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Faith (Gk. pistis) is belief or trust—especially in a higher power. The fundamental idea in Scripture is steadfastness and faithfulness.
Scripture’s Use of the Word. The word is used in Scripture (1) most frequently in a subjective sense, denoting a moral and spiritual quality of individuals, by virtue of which men are held in relations of confidence in God and fidelity to Him; and (2) in an objective sense, meaning the body of truth, moral and religious, which God has revealed—that which men believe. Examples of this use of the word are not numerous, though they occur occasionally, as in Phil. 1:27; 1 Tim. 1:19; 6:20–21; Jude 3, 20.
The word occurs only twice in our English version of the OT, the idea being expressed by other terms, such as “trust,” etc.
This article is confined in the further discussion to faith in the sense first named. The following points are of chief importance:
Philosophical. Faith, viewed philosophically, must be regarded as lying at the basis of all knowledge. Anselm’s famous utterance “Crede ut intelligas,” “Believe that you may know,” expresses the truth in contrast with the words of Abelard, “Intellige ut credas,” “Know that you may believe.” Truths perceived intuitively imply faith in the intuitions. Truths or facts arrived at by logical processes, or processes of reasoning, are held to be known because, first of all, we have confidence in the laws of the human mind. Our knowledge obtained through the senses has underneath it faith in the senses. To this extent Goethe spoke wisely when he said, “I believe in the five senses.” A large part of knowledge rests upon human testimony, and of course this involves faith in the testimony.
The distinction between matters of faith and matters of knowledge must not be drawn too rigidly, inasmuch as all matters of knowledge are in some measure matters also of faith. The distinction, when properly made, chiefly recognizes the different objects to which our convictions relate, and the different methods by which we arrive at these convictions. The convictions themselves may be as strong in the one case as in the other.
Theological. Faith in the theological sense contains two elements recognized in the Scriptures: there is an element that is intellectual and also an element, of even deeper importance, that is moral. Faith is not simply the assent of the intellect to revealed truth; it is the practical submission of the entire man to the guidance and control of such truth. “The demons also believe, and shudder.”
Indispensable as is the assent of the intellect, that alone does not constitute the faith upon which the Scriptures lay such emphasis. The essential idea is rather that of fidelity, faithfulness, steadfastness. Or, as has been well said, “Faith, in its essential temper, is that elevation of soul by which it aspires to the good, the true, and the divine.” In illustration may be cited particularly John 3:18–21; Rom. 2:7; 4:5; Heb. 11; James 2:14–26.
Intellectual. Viewed more particularly with reference to its intellectual aspect, faith is properly defined as the conviction of the reality of the truths and facts that God has revealed, such conviction resting solely upon the testimony of God.
These truths and facts are to a large extent beyond the reach of the ordinary human processes of acquiring knowledge. Still, they are of the utmost importance in relation to human life and salvation. God has therefore revealed them. And they who accept them must do so upon the trustworthiness of the divine testimony. This testimony is contained in the Holy Scriptures. It is impressed moreover by the special sanction of the Holy Spirit. (See John 3:11, 31–33; 16:8–11; 1 John 5:10–11, and many other places.)
Results of Faith. They who receive the divine testimony and yield to it become partakers of heavenly knowledge. Their knowledge comes by faith, yet nonetheless it is knowledge. The Scriptures, it is true, recognize the difference between walking by faith and walking by sight, and thus the difference between the objects and methods of sense-perception and those of faith. Also the difference is noted between the acquisition of human learning and philosophy and the contents of the divine revelation. But still the Scriptures represent true believers as persons who “know the things freely given to us by God.” Christ said to His disciples, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10; see also John 8:31–32; 1 Cor. 1:5–6, 21–30; 2:9–16; Eph. 1:17; 1 Tim. 2:4).
Reason and Faith. The relation of reason to faith is that of subordination, and yet not that of opposition. The truths of revelation are in many cases above reason, though not against it. Such truths were revealed because reason could not discover them. They are therefore to be accepted, though the reason cannot demonstrate them. But this inability of reason to discover or to demonstrate is one thing; irrationality, as involving absurdity, or contradiction of the intuitions of the intellect or conscience, or contradiction of well-established truth, is another.
Reason has its justly recognized and appropriate function in examining and weighing the evidences of revelation, as well as in interpreting or determining the force of the terms in which the revelation is given. But when the reality and meaning of revelation are thus reached, reason has done its work, and it remains for faith to accept the contents of the revelation, whatever they may be.
It should be said, however, that the evidence of the saving truth of revelation, most convincing for many, is not that which appeals directly to reason. Many lack ability or opportunity to investigate the rational evidences of Christianity. But to them with all others the announcement of the truth comes attended by the ministration or direct testimony of the Holy Spirit. They are thus made to feel that they ought to repent and believe the gospel. If they yield to this conviction they obtain forgiveness of their sins and become new creatures in Christ Jesus. The Spirit bears witness to their acceptance with God. And thus in the experience of salvation they have unquestionable proof of the reality of revelation. In all this reason is subordinate to faith but by no means opposed to it (1 Cor. 1:21–31; John 16:8–11; Rom. 8:14–17; 1 John 5:9–11).
Condition of Salvation. As has been assumed in the foregoing, faith is the condition of salvation. It is not the procuring cause but the condition, or instrumental cause. It is frequently associated in the Scriptures with repentance; thus the conditions of salvation, as commonly stated in Protestant doctrine, are repentance and faith. But in reality true faith and true repentance are not separate or to be distinguished too rigidly from each other. Faith is fundamental. Repentance implies faith. Faith is not saving faith unless it includes repentance. (See Repentance.) Saving faith may therefore be properly defined for those who have the light of the gospel as such belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as leads one to submit completely to the authority of Christ and to put complete and exclusive trust in Him for salvation. (See John 3:14–16.)
Faith, which is the condition of salvation, is also, in an important measure, one of the results of salvation. In the justified and regenerated soul, faith is deepened and developed by the influence of the Holy Spirit. In its essential quality faith is unchanged, but it acquires greater steadiness, and as the Word of God is studied and its contents spiritually apprehended faith becomes broader and richer in the truths and facts that it grasps.
Thus in its beginning and completion faith is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
By E. McChesney
Bibliography: W. H. P. Hatch, The Pauline Idea of Faith (1917); C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935); J. Barr, Semantics of Biblical Language (1961); J. G. Machen, What Is Faith? (1962); B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies (1962); N. Turner, Christian Words (1980), pp. 153–58. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988)