Intermediate Bible Studies
11. What Is "Faith"?
What Is "Faith"?
Perhaps there is no better place to go to understand “faith” than the Gospel of John and the Book of Romans.
The Gospel Of John
This Gospel is all about faith and eternal life. And, of course, the premier passage on faith is John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But, it seems that while everyone quotes this verse, few appear to know what “faith” really means. And fewer still have ever really looked at saving faith in the context of the entire Gospel of John. So, are you ready do take the journey of faith through the Gospel of John? Are you ready to see and understand and accept what “faith” really is? Are you ready to embrace life eternal? If so, then let's begin.
The term “faith” (pisteuo) is found 100 times in the Gospel of John. The interesting thing to note is that the term “faith” in the Gospel of John is found only as a verb, never as a noun (pistis)! (The adjectival form [pistos] is found only one time, in John 20:27.) This fact alone should tell us something! What should it tell us? Simply this: Faith is a verb of action in the Gospel of John. Thus it is far more than "intellectual ascent." True faith is not simply about thinking or merely accepting something it is about doing something. Faith is nothing if it is not about obedience. Consider James 2:14-26. (For comparison, faith in all its forms is found 70 in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined: pisteuo – 35 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke; pistis – 24 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke; pistos – 11 times in Matthew and Luke. To put this in some perspective, Romans uses “faith” in all its forms 60 times.) Now consider all the places where "faith" is found in the Gospel of John:
- John 1:7,12,50
- John 2:11,22,23,24
- John 3:12,15,16,18,36
- John 4:21,39,41,42,48,50,53
- John 5:24,38,44,46,46,47
- John 6:29,30,35,36,40,47,64,69
- John 7:5,31,38,39,48
- John 8:24,30,31,45,46
- John 9:18,35,36,38
- John 10:25,26,37,38,42
- John 11:15,25,26,27,40,42,45,48
- John 12:11,36,37,38,39,42,44,46,47
- John 13:19
- John 14:1,10,11,12,29
- John 16:9,27,30,31
- John 17:8,20,21
- John 19:35
- John 20:8,25,27,29,31
Within the prologue of the Gospel of John we find the first reference to faith and its connection with the very Name of the Son of God – John 1:1-19 (7, 12). Here we learn that believing in Christ is receiving Christ, and in doing such we are given the right to become children of God by being born of God. See John 3:3,5! It should be noted that from the very beginning to the end of the Gospel of John, “faith” means, “believing in his Name” – the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What this means is that we must come to know and accept exactly who Jesus is and what he has said and what he has done! We must accept everything about him. He is Lord and he is God and he is the one and only Savior who is the light and life of the world. He is the Word who became “flesh” (i.e., human) who came into the world from the Father, full of all “grace and truth.” See John 1:12,14,17-18. Jesus is ultimately the one who “explains” everything to us that we need to know about God and life and salvation. Do you believe that?
In John 2:11 we find his disciples putting their faith in him because Jesus revealed his glory which was realized in the meaning of his miracles. (It is interesting to note that John notes early on what the ultimate glory was and what faith would then mean. See John 2:22.) Please realize that in every single passage and chapter of the Gospel of John we are being told something about the very nature of “faith” and we are being told what we must “believe”! In John two we are being told that we must believe in the “miracle-signs” of Jesus because they tell us who he really is. As you go through the Gospel of John note what all of this will mean for your faith. Notice what every chapter and passage tells you about your Lord.
