What is faith?
It may strike you as odd or strange to find that the notion of “faith” isn’t directly defined anywhere in Scripture. Yes, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews quickly defines faith in the chapter 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) But even there the definition is a functional one, not a philosophical one. That is, “it’s a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence.”1 In actuality, the Bible presumes upon faith: it assumes the presence of faith and then goes on to show us the results of that faith, rather than show us precisely what it is. So, then, we may ask: “What is faith?”
A simple look.
Faith is simply and vitally beholding God the Father as he’s displayed and manifested in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Heb 12:1–2 KJV) It’s “believing [and] directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It’s lifting the mind to ‘behold the Lamb of God,’ and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives.”2 It’s “believing that Christ is what he is said to be and that he will do what he has promised to do. Faith expects this of him.”3 Quite simply, faith is “the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.”4 This gaze, this looking, this beholding, is all-important to the life of a Christian. Faith is knowledge, not some flimsy wish or longing; it’s a sure hope, a confident expectation, a trusting lean into the Lord Jesus. Therefore, to cultivate faith, you must be pursuing God. You must have embarked upon the relentless pursuit of Jesus Christ and his gospel of grace. “So faith comes from hearing . . . the Good News about Christ.” (Rom 10:17 NLT) Our faith grows as we go deeper into the gospel — as we dive into the overwhelming reality of God’s infinite and inexhaustible grace and inseparable love.
The continuous gaze of the soul.
Furthermore, as A. W. Tozer asserts, “faith isn’t a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.”5 That continuous gaze is a steadfast looking, as that of a student upon his teacher, an apprentice to his master. It’s a dedicated look that waits patiently for the Master’s bidding. “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master . . . so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Ps 123:1–2) There’s no thing or no one that should distract your gaze, or shake your faith. Because your faith rests in the finished work of Christ alone — and nothing is more secure than that. The gaze of your soul upon Christ necessitates a “loosing,” an “unfastening,” a “letting go” of things so that you might cling tighter to the gospel. Faith is total reliance and absolute surrender to God and his sovereign will. We’re either relying wholly and fully on Jesus, or we aren’t relying on him at all. Charles Spurgeon speaks well to this reality:
He that has faith has renounced his own righteousness. If thou puttest one atom of trust in thyself thou hast no faith; if thou dost place even a particle of reliance upon anything else but what Christ did, thou hast no faith . . . Christ will have all or nothing; he must be a whole Saviour, or none at all.
Lose yourself in love.
Reader, lose yourself and look only to Jesus. Let go of things and cling only to Christ, for it is he that initiates and perfects and keeps the love and faith that resides in us. It is he that saves to the uttermost. “It is not your own act of believing that is the means of life,” says Horatius Bonar; “it is the thing which you believe — viz., the gospel.”6 Faith is life, for it is by the faith in the grace of Jesus that we who are spiritually dead are made alive! (Eph 2:1–10) Your “life is found in ‘looking unto Jesus,’ not in looking to [your] own faith. By faith all things become possible to us. Yet, the power is not in the faith but in the God upon whom faith relies.”7
Faith is all-important in the life of the soul. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith will get [you] anything, take [you] anywhere in the Kingdom of God, but without faith there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all.8
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007), 69.
Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace: The Infinite Love of God (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), 50.
Horatius Bonar, Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851), #5.