isn’t

Blind Faith

I often hear opponents of Christianity paint a caricature of faith with straw man definitions like “pretending to know things you don’t really know.” These faulty definitions of faith draw heavily on ideas about faith which, while present within our culture, is not what the Bible talks about when it talks about faith. To these people, faith is blind. It is trust without reason.

The Bible doesn’t ask us to trust without evidence. Jesus told His disciples that if they had trouble believing his claims about being one with the Father, to at least put their trust on the miracles He performed. (See John 10:38.) He didn’t say “just trust me. If you ask for some evidence that means you don’t believe.” He gave them evidence upon which they could hang their hopes.

Some Christians claim that asking for a sign is wrong because of the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:4; “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” They say that if we are looking for a sign, then we are just like the Sadducees.

The problem with this view is that Jesus had been giving plenty of signs up until that point. He had cleansed the lepers, opened the eyes of the bind, and the ears of the deaf, and had even ruined quite a few perfectly good funerals by raising the dead. That wasn’t enough for these Sadducees. They needed a sign from heaven. It reminds me of some atheists I’ve met who after witnessing a miraculous healing have objected by saying, “Oh, yeah, well what about an amputee? Why doesn’t God heal those?” God gives us enough to be able to put our trust in Him.

God won’t cater to our unbelief. If we keep asking for greater and greater miracles in order for God to prove Himself, we are demonstrating our unwillingness to believe.

The Saduccees weren’t being honest when they demanded a sign from Jesus. They didn’t want to believe in Jesus, so they kept moving the goalposts of evidence. Raising the dead wasn’t enough for them, they needed to see a sign in the heavens. Jesus wasn’t interested in proving Himself to unbelieving hypocrites. That is why He rebuked them rather than performed the sign. God is perfectly willing to do powerful signs and wonders through and for believing people, but He will not play games with those who are simply looking for excuses not to believe.

More Than a Feeling

Have you ever heard someone say they “feel faith right now?” I’ll be honest, I’ve used that language before. A lot of times, what we mean is we don’t feel very confident that when we pray for a miracle, that it will happen. We’ve all been there. Some of us have had times when a supernatural gift of faith has come upon us and we were incredibly confident. Those times are wonderful, but sometimes God asks us to pray and trust Him in spite of our uncertainty.

When we look at the heroes of faith in Hebrews, many of them didn’t always feel confident. Abraham wasn’t always 100% confident that God’s promise that he and Sarah would have a child would come to pass. He thought that maybe the promise wouldn’t be so miraculous so he decided he would have to make the promise come to pass. He decided he would have a child with Hagar, Sarah’s servant. It doesn’t appear that Abraham was incredibly confident.

Faith means that in spite of our feelings, in spite of our doubts, and in spite of our difficulties, we choose to put our trust in Jesus. When we talk about faith for healing, for example, we aren’t talking about an emotional state, it isn’t something we can work up by praying louder or longer or with a more authoritative tone. I have never seen those things produce results. Instead, faith is a willingness to obey God and pray for the sick, knowing that He has authority over every sickness and disease and that we are one flesh with Him. Faith is an assurance that the Jesus who lives within us is always willing and able to heal, and that when we lay hands on the sick, and speak with the authority of His name, that it will be done.

How To Grow In Faith

Since faith is simply trusting God’s promises, and acting upon them, faith grows the same way trust of any kind grows; through intimacy. The more I get to know my wife, the more deeply I trust her. I can trust her with the care of my son because through my relationship with her, I have come to experience her trustworthiness. This trust develops within an experiential relationship. The same is true of God.

The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing the actively spoken word of God. (See Romans 10:17.) As God speaks to our hearts by His Spirit, faith comes alive within us. We begin to experience His presence and His power on a first-hand basis as we hear His voice. When He speaks to our hearts through the scriptures or a prophetic word that He is the Healer, that He is the Savior, that He is merciful, we begin to develop trust in Him for these things. Faith develops within a relational experience with God. It cannot be worked up.

Now, sometimes a supernatural gift of faith will come upon you for a specific task. That gift of faith comes for a moment, but it’s purpose is to deepen your trust for all the other times. God is just as capable of healing when you don’t have a gift of faith as He is when you do.

If you wish to grow in your faith, you must develop a deep relationship with God. If you truly believe that what the Bible says is true, then your life will be marked by miracles. Jesus promised us that we would do greater works than He did. He promised that if we believed, we would move mountains.

May the Lord fill you with confident trust in Him as you grow closer to His heart in intimacy.

Your servant,
JonMark