What Is Faith? [Insert Your Answer Here]

What is faith?

We Christians talk a lot about it, especially as it concerns our salvation. Truth be told, we like to leave it there at the point of conversion, confined in the Salvation Box we’ve created for it.

And yet we’re called to walk by it, to live “from faith to faith”, and to ensure our faith is evident to all.

But it would seem to me to be difficult at best, impossible at worst, to engage something we can’t define. I would suggest one reason we Christian don’t walk by faith all that well is that we don’t know what faith is. That’s not the only reason, of course, but it is a foundational one.

We could just quote Hebrews 11, as if that answered it:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Yet my experience in Christianity leads me to conclude that a lot of us quote Scripture as if that settled something — when we really don’t have a clue what we just said.

Faith is something I’ve thought about quite a bit over the last few years of our own journey. It’s the topic of the manuscript I’m working on now, in fact. So I have given the question a bit of attention.

 How I Define Faith

For what it’s worth, here is my answer to the question of  “what is faith?”:

Faith is doing what you believe to be true, often in spite of what you may see, sense, or feel.

I would repeat it to give you time to think about it, but we’re working with text here — so just reread it yourself.

And then I’d truly like to know your thoughts about it. Does this definition capture what faith is? What would you add or subtract? Is there another definition you’ve found that betetr captures what the Bible says faith must be?

I’d welcome your input with a comment below.

About Bill Blankschaen

Bill Blankschaen is a writer, author, and communicator who empowers people to live a story worth telling. As the founder of FaithWalkers, he equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

His next book entitled Live a Story Worth Telling: A FaithWalker's Guide is scheduled for release in May 2015 from Abingdon Press. His writing has been featured with Michael Hyatt, Ron Edmondson, Skip Prichard, Jeff Goins, Blueprint for Life, Catalyst Leaders, Faith Village, and many others who shall remain nameless.

Bill is a blessed husband and the father of six children with an extensive background in education and organizational leadership. He serves as VP of Content & Operations for Polymath Innovations in partnership with Patheos Labs. He is the Junior Scholar of Cultural Theology and Director of Development for the Center for Cultural Leadership. He works with a variety of ministries including Equip Leadership (founded by John C. Maxwell) when he's not visiting his second home -- Walt Disney World.

  • http://bridger.biz/ Gregory C

    Quite a challenging thing to define faith in one sentence! Just one thing about your definition I would quibble with. I think all kinds of misunderstandings are likely to arise whenever we define faith as doing something. Genuine faith should lead one to do something when necessary, but it could just as easily lead one to not do something. To not be drawn into a pointless quarrel, or to do something when waiting is called for. For instance, think of the faith that Moses had when he camped by the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army fast approaching. What could have been more difficult than to not flee? With the lives of millions in his hands, the pressure to do something must have been overwhelming.

    And that’s part of the difficulty with defining faith. People want to see results. They immediately think of James 2:17, “Faith without works is dead.” So, why not define faith in terms of good works? It makes it easier to come up with a more ecumenical definition that everyone can accept. The trouble is, once you decide that faith looks like something in particular (like giving to the poor) it is easy to counterfeit.

    To my mind, faith must be connected with goodness, and not just the appearance of goodness. That’s what makes faith genuine, being able to first distinguish good from evil, and then to do whatever is necessary. Sometimes, goodness doesn’t look like anything special, and so the challenge to faith is to not let go of goodness when it is no longer attractive or practical. And the converse is also true, of course. Evil is often attractive and expedient. With that in mind, here is my definition:

    Faith is being convinced that the highest good is found in something most people don’t understand or want, and that the worst evils are rooted in that which seem to be good.

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Greg. I agree it is a challenge, but if we’re going to talk about it – and walk by it — we should make every effort to figure out what it is.

      I would say that not doing something — is doing something, if that makes sense. I like how the bible puts God’s instruction to Moses: “Stand still” took faith just as the walking part did. And I’m glad you noted the connection with action. Until we act on what we believe, even we don’t know if we truly believe it.

      I would argue politely that being convinced of something is not yet faith. Like passive energy, it could become faith, but is not yet. But when we act on what we believe to be true, we step into the realm of faith. And I do not think it has much to do with good or evil at the most basic level. “The devils “believe and tremble” tion. The object of their faith is not God or the person of Jesus, thus their faith leads them in a radically different direction.

