One of the harder things to understand about Christianity is what is faith, why is faith so important, and how can someone just "have faith" in God and Jesus. Faith is a very important part of Christianity, and to be a Christian requires faith. Sometimes faith is described as being unreasonable, or just plain silly. However, I believe faith is really not that unreasonable after all. In this article I will examine what the Bible says about faith, and also explain how faith can be reasonable.
What is faith?
Some definitions of faith from TheFreeDictionary are:
- Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing
- Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence
- The body of dogma or a religion
In the Bible, when faith is mentioned it is mostly referring to number 1. Faith is usually described as faith in God, or in Jesus, or in what God has done and will do, or in God's character. When you are already a Christian, you can work on developing this sort of faith by learning to trust God more, believing His promises, and having personal experience with trusting God in practical ways in your life.
But if you are not a Christian, then before you can have faith in God, you must have faith that God does exist. Belief that God exists is not the type of faith in definition number 2. God does not just expect us to have faith with absolutely no proof. Instead, faith is a belief based on reasonable extrapolation from reason and personal experience, although the belief in question is not provable. For example, belief that God exists can be based on a number of reasonable arguments, but in the end God's existence cannot be absolutely proven, so it requires faith to accept it.
It is interesting that faith is not required only for Christianity. Atheists' belief that there is no God and that life on earth is all due to the big-bang and evolution requires faith also. Instead of having faith in an ultimate creator who exists outside of space-time (i.e God), they have faith in "chance" or "luck" and random mutations and Darwinian natural selection. It cannot be proven that life formed from non-living elements, but atheists just have faith that it did happen. Science cannot show what the cause of the big-bang was, but atheists have faith that it did have a cause, even if they can never determine what that cause was. So, even atheism requires faith. Personally, I believe Christianity requires less faith than atheism.
Why is faith so important?
Faith in God is very important in Christianity. Obviously, Christians have faith that God does exist. But Christians also require other types of faith. We must have faith that God is the God as revealed in the Bible, that the Bible is indeed God's true words, that Jesus was God, that God has intervened in history through Jesus to deal with our sins, and that God will fulfill his future promises.
The Bible places a lot of value on faith in God. In fact, Christians are not saved by anything we do - but only our faith:
- "The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith."(Romans 1:17)
- "God treat everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ." (Romans 3:22)
- Jesus said "Everyone who has faith in me also has faith in the one who sent me." (John 12:44)
- Jesus said "If you don't have faith in me for who I am, you will die, and your sins will not be forgiven." (John 8:24)
- Jesus said "I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the who who sent me has eternal life and will never be condemned. They have already gone from death to life."(John 5:24)
- Jesus said "God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! No one who has faith in God's son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son."
There are also many other verses which prove this. The overall message of the New Testament is that it's not about what we do, but about faith in Jesus. So what exactly is "faith in Jesus"? The basics are: Jesus is God, who died on the cross to deal with our sins, and who came back to life, and who will one day come back to set up his kingdom on Earth.
To learn what are the basics of Christian faith, we can look at the story of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Before the thief died, he said to Jesus "Remember me when you come into power" (Luke 23:42), and this was enough for Jesus to promise that the thief would go to heaven. This statement by the thief basically means that he believed Jesus would set up his kingdom, as Jesus had promised. This statement includes some underlying beliefs such as; Jesus would overcome death (how could Jesus to establish a kingdom if he is dead?) and that Jesus was God (in order to overcome death). Basically, the thief only acknowledged that he believed Jesus was who he said he was (God), and that Jesus would do what he had claimed he would do (set up his Kingdom). This is the core of faith in Jesus - trusting and believing what Jesus said about himself.
Of course, this basic belief was good enough for the thief who was about to die, who had no time to do anything else. However, God doesn't want us to stop with just basic faith. We have so many resources available to develop much deeper knowledge of who Jesus is, what he will do, and what God has done in the past, and so we should take advantage of these to develop our faith and become mature Christians.
