What Is True Faith?

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6


“Faith,” wrote the Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood, “is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Yet the fact is, faith seems to contradict the world of reality. It is no wonder that the writer of Hebrews described faith as the “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB). It is the battle of the tangible versus the intangible, the seen versus the unseen, the material versus the spiritual.


“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” said a skeptical Thomas when he learned that some of the disciples had seen the risen Lord (John 20:25). “I’ve got to see for myself,” was Thomas’ position.


It is little wonder that the saying goes, “Seeing is believing!” But in reality, believing is seeing. At least, that’s what Jesus taught.


You find this truth in John 10. It was part of a rather heated conversation that Jesus had with some of his detractors, who happened to be religious leaders of their day. The rhetoric had degenerated to the place of their calling him “demon possessed” (John 10:19). The people, though, who heard Jesus, had far more spiritual insight than their leaders (something that is often true today), and they responded, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21).


Jesus responded to His critics by saying, “…believe the miracles, that you may learn and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38). Notice the progression of those three verbs which are like stair steps to spiritual understanding: First, believe–then learn, then understand.


Today, we reverse it. First, we want to understand everything. We want empirical evidence. We want proof. Then having learned that something is true, we are willing to believe. That’s just our problem.


The mentality of the world will never embrace faith, “and without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Believing comes first, said Jesus. Then knowing, then understanding.


There is something, though, that needs to be clarified. Faith is not a blind leap into the dark, as some would have you believe. It is not accepting as true that which is untrue, wishing that it were true. Jesus said, “Believe the miracles.” In other words, respond to the evidence that you have been confronted with. Today, it translates: “Face the empty tomb, the evidence for the resurrection, the validity of changed lives,” and on the basis of those facts, believe, which is the step of faith. But those who heard Jesus refused to accept the evidence which was clearly supernatural. Blind people saw. Deaf people heard. In the course of three years of ministry, at least three people were actually raised from the dead, the whole process being reversed. These things had never happened before. But some refused to accept the evidence and believe.


It is significant to me that the order is believing, then knowing, then understanding. There are some things you will never understand until, first, you have believed (which is part of the step of faith). Paul understood this. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians. 2:14).


Resource reading: Hebrews 11:1-40