      • http://bridger.biz/ Gregory C

        I agree, “conviction” isn’t really a strong enough word these days. We talk about having the courage of your convictions, so faith must have the support of courage. The disciples had faith, but they didn’t have the necessary courage to use it until after Pentecost. It took the power of grace, working through faith in what Jesus accomplished and gave to us all. We plant the seed of faith, and God gives the growth – he completes our faith, as it were, through the Spirit.

  • Deborah

    Nothing is always something. Nothing could be seen as patience , standing still , quite (NOT speaking) .ect… Reading about the Israelites and Moses many if not all the time seems to be married to trust or lack there off .Not much in the Bible has been said in one sentence once but repeated many ways for our understanding. HE provide food , water, oases, protection, ect. to the Israelite yet they still did not THINK God would take care of them always saying “we were better off in Egypt”. Thinking is were many of us run into a problem. When we should know (Faith) that God will take care of it(this does not mean be lazy or sit on your hand and wait)

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Thanks!! I think you are right. Waiting is, in my opinion, doing something. Stepping down or back can take just as much faith as stepping forward in some circumstances.

  • Lawrence LaPointe

    Faith is the imitation of Jesus Christ’s suffering walk on earth.

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Must one suffer then to walk by faith? It would seem that would lead to a potentially sadistic, monastic lifestyle that seeks out abuse and suffering.

      But why would we be seeking to imitate his suffering when he is no longer suffering but risen and exalted? Not that we will not gladly suffer for him…

      • Lawrence LaPointe

        You’re off 180 degrees. If one walks in faith, they will suffer.

        “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

        isn’t the dying of self suffering?

  • Fallulah

    Faith is a disease that needs to be eradicated from the earth. It is belief in something you are told with no evidence, ignoring evidence to the contrary. It is dangerous and should be replaced by careful examination using reason and logic.

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Thanks for the obviously passionate comment. If I am understanding you correctly, you define faith as believing in something with no evidence or contrary to the evidence you do have. Would that be accurate?

      Frankly, that sounds more like stupidity to me and I can see why you would be opposed to such insanity. I would also agree that many sincere Christians embrace that errant definition.

      The definition I’m proposing, however, has to do with what you, or anyone, believes to be true, regardless of what you sense in this physical realm. The two are not necessarily opposed, though at times they can be due to our finite knowledge and sensory capacity.

      Certainly as a student of logic, you would agree that one’s use of logic is only as effective as the presuppositions they accept at the outset, the foundational axioms — which must always be taking by faith in order to qualify as axioms.

      • Alex Symczak

        I agree that faith is believing in something without good reason, and your comment only seems to verify that when you state that faith has to do with what you believe regardless of what you see in this “physical realm.” I see this to mean that faith has to do with what you believe regardless of evidence.

        As for the axioms of logic, I would not say typical axioms are taken on “faith.” Axioms are, of course, unprovable within the system they create; however, that does not mean that their use is entirely unjustified and arbitrary. Axioms often arise from what is seen as obvious due to observation and experience, and the assumption that they are true should allow one to draw further conclusions that also appear to be true, adding further evidence that the assumption is justified, although the axiom can never be seen as proven.

        I would contrast this to supposed axioms I would consider to be assumed on “faith.” A theist may say his or her beginning assumption is there is a god and the bible is literally true. Ken Ham basically said this during his debate with Bill Nye. I see no reason to start with such a sweeping, random assumption.

        • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

          Thanks for the comment.
          I think we agree more than disagree actually. I am not limiting “evidence” to the physical realm. And I would not agree that faith has to do with what you believe, regardless of what you see in the “physical” realm. My definition states “often in spite of” not always or even normally.

          As to the axioms, your point about Ken’s argument is my point exactly: at some level, he has chosen to believe certain assumptions by faith. Not that there is no evidence to support his position, not that logic and reason don’t align with it, but his belief is just that — a belief. It may or not have evidence, but it is a belief which he must take by faith. Bill Nye does the same. We all do. All systems of thought must –at their foundation — be grounded on truth statements that are assumed by faith.

          All too often we presume faith and evidence are opposed. Modern Christians are especially susceptible to this thinking of faith as being opposed to reason. I call it the LucasFilm faith for it is most clearly seen in movies such as Star Wars or The Last Crusade. In this way, Christians become functional practitioners of the Eastern mysticism that appears in many religions that trace their roots to such schools as Zoroastrianism. We see this in such language as a “leap of faith.” I do not agree although sometimes what we believe may conflict with what we see, sense, or feel. But what we see, sense, or feel is limited and therefore incapable of being fully aware of other “evidence.”