In John 3:16 we find the greatest single verse on faith! But, we must not loose sight of the context of this passage and we must note how the meaning of saving faith is revealed within that context. (Dear friend, we need to quit studying the Bible “verse by verse” and start studying it “passage by passage”! We need to realize that a word or a verse can only be understood in the context in which it is found.) See John 3:1-21,36. In this passage alone we find that faith is an integral part of the new birth of “water and the Spirit.” See John 1:11-13! In this passage we find that faith means believing (i.e., fully trusting) in the Name of the Son of God. In this passage faith is defined and understood within the context of “living by and practicing (i.e., doing) the truth and coming into the light” so that it may be “seen plainly that everything we do is done through God.” In this passage we clearly see that “faith” is “faith” only in the obedience of truth! For, “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever does not obey (this term means “to not allow oneself to believe; refuse to believe and obey; to be disobedient”) the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)
Right here we see the foolishness of all of those churches and creeds that teach the doctrine of “salvation by grace alone through faith alone.” How can so many believe any such thing when faith is made so clear in just this one passage of Scripture? The problem is there are all too many who would rather believe in the doctrines of men and man made religion than in the truth of God. How sad? Do you believe in the Name of the one and only Son of God? Will you receive what he says about the very nature and meaning of faith? (For more about the false doctrine of “faith only” go here.)
In John Chapter 4 we have the wonderful story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Here we learn that “faith” involves “the gift of God” which is “the living water.” See John 4:10. This “living water” becomes in us “a well of water springing up to eternal life.” See John 4:14. We also learn that “faith” is all about being a “true worshiper” of God who will only “worship God in Spirit and in truth.” See John 4:23-24. Thus, “faith” is not about the “where” of worship, it is all about the “how.” Throughout John we also learn what “faith” is for Jesus. In John 4:34 we find our Lord saying: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” We need to ask ourselves the question, “Does the “food” and “work” of Jesus become our “food” and our “work”? Only in this does the life of Christ become ours!
In John Chapter 4 we also learn where faith really comes from – “the very words of Jesus.” See John 4:39-42. If you are ever to believe you are sooner or later going to have to quit believing what others (parents, preachers, popes and priests; friends and foes; superstars and scholars; the media; etc.) tell you and start believing in the Lord for yourself! (Note we find a similar point being made in John 4:50. While most every translation reads, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him …” the NIV actually renders this, “The man took Jesus at his word …” Why don’t we simply take Jesus at his word?)
Next in John Chapter 5 we find Jesus making some most significant statements about faith. See John 5:16-30 (24) and John 5:31-47 (38, 44, 46, 47). In John 5 we see that belief means, “searching the Scriptures because in them we have eternal life,” “being willing to come to Jesus” and “having the love of God” in our hearts. Faith means, “seeking the glory that is from the one and only God.” It means, “believing all that Moses wrote.” Are you beginning to realize that “faith” in the Gospel of John means so much more than “faith only”? In fact, do you realize that a faith that will not love and obey the Lord is no faith at all?
Then in John Chapter 6 our Lord further expounds (i.e., defines and develops) the meaning of faith in his discourse on “The Bread of Life.” See John 6:25-71 (29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69). Trusting faith comes, listens, and learns. Faith is teachable and will be taught by God. True faith will eat and drink of the Son of God. Faith is a work of God, which we must be willing to work in order that it may be “clearly seen that what we have done has been done through God.” See John 6:28-29 cf. John 3:21. Note carefully in John 6 that our Lord commands that we “work for the food that endures to eternal life”! At the same time we must realize that this life is also “given” to us by God. Thus in our very salvation we must “work” and God must “work.” This is exactly what we are told about our salvation in Philippians 2:12-13. What is more, John 7:27-29 necessarily implies that even “faith” is a “work” that we must “do”! Once again, the man-made doctrine of “faith only” makes no biblical sense.
Perhaps what we need to begin to do in our study of the Gospel of John is actually go through John and circle every occurrence of the term “believe.” Then we need to also underline and draw arrows to everything that faith is “connected to” and contextually “joined with.” In doing so, we will begin to see “faith” in a whole new way ... in a way that most of the religions and churches of men refuse to accept. What about you, do you know what “faith” really is?
