First Principles Part Four: What is Faith?

IT WOULD BE WRONG to say one kingdom principle is greater or more important than another, but I will say these first four we’ve been discussing are critical to beginning and strengthening our new life in Christ. It is important to identify and defeat the hindrances to living a balanced Christian lifestyle. Watchman Nee wrote, “Walking in the Way [of Christ] means to proceed gradually one step after another… to walk in the Way cannot be done in just one step.”(1) We must walk as Jesus walked. But we also need to grasp the nature of sin and admit the need for salvation. Further, we need to speak and to walk by the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Sin causes a hardness of the heart, which leads to an unwillingness to be open to truth. Sin shows up in pride, sensuality, fear, self-pity, selfishness, jealously, greed, sexual immorality; its harms are physical, moral, and spiritual.

It is critical that we understand temptation, covenant, sin, transgression, consequence, punishment, damnation, alienation from God, and the need for His manifest presence.

Ask one hundred people what “faith” means to them and you might get one hundred different answers. In fact, its been said that there are as many worldviews as there are people on the planet. Thankfully, relativism is wrong; truth is absolute. It does not exist in different degrees or meanings. Decidedly, there is only One Truth and One True God. Jesus is Truth. He is the Word and Will of the Father incarnate. Prior to turning Him over for crucifixion, Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). The proper question would have been Who is Truth?

What is Faith?

Faith is a word that is used universally but not always understood. We need to look to Scripture for the proper definition. The writer of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen ” (Heb. 11:1). In The Message//Remix, Eugene Peterson translates Hebrews 11:1-3 as follows: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors [and] set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s Word; what we see was created by what we don’t see.”(2) Charles Spurgeon believes knowledge must come before faith. He says the meaning of “faith cometh by hearing” means we must first hear in order that we may know what is to be believed. A measure of knowledge is essential to faith; hence the importance of getting knowledge.(3)

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light” (John 14:6). Jesus is the source of our faith because He is the son of God. He is the revealed will of the Father.

We are not born with a natural ability to believe in things we cannot see. Faith only operates in the realm of the invisible. Once God gives us a measure of faith, He holds us accountable and expects us to exercise and increase in that faith. After all, faith must always include action. Faith must not waver. (See LORD, I Believe. Help My Unbelief, June 7, 2022.) It is faith that connects us to the spiritual realm, linking us with God. The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines faith as, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” More on point, it further defines faith as “belief and trust in and loyalty to God.” Strong faith comes from earnestly studying the Word of God (see Rom. 10:14-17). Assent to truth is an essential building block of faith; the ultimate foundation of revealed truth rests in the veracity of God. In Latin, veritas (from which we get the word veracity) means “the truth.” Greek philosophers used the word aletheia to identify truth, which they defined as “unconcealedness, disclosure, revealing, or unclosedness.” Aren’t transliterations fun?

How Do We Build Faith?

God gives us a measure of faith, called “prevenient grace,” which allows us to feel the emptiness in our unsaved nature (what some call the God-shaped hole in the soul) and convicts us of our sin. Admittedly, this initial discovery occurs at a very basic level, yet it is the catalyst for progressive spiritual growth. We build our faith in Christ by coming to know Him entirely. Through Jesus we see the heart and will of the Father. Our faith will naturally grow when we make a conscious effort to look for ways and reasons to trust God. Faith is made stronger through testing. We must pray fervently when trials arise, seeking God’s help. God will move on our behalf when we trust Him in all things.

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6).

God told Abraham that Sarah would give him a son. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning this mighty promise from God. Instead, he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (see Rom. 4:19-21). John wrote, “…this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Growing the seeds of our faith requires five things. First, we need to start with good soil. We read In Hosea 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Next, growing faith requires water. To ensure our seed of faith grows, we need to water and tend it daily. The Word of God is the equivalent of watering. Psalm 1:2-3 says our delight should be in the Word of the LORD, and we should meditate in it day and night. In Christ, we are like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither. Third, our seeds of faith require fertilizer. I love the implications of this stage. Fertilizer usually comes from something that has died and decomposed. In this manner, only by dying to self can we grow in Christ. Fourth, it is critical that our seeds are exposed to sunlight. We plant and tend our seeds, but it is God who provides the increase. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the exclusive source of spiritual light. No other source of spiritual truth is available to mankind. Fifth, like the farmer after the planting season, we need patience. We cannot rush the harvest. Paul said, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Faith is a critical and comprehensive tenet of our Christian walk. Indeed, we cannot walk in the Way of Christ without faith. Satan uses a thousand and one ways to distract us, discourage us, and make us doubt there is a harvest coming. Through faith, we have assurance of the things we hope for and the conviction of things we cannot see. God gives us a measure of faith to get us started, but we are responsible for planting it in good soil, watering and tending it daily, allowing the old to die so the new can be rooted in us. We must then allow the light of God to bring life to our seeds. Having done all this, we persevere, remaining persistent, steadfast, and firm until the day of harvest.

In Part Five, I will discuss how to live an overcoming life, which involves exercising faith.

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theo.

(1) Watchman Nee, A Balanced Christian Life (New York, NY: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1981), 2-3.
(2) Eugene Peterson, The Message//Remix (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 1775.
(3) Charles H. Spurgeon, “3 Components of Faith,” Hills Bible Church online (Sept. 7, 2009), accessed June 8, 2022. URL:

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