          • Alex Symczak

            Wow, you’re really on top of this. I didn’t realize you had responded so quickly. Anyway…

            You think there is evidence beyond this “physical realm?” What would be an example of this? How can we obtain this evidence? What other realms are there, and how do you know? What evidence do you use to justify your beliefs?

            I’ll just stick with that for now, I don’t want to go too long.

  • John Andrew Kossey

    Your working definition strikes me as this-worldly and rather abstract, Bill.

    One might go so far as apply the proposition to the “faith” mindset (and action) of a mass terrorist who blows himself up and murders others nearby. Is such a person not consumed with and convinced of the “rightness” of his despicable action? (I fully doubt that you were thinking this way.)

    Fundamentally, the definition is more-or-less agnostic does not address who is the authentic object of faith.

    I suggest that we center upon and glorify God for what God has done, is doing, and will ultimately consummate. Faith is foremostly about God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

    Faith for a Christian is gloriously theocentric, grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus, and perfected in the Holy Spirit. One who is faithing into Jesus Christ believes that God the Father has raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9).

    Faith is our Spirit-enabled, trusting in, responding to, abiding in, and belonging to one sovereign, eternal God who is:
    1) the gracious, electing, rich-in-mercy Father
    2) the crucified-resurrected-and-exalted Lord Jesus Christ as the definitive revelation of and our reconciliation to Father;
    3) the perfecting, indwelling Holy Spirit as our truth leader and life giver.

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Thanks, John. Privileged that you shared such a valuable perspective. I agree with what you said about “Faith for a Christian…” but even your phrasing subtly acknowledges that one can have faith and not be a Christian. So my definition is not intended to identify the object or focus of the faith — although that is the critical next question.

      Yes, I do think that a terrorist who blows up innocent bystanders is acting based on what he believes to be true — and therefore is acting by faith. In that aspect, his faith puts that of many Christians to shame. But the object of his faith is not Jesus nor guided by God’s revelation to us. It is a misguided faith, misplaced and thus yielding tragic results, but faith nonetheless.

      I would argue that in this sense, we are all people of faith. Does that make sense?

      • John Andrew Kossey


        Given that the author of Hebrews points out that it’s impossible to please God without faith, asserting that “we all are people of faith” does not seem to be particularly useful–from a Christian perspective, of course.

        That proposition tends to enshrine faith as a common human commodity and does not sufficiently account for faith/trusting response as a divine gift that flows from the faithfulness of God in Christ and becomes magnified through the work of the Holy Spirit.

        At this point, I fail to appreciate how “we are all people of faith” advances proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected.

        I recognize that individuals whose lives are essentially secular can possess a moral life view that structures their ethical decisions and actions. To call this faith in self–of a “defective” kind?–is possible, just like the sci-fi movie categorizes contact with extra-terrestrial beings of various levels (e.g., “of the third kind”). It might have some utility in scholarly, socio-religious research.

        • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

          But if we are all — at the core — people of faith, then the next question every person must answer is ” Faith in what or who?” I can think of no more practical reality. The atheist is as much a person of faith as the Christian in this broad sense — but with a different object.

          • John Andrew Kossey

            I simply do not see this as an “easy sell” for Christian outreach.

            Isn’t there more scriptural support for understanding that God has created human beings in the image of God than to assert that everyone inherently has faith–in someone or something?

            I’m not denying the possibility, just doubting efficacy from saying that “we are all people of faith.” It might lead to a conclusion that one’s existing faith is sufficient and just as effective as a Christian’s gift from God in Christ of faith/trust.

            Self-faith, deficient faith, false faith are rather difficult to unlearn–if you can motivate others to try.

            We could possibly compare “everybody has faith” to Peter’s contrast between “not a people” to “God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10) for developing a corresponding faith “continuum” of sorts. It overcomplicates for me.

            No one is preventing your from using the “we are all people of faith” motif. Thanks kindly for letting me share some concepts. You have the last word.

          • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

            I was thinking of it more as an apologetic approach as it relates to unbelievers. But I think believers often put their faith in Christ in a box because they think that faith has no place in public discourse or other areas of life outside the church. The reality is that everyone functions by faith in something.

            I think most such believers may find boldness in knowing faith is at the foundation of everyone’s existence, the only question is faith in whom or what?