In John Chapter 7 we find Jesus further expounding upon the meaning of faith in his discourse on “The Drink of Life.” See John 7:37-39 (38, 39). Thus, faith means that we will come and drink of God to receive the very Spirit of God! Compare John 4:13-14. In all of this we clearly come to see that faith is not something passive, rather it is something incredibly dynamic. And, what is more, it is not merely something we do of ourselves alone; it is something that God also does in us and through us! It is something “wrought in God.” See John 3:21. It should be noted that the context of the seventh chapter of John has to do with Jesus' going up to Jerusalem during the Feast of the Tabernacles. Even his own physical brothers mocked him because they understood neither his purpose nor his kingdom. In fact, at this point they did not really know who he was and we are told that, “even his brothers were not believing in him.” See John 7:5. When Jesus began to teach at the Feast, the first thing he said was, “If any man is willing to do his will, he will know ...” See John 7:17. Once again we see clearly that “faith” in the Gospel of John is about being “willing to do the will of God”! There is no faith without the obedience of faith.
Then our Lord point blanks us in John Chapter 8 with the following statement: “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24) A “crisis” is building in the Gospel of John and that “crisis” is created by Christ – that “crisis” is over faith! And then Jesus pushes faith to the next level in John 8:31-59! He challenges us to consider the very nature of our faith in him. He asks whether or not we are really his disciples? Do we hold to his teaching or not? Do we know the truth? Have we been set free or are we still slaves to sin? Faith causes us to ask hard questions about ourselves and about the real meaning of faith in our lives. It comes down to this, “Do we really believe that Jesus is the Great I Am?” Is he the Lord God of all, over all … over us? Or do we too – like so many others – try to kill him?
Once again it must be noted that the faith the Gospel of John talks about is not some “cheap and easy grace” that many would make it out to be! Such is the very nature of the Reformed Doctrine of “Faith Only.” Look more closely at faith in John 8:31-59 and you will notice that Jesus talks about his faith and ours as something that “abides and lives in the Word of God and knows the truth.” See John 8:31. What is more, Jesus says that our faith must “keep the Word if we are to see life.” See John 8:51,55. Any other kind of “faith” is not faith at all and makes us a liar and nothing more than a child of the devil! It is important to realize that in John 8 our Lord was talking to his own people – a people who thought they were so religious ... a people who thought they were a people of faith. But, the problem was, they too (like so many today) were just a people of “faith only.” (It should be obvious by now that nowhere in the Gospel of John is “faith” ever defined as “faith only”!)
In John Chapter 9 we find an interlude (of sorts) that allows us to pause and answer the questions that God asks of us. It allows us to see for ourselves who we really are, and what we really believe. But first note that Jesus gives us a principle of faith in John 9:4 cf. John 6:28-29 (John 3:21) – “We must work the works of God”! If faith is not a work of God that works the works of God, then it is not faith. Now consider John 9:1-34,35-41 (35, 36, 38). Our Lord forces us to consider the possibilities of our own spiritual blindness. Beloved, too many of those who think they see, don’t! Too many of those who think they believe, don’t. (Again, those who have accepted the Reformed Doctrine of “Faith Only” have been blinded by the doctrines and creeds of men. If only they would open their eyes and see and believe that faith is not faith unless it is the “obedience of faith”!) Then in John Chapter 10 we are brought back to the same question and are forced to confront our own sinful, willful unbelief! See John 10:22-42 (25, 26, 37, 38). It should be more than obvious by now that a crisis of faith is building (and has been building all along) in the Gospel of John! The more Jesus talks about faith, the more many just do not believe. Why? Because they don’t want to believe. It is as simple as that. Here in John 10:29-30 we learn that faith means being a “sheep” (i.e., disciples) who listen to the voice of the Lord to follow Jesus and him alone. If we don’t follow Christ in the obedience of faith, we do not believe. No other kind of faith is acceptable to God. Ultimately then, we must come to terms with who Jesus really is. If we don’t, we will never believe.