Faith is More Blessed Than Seeing
Sometimes is it easy to think that of course Jesus' disciples could have such strong faith - they saw all Jesus' miracles, and talked with Jesus, and saw his resurrection, and did amazing miracles themselves. But Jesus says that people who are alive now are actually more blessed than the disciples were. Jesus said "The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!" (John 20:29). It is more of a challenge for us to have faith, since we did not actually see Jesus or his miracles, but I believe in heaven we will be rewarded for our faith more than those who were able to actually see Jesus when he was on Earth.
Faith and Works
We need to put our faith into practice in our daily lives, by living how Jesus has asked us to and by telling others about him. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17,26), meaning that if we say we have faith but it never motivates us to do anything to show it, then maybe our faith is not really genuine. Our works don't save us, but they are a very good indicator of if we really have faith or not.
For example, if someone really believed their city was going to be destroyed tomorrow, they wouldn't just sit at home watching TV. Instead they would be out packing their things, stocking up on survival supplies, and warning their friends that they should be doing the same thing. Their faith would motivate their actions. If they sat there doing nothing, their friends would really wonder if the person really believes the city is going to be destroyed or not, since their actions don't match with their claimed beliefs. This is an example of how our faith should affect our actions in real life.
For Christians who claim to have faith in Jesus, we should try to actively grow in our faith by studying the Bible, prayer, and worship. We should try to avoid sin and develop the fruits of the spirit (try to be loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled - Galatians 5:32). We should be generous with our time, money, and resources to those who need our help, and we should be motivated to tell others the good news about Jesus.
How can I have faith?
Having faith is a learning process. But it starts with hearing and understanding the gospel: "How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him?" (Romans 10:14). If you have never heard what the message of Christianity is, I would suggest reading my articles where I try to explain the basics of Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus. You can also talk to some of your friends or co-workers who are Christians and ask them about their faith, and how they learned to have faith in God and Jesus, and why they believe in God.
Sometimes if people are born into a Christian family, they may not know exactly the reasons for their faith because it seems to be common sense to them. But others have become Christians when they were older, and had to make a conscious choice to accept what the Bible says is true. It can be very difficult to overcome years of preconceptions that God doesn't exist and then start believing in God. For new Christians or those who are questioning Christianity, I would suggest that you read the books The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator and The Case for Faith written by Lee Strobel. He started off as a non-Christian and investigated Christianity by interviewing experts in many fields to show how belief in God and Jesus is reasonable, and his books are quite engaging.
If you are already a Christian, then you can still work on having stronger faith. I find one of the best ways to increase my faith is through reading books about Christian apologetics. Apologetics doesn't mean "I'm sorry for being a Christian" - it's a category of theology which focuses on using reason, logic, science, and history to give support for Christianity. I have several good books of this type listed on my Recommended Reading list, if you are interested.
What are My Reasons for Faith
Personally, I have many reasons to have faith that God exists, that the Bible is true, and that Christianity is indeed the correct teaching about reality. I was raised a Christian, and so I did not question these beliefs for many years. However, I have always cared about having correct beliefs which are reasonable and backed up by logic and science. Here are some reasons why I continue to have faith in Jesus, in the hope that it might encourage you to investigate and examine your faith for yourself.
I imagine faith is like a bridge crossing a wide canyon, and reason is like a bridge. But the bridge will never make it all the way across the canyon. You can have a very short bridge, and you'll need a huge leap to make it to the other side. Or, you can have a long bridge, and only a short jump is necessary to make it across. Some people are comfortable with the huge leap of faith, without any supporting evidence needed. Others like to build upon the strong evidence of science, reason, logic, and Biblical research, and then make a leap of faith. But the leap of faith based on evidence will not be so difficult as the leap of faith based on nothing. It does still require faith, since the conclusions of Christianity cannot be absolutely proven in this lifetime (unless Jesus comes back while we're still here), but science and reason and other sources can give us some very useful encouragement that our beliefs are correct.
