Pastor’s Note – Faith: What Is It?

Faith – What is it?

This week’s sermon in the Armor of God comes from Ephesians 6:16 – where Paul speaks about taking up the shield of faith in every circumstance in order to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. Just like many of the other verses in our passage in Ephesians 6 about the Armor of God, it is tempting to jump right from reading to application and not wait to dig a little deeper to grasp what the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul is really teaching. 

Faith – A Definition

The center of the verse is about faith – and Paul has not shied away from talking about faith in Ephesians. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has mentioned faith the noun or faithful the adjective seven times, and to believe the verb twice. The word used in Ephesians and throughout the New Testament for faith is pisteuo (verb) or pistis (noun).  Where faith is used as a noun it is referring to the personal faith of a believer, it is something that the believer possesses. Where it is used as verb, it is used in the active sense in the Greek – that means it, “signifies that the subject is performing the verbal action.”[1]

Faith, therefore, is something that a believer both possess and exercises. But the question remains – what does it mean to believe? If faith is both something we possess and exercise, we are obligated to understand what it means.

The author of Hebrews gives us the answer: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Heb. 11:1 ESV).

The author describes faith with two other nouns – assurance and conviction.

  1. Assurance – hypostasis – a trust in the undeniable reality of what is hoped for.
    •  This word is a rich, theological term used in both the LXX and the New Testament.[2] It is used elsewhere in Hebrews and refers to the undeniable reality of God – specifically the reality of God’s essence – his being/nature – in chapter one where the author writes that the Son of God is the exact imprint of God’s hypostasis – translated in the ESV as nature.[3]
    • The context of Heb. 11:1 then is that faith, the act of trust and belief, is the complete trust and assurance of the undeniable reality of the things that are hoped for.
    • The things hoped for here is referring to message of the Gospel – the glory of Christ, his work, eternal life – everything that is spoken in the word of God.
  2. Conviction – elenchos – a conviction based on proof of the invisible reality of the gospel.
    • The word here is used to speak of conviction in a legal sense – based on the proof of culpability.
    • Faith then, as this conviction, believes in the reality of the gospel, and by doing so, becomes a believer in all that God is even though it does not see it visibly.

So what is faith then? Faith is a trust in the undeniable reality of the Word of God; it is a conviction based on the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that the entirety of God’s revelation is absolutely true and worthy of complete trust.

Implications

Notice here that with that definition of faith, we know that faith must be something that

  1. Grows over time – as believers we long to cast away doubt and uncertainty and for the full assurance of faith, but just as Abraham, we must grow in faith over time.
  2. It is a gift of God – if faith is a trusting conviction based upon the reality of Christ’s work as revealed in the gospel, then we have to understand several things
    • That in order to come to a conviction about something one must understand the facts about it.
      • The Bible is incredibly clear that the unbeliever does not understand the things of God –
      • Romans 3:10-11 (quoting from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53) – “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
      • 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV –  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
    • This leaves human beings in their sin without the ability to respond rightly to God because their understanding is darkened by their sinful nature.
    • So, faith is a gift from God in that in his perfect time, he opens the eyes of sinners to see the gospel by taking out the old heart of stone (sinful nature) and putting in a new, responsive heart of flesh (new creation; born again), and God grants them the ability to see the gospel and they can do nothing but believe!

Conclusions and Encouragement

Brothers and sisters, we should take this as an encouragement to exercise our faith. We should work it out like a muscle, take what God has said in his word and trust it, acting upon it because it is undeniably true. God is faithful, he will never let you down when you put your entire trust in his promises. If every word of God is true, which it is, and faith is the realization and trust in that reality, which it is, then exercising and growing our faith is done by actively seeking God through His word and trusting what is said wholeheartedly and acting upon it. We should be daily seek the Lord through the Scriptures and not just taking it in as a mental acceptance but we should engage our hearts with what we read by actively trusting and believing it! Let your heart meditate and trust completely in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ who has loved you and saved you from your sin so completely that you are clothed in his righteousness. Trust in Christ completely, giving yourself absolutely over to him. Let your faith in the glorious reality of all that God has done bring your heart to worship and adore God for all he is.

We finish with the exhortation of the writer of Proverbs –

               Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

                            In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.


[1] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013).

[2] LXX – (Septuagint, the Gk. translation of the OT, which was the most widely read bible used in the Mediterranean/Hellenistic world in the first century)

[3] I am indebted to the work of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for an incredibly in-depth discussion of the word in both its origination and its use in the New Testament. –

         Köster, Helmut. “Ὑπόστασις.” Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.

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