We have been stressing all along that a “crisis” has been building in the Gospel of John. In John Chapter 11 that “crisis” is “resolved”! And interestingly enough, it is resolved in the death of Lazarus! (It must be noted that all of this is but a foreshadowing of what is to come. What is to come is the Crisis of Christ – the Crisis of the Cross!) Sooner or later all of us must come to terms with death. It is in death that faith becomes crystal clear. Simply put, death forces us to come face to face with both the meaning of life and faith. Consider John 11:15 and John 11:17-45 (25, 26, 27, 40, 42, 45)! But, in the crisis that is found in the Gospel of John there comes a breaking point. That breaking point is found in John 11:45-57 cf. John 12:1-8,9-11 (11). And from this time on we move into the final week of the life of Christ. In John, faith’s crisis becomes the Crisis of Christ – the Crisis of the Cross!
Thus the Crisis of Christ becomes a crisis of faith for them and for us! In John 12:20-36 Jesus ominously spoke of his death on the Cross, and in this he speaks to faith. Our Lord said, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” And then the text says, “When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.” (John 12:35-36) Next, our Lord gets to the heart of the problem with all of those who will not fully believe. See John 12:37-50 (37, 38, 39, 42, 44, 46, 47)!!! So, do you believe or not? If you do not really and truly believe in the Name of the Son of God … now you know why.
We now move into the shadows with Jesus as he retires from public ministry and begins to prepare for the final hour. But, before he does he takes his disciples up to the upper room and beyond … and into his very heart. This is our Lord’s “Farewell Discourse” and in the quiet before the storm he pours out his soul unto death and gives us one last glimpse into the precious meaning of faith. We see what Christ wants for those who are his own – his very heart. And we see what Christ Jesus wants for those of us whose hearts will beat with his. Follow the notes of our Savior’s Song of Faith and Hope and Love: John 14:1,10,11,12,29 and John 16:9,27,30,31 and John 17:8,20,21. And then the deed is done!
After the Crisis of Christ on the Cross we move from the valley of deep shadows to the glorious sunshine of grace. But, there always seems to be doubt swirling about … even in those who would be disciples … even in those who desperately want to believe. See John 20:24-29 (25, 29) cf. Mark 9:24. More than anything, the Apostle John wants us to believe! See John 19:35 and John 20:30-31!
By now, surely you have come to realize that “faith” is a trust relationship we have with God in Christ through the Spirit in order to find eternal life. Now the only question is this: Do you believe? Will you receive Lord Jesus in true life and faith? Trust God in the obedience of faith and be saved by grace and live in life eternal!
The Book Of Romans
One of the greatest theological treaties ever written is the book of Romans. Within this epistle Paul deals with the doctrines of faith and salvation. Specifically he presents the truth of “justification by grace through faith.” If we are to ever understand faith we must sooner or later come to terms with the book of Romans.
The word for “faith” is found 60 times in the book of Romans:
pisteuo (verb – 21 times)
pistos (noun – 39 times)
- Romans 1:16
- Romans 3:2,22
- Romans 4:3,5,11,17,18,24
- Romans 6:8
- Romans 9:33
- Romans 10:4,9,10,11,14,16
- Romans 13:11
- Romans 14:2
- Romans 15:13
- Romans 1:5,8,12,17
- Romans 3:3,22,25,26,27,28,30,31
- Romans 4:5,9,11,12,13,14,16,19,20
- Romans 5:1,2
- Romans 9:30,32
- Romans 10:6,8,17
- Romans 11:20
- Romans 12:3,6
- Romans 14:1,22,23
- Romans 16:26
But, we need to always realize that (as with any Bible term) the full meaning of any given idea is not simply found in some statistical listing of all the places where a particular word occurs. Rather it is vital to allow Scripture to explain itself and the best way to do that is to study and understand the context of any given term. (It must also be realized that sometimes an idea is found in places where the specific term being studied is not even found!)