I have studied many sources which argue both for and against creationism, and I believe that creationism is the best way to explain the world we see around us. The big-bang may sound like a good explanation for how the universe around us was formed, but the major weakness is it cannot explain what caused the big-bang. But, since God exists outside of space or time, and is eternal and uncreated, He does not need a cause. Therefore, God could have caused the universe, either through the big-bang or some other method which we cannot yet determine. The big-bang itself is still just a theory, and relies on several assumptions of science which may have problems.
Additionally, the theory of evolution had many serious flaws. The largest of these is that it requires abiogenesis - the theory that life first formed from non-living elements, and just happened to come together in the right order, with the right chemicals, at the right time and location, and somehow was able to replicate itself before it died or was destroyed. There is basically no chance of this happening. Then it also requires belief that billions of beneficial mutations (and no negative ones) have happened over billions of years in order to lead to the variety of life we see now, even though most mutations we see today lead to cancer or the death of the organism. This requires far more faith than to believe that God created life as described in the Bible.
Instead, I choose to believe that God did create the world, probably in seven normal days as the Bible says, probably only a few thousand years ago, and that the worldwide flood really happened. The flood explains most of the geological features we see today, such as the Grand Canyon. There are many problems with scientific dating methods which claim the world is billions of years old, because they are based on the faulty assumption that what happened in the past is the same as what happens today, which is completely not testable. From all these issues with the cause of the big-bang, abiogenesis, and evolution, I see the explanation of God's creation and the flood as far more reasonable and requiring less faith to explain how we got here and the world we see around us. For very good articles to learn about the science behind creation, the flood, and other creation issues, please check out Creation Ministry International's Frequently Asked Questions site.
A very strong piece of evidence that the Bible is true is Biblical prophecy. Jesus told his disciples "I am telling you this before I leave, so that when it does happen, you will have faith in me." (John 14:29). God told the Israelites that the point of prophecy was to prove he really was God "Long ago I announced what was going to be, then without warning, I made it happen. I knew you were stubborn and hardheaded. And I told you these things, so that when they happened you would not say, 'The idols we worship did this.'" (Isaiah 48:3).
In the Bible, 27% of the verses are predictive - they predict what will happen at some later point in time [1, p.216]. There were many Old Testament verses which predicted specific details of Jesus' life, even things like where he would be born and what family he would be born into, which he had no control over. Jesus fulfilled over 456 specific prophecies! A statistical study showed that the chance of Jesus filling just eight of these prophecies was only 1 out of 1017 (10 with seventeen zeros behind it!). To fill 48 prophecies would be 1 out of 10157! [1, p. 227]. There is basically no chance that Jesus fulfilled all 456 prophecies without him really being the one God meant to tell us about.
There are many other historical prophecies in the Bible which are fulfilled, and there are far too many to list here. One prophecy which was fulfilled relatively recently is the recreation of the state of Israel in 1948. All of these prophecies are very good evidence that God really inspired the Bible, since no one else could have accurately predicted so many things. Other prophecies about end-times are yet to be fulfilled (such as the Rapture and the Tribulation and the return of Jesus). If the Rapture happens in our lifetime, it will be very good proof to many skeptics that the Bible is true. For some good sources on Biblical prophecy, you should try the books "Every Prophecy of the Bible" by John Walvoord and "The Handbook of Biblical Evidences" by John Ankerberg and John Weldon.
Reason and Logic
There are other reasons to believe in God. There is a lot of evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was a real historical event. The early church would not have started without the personal conviction of the disciples that they had really seen Jesus alive after he was crucified. Most of the disciples were martyred for their beliefs, and they would not die for their beliefs if they had just made it up. The alternate theories for the empty tomb do not hold up, and require more faith than just believing that God can raise somebody back to life. So the evidence for the resurrection is one strong piece of reasonable evidence that Christianity is correct and God does exist.
There are other sorts of logical arguments for the existence of God. We can say that if Jesus claimed to be God, then he must have been either a liar, insane, or maybe he was really telling the truth. Jesus was clearly not a liar, because his personal character would not allow him to lie, and his disciples who followed him around for three years would have spotted any deception. Also, Jesus would not have lied about something that he knew would get him killed - claiming to be the son of God - since no sane person would want to die by crucifixion. He was not insane because of the consistency of his teachings and brilliance of outwitting the most educated religious teachers of the time. Therefore, he must have really been who he claimed to be - the son of God!. This is just a simple outline of this argument. For more details about this argument you can see this site here.
