Faith is one of those words that is commonly used but not always understood. Some of that confusion comes from the many different ways the word faith is used in everyday conversation; a quick look at Dictionary.com shows seven different uses! One common way that people use the word faith is to refer to belief in something despite lacking any evidence for it. But is that what the Bible means by faith? The answer is a resounding no! So, when the Bible uses the word faith, what does it mean?
The closest that the Bible comes to offering an exact definition is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” From this particular passage we see that the central feature of faith—confidence or trust. In the Bible, the object of faith is God and his promises. A clear example of this is Abram's encounter with God in Genesis 15. In response to God's promise of countless descendants, Abram “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Commenting on this, the Apostle Paul writes, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20–21). Thus, faith means putting your trust in God and having confidence that he will fulfill his promises.
Faith is more than intellectual agreement. To use an old illustration, imagine you are at Niagara Falls watching a tightrope walker push a wheelbarrow across the rope high above the falls. After watching him go back and forth several times, he asks for a volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow as he pushes it across the falls. At an intellectual level, you may believe that he could successfully push you across the rope over the falls, but you are not exercising biblical faith until you get in the wheelbarrow and entrust yourself to the tightrope walker.
Genuine biblical faith expresses itself in everyday life. James writes that “faith by itself, apart from works, is dead” (James 2:17). Faith works through love to produce tangible evidence of its existence in a person's life (Gal 5:6). Put another way, the obedience that pleases God comes from faith (Rom 1:5, 16:26), rather than a mere sense of duty or obligation. There is all the difference in the world between the husband who buys his wife flowers out of delight and one who buys them simply out of duty.
Faith is so important because it is the means by which we have a relationship with God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8). Faith is how we receive the benefits of what Jesus has done for us. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, died to pay the penalty for our sinful rebellion against God, and rose from the dead to defeat sin, death, and the devil. By putting our faith in him, we receive forgiveness for our sins and the gift of eternal life.
So, faith means relying completely on who Jesus is and what he has done to be made right with God.