In Romans 1:16-17 we find Paul’s statement of the principle theme of the book of Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a (the) righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last (from faith to faith), just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” This theme is amplified in Romans 3:21-31; illustrated in the life of Abraham in Romans 4:1-25; and then gloriously realized in Romans 5:1-11! However we should not think for one moment that we have sounded the depths of the meaning of faith in the book of Romans by these passages alone.
The fact is these are not the first or the last places where faith is dealt with. What is more, these are not the places where Paul gives full definition to what faith really is! (Remember, you don’t know the Word until you know all the Word! In other words you don’t know any given subject of Scripture until you know all that Scripture has to say on a given subject.) The first time that “faith” is found in the book of Romans is in Romans 1:5 and the last time “faith” is found in the book of Romans is in Romans 16:26. Thus, in the first and the last reference to faith we are actually given the very definition of faith in the book of Romans in the phrase – “the obedience of faith.”
It is vital to understand that Romans is not the only epistle where Paul presents the doctrine of “justification by grace through faith.” He first does so in the book of Galatians. And within that epistle he also presents the principle of the “obedience of faith.” But, he does so using another expression. In Galatians he calls it, “the hearing of faith.” (Galatians 3:2,5) In fact, Paul goes on in Galatians 5:6 to tell us that, “In Christ the only thing that counts (for anything) is faith working through love.” (It must not be overlooked that “hearing” in the Bible ultimately means “the response of submissive obedience”!)
All of this brings us to a most interesting and essential truth about faith in the book of Romans: Faith has nothing to do with “Faith Only”! (For a more in depth study of "Faith Only" go here.) In fact, Romans 6 demonstrates the doctrine of sanctification in our salvation using two incredible metaphors: (1) The Meaning of our Baptism – Romans 6:1-14; (2) The Meaning of our Slavery – Romans 6:15-23. It must be noted that within the study of our slavery to the Lord we are reminded that it is all about the “obedience” of our faith. See Romans 1:5 …Romans 6:12,16,17 … Romans 16:26. (The term for “obedience” [hupakouo] is directly related to the term for “hearing” [akoe] and means “to hear, to obey.”) Notice that one of the ways Luke describes conversion in the book of Acts is being “obedient to the faith.” See Acts 6:7. In fact, Paul will describe our life in Christ as the struggle to bring our every thought captive to the “obedience of Christ.” See II Corinthians 10:5. Paul will also go on to say that those who do not “know God and obey the gospel” will be punished with everlasting destruction. See II Thessalonians 1:8. (Also compare Hebrews 5:8-9 and I Peter 1:2,14,22!)
But there is one more place where we find the ultimate definition of “faith” in the book of Romans. And, curiously enough, it is in the midst of Paul’s dealing with the problem of “unbelief”! It is found in the context of Romans 9:30-10:17. Consider especially Romans 10:1-4 – “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit (subject themselves) to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
The term for “submit” (hupotasso) means, “lit. to place under in an orderly fashion; to subject, to subordinate, to submit, to obey.” This term is used of all things submitting to Christ (I Corinthians 15:27,28; Ephesians 1:22; Philippians 3:21; Hebrews 2:5,8; I Peter 3:22 … Romans 8:20); of our submitting to governments (Romans 13:1,5; Titus 3:1; I Peter 2:13); of Christians submitting to Christians (I Corinthians 16:16; Ephesians 5:21; I Peter 5:5 … I Corinthians 14:32); of wives submitting to husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; I Peter 3:1,5 … I Corinthians 14:34); of Jesus submitting to his parents (Luke 2:51); of slaves submitting to masters (Titus 2:9; I Peter 2:18); etc. But, in the context of our present study this term is used in the context of submitting to God’s law – Romans 8:7; 10:3; Ephesians 5:24; Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7!
Thus the book of Romans and Galatians gives us one of the fullest definitions of faith – “the hearing and submissive obedience of faith in the righteousness of God.”