There is also the supporting argument of the infallibility of the Bible. If God really is the God of the Bible, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), then he would not lie when he inspired the words of the Bible. God is all-knowing, so he knew that these specific writings would be preserved and compiled into the Bible and passed down through the centuries as the only true message from God, so he would certainly make sure they would be correct. There is no way he could allow any error, because if there was error then some parts of the Bible would be true and others would be false. But, how could God expect fallen sinful, imperfect humans to perfectly determine which parts of the Bible are true and which are not? He couldn't! Therefore, if we believe the Bible is God's word, then we must accept all of it as God's word - we cannot pick and choose what we think is God's word and what is not. While this does not prove the Bible really is God's word, it does prove that if we believe in the Christian God then we must also believe the Bible is 100% true.
Personal experience is a very useful piece of evidence to support your faith. God works in many ways. Sometimes people get direct evidence, such as a miraculous healing or answer to prayer which they know could not be anything but God. Sometimes people have a very overwhelming experience during worship or other Christian event when they feel God speaking directly to their hearts, and calling them to have faith in Him. Some people have visions or dreams where they see Jesus, which are popular among Muslim converts to Christianity. Some people actually hear an audible word or two from God, or see an angel, although this is extremely rare.
Here are some of my personal examples, if it helps at all. When I was at a youth Bible camp, during a prayer meeting someone asked to pray for me, and I felt a massive surge of energy go though me for several minutes during the prayer. It was so unusual that I knew it must have been God, and left me feeling very happy. Another time I was desperately praying for peace and help with an issue, and God answered it right then and there. My problem instantly disappeared, and I felt such overwhelming peace. These were the two most notable experiences I've ever had, but I also have had times when God speaks directly to my heart during prayer. I will often hear a quiet thought appear in my head which often addresses me by name, and often appears before I've even finished asking my question. Some people get more outstanding experiences and some only get small whispers, but God speaks to each person as they need. Not everyone will get miracles if they don't need them, and not everyone will hear audible voices or experience healings or other signs. Sometimes you might only get a small whisper in your heart, and that's totally fine and good - it probably shows you have more faith so you don't need all sorts of supernatural experiences to believe in God.
God also gives direction through circumstances. I have looked back on my life and realized how so much of it was guided by God to bring me to where I am now. I just 'happened" to get into the right university, to meet the right guy to be my husband, to get the right job, and God even used my personal crises over the years to guide me to make choices to bring me to where I am now, and I can see it was totally orchestrated by God. I could not have done this on my own or planned it all out on my own.
Encouragement from Others
"What I am saying is that we can encourage each other by faith that is ours." (Romans 1:12). We can do this by sharing stories of our personal experiences with each other. We can boost our faith by teaching others about reasons why the Biblical worldview is correct, and the evidence for creation, etc. We can just listen and offer personal friendship and love to those who need it, so that they can experience God's love through us. We can let God use us in practical ways to answer people's prayers. There are all sorts of ways to encourage others in their faith. If you need encouragement, try to find another Christian friend or mentor you can talk to who can help you have more faith.
I hope this article has shown what faith is, and that faith is not unreasonable. Some people can have faith without supporting proof, but I believe that having the supporting evidence makes having faith much easier. Christianity cannot be proven completely, so faith is still necessary, but it is only a small leap when we see the supporting evidence from science, logic and philosophy, bible prophecy, and personal experiences of ourselves and others. Faith that Jesus really was who he said he was is the core of Christianity, and is all that is necessary to be saved. But we shouldn't stop there - we should work on improving our faith and making sure we allow our faith to influence our actions to show it is genuine. I look forward to the day when faith will no longer be necessary, because I will one day see Jesus face to face.
 John Ankerberg and John Weldon (1997). Handbook of Biblical Evidences. Harvest House Publishers.