In the original language of the New Testament, the noun ‘faith’ and the verb ‘believe’ are different parts of the same word. Although faith involves belief, by far the most important characteristic of faith (in the biblical sense) is reliance, or trust. To have faith in a person or thing is to rely wholly on that person or thing, and not to rely on oneself. The Bible usually speaks of faith in relation to people’s trust in, or dependence on, God and his works. This dependence may concern aspects of physical life such as God’s provision of food, health, protection from harm and victory over enemies (Ps 22:4-5; 37:3-4; 46:1-3; Matt 6:30-33; Heb 11:33-35), but above all it concerns aspects of spiritual life such as God’s provision of salvation and eternal life (Ps 18:2; 40:4; 71:5; 73:26; Prov 3:5; Jer 17:7; John 3:16; Rom 1:16; 5:1).

Saved by faith.

Whether in the era before Christ or after, people have been saved only through faith in the sovereign God who in his mercy and grace forgives sin; and the basis on which God forgives sin is the death of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:24-26; 4:16,22-25; 2 Cor 4:13; Gal 3:11; see JUSTIFICATION; SACRIFICE). People can never be saved from sin, never be accepted by God, on the basis of their good works or their law-keeping. They can do nothing to deserve or win God’s favour (Rom 4:1-5; 9:30-32; 10:3-4). God saves people solely by his grace, and they receive this salvation by faith (Eph 2:8-9). Faith in itself does not save. It is simply the means by which the sinner accepts the salvation that God offers. God’s salvation is not a reward for faith; it is a gift that no one deserves, but any person can receive it by faith (Rom 3:25; 5:15). For example, if someone out of kindness decides to give a friend a gift, the friend must accept that gift in order to own it. But the gift is given freely; it is not a reward for the friend’s act of acceptance. Again, faith is not something a person can boast about. There is no merit in faith. All the merit lies in the object of faith, God, who through Jesus Christ has become the Saviour of sinners (John 3:16,18; 7:31; 17:20; Acts 20:21; 1 John 5:12-13). Consider another example. If a sailor in a sinking ship jumps into a lifeboat, that lifeboat means everything to the sailor. His faith in jumping into it, far from being an act of merit, is an admission of helplessness. The lifeboat, the object of faith, is what takes the sailor to safety. Faith in God is not effort, but the ceasing of effort. It is not doing, but relying on what Christ has done. It is an attitude whereby guilty sinners gives up their own efforts to win salvation, no matter how good they be, and completely trust in Christ, and in him alone, for their salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Gal 2:16). Without such an attitude, no person can receive God’s salvation (Heb 11:6a). The faith by which people receive salvation is not merely an acknowledgment of certain facts (though this is necessary, since believers must know who and what they are trusting in; John 2:22; 3:12; 6:69; 8:24-25; Rom 10:9-10; Heb 11:6b; 1 John 5:20). Rather it is a belief by which believers commit themselves wholly to Christ in complete dependence. It is not just accepting certain things as true (for even God’s enemies may have that sort of belief; James 2:19), but trusting in a person, Jesus Christ. Some may say they have a general faith in God, but if they refuse to have specific faith in Jesus Christ, their ‘faith’ is a form of self-deception (John 5:24; 14:6; 1 John 2:23). So basic is faith to Christianity, that the New Testament uses the name ‘believers’ as another name for Christians (Acts 5:14; Rom 3:26; 1 Tim 4:12). Likewise it uses ‘the faith’ as another name for Christianity (1 Tim 5:8; 6:10,21).

Living by faith

Christians are not only saved by faith, they live by faith. They continue to rely on the promise and power of the unseen God rather than on what they see and experience in the visible world (1 Cor 2:5; 2 Cor 5:6-7; Col 1:23; 2:7; Heb 11:1). Their lives are lived in constant dependence on God. Christ has borne the penalty of sin on their behalf and now lives within them. Only as they trust in his power can they experience in practice the victory, peace and joy that their salvation has brought (Gal 2:20; 5:6; Eph 1:19). The strength of the faith by which they live depends largely on the strength of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Rom 14:1; 2 Thess 1:3; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 3:18). A professed faith that does not produce a change for the better in a person’s behaviour is not true faith; it is not a faith that leads to salvation. Those who have genuine faith will give clear proof of it by their good conduct (Gal 5:6; 1 Tim 5:8; James 2:18-26). Sometimes the Bible speaks of faith in the special sense of trust in God to do something unusual or supernatural (Matt 9:22,28; 17:19-20; Mark 2:5; 9:23; Luke 7:9; 8:25; James 5:14-15; see DISEASE; MIRACLES; PRAYER). To some Christians God gives a gift of special faith that enables them to do what otherwise they could not do (Rom 12:3,6; 1 Cor 12:9; see GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT).

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