What is Biblical Faith? by Christy Anderson
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“When you think about the word “faith,” what comes to mind? Do you think of a death defying leap into the unknown, or perhaps you feel it’s more of a blind courage, grasping for the will of God that always seems vague and out of reach?
|Hebrews 11:1 (KJV 1900) “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”|
In our first lesson, following this introduction, we will begin to ask the question, What is faith?—What does it comprise?—What is its nature?
After close investigation we will discover that our “faith” is not a “blind faith,” nor does it involve a death defying leap into the unknown. Rather, biblical faith, what we will call “living” or “saving” faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, is comprised of two important elements: substance and evidence.
As we consider the nature of faith, I want you to first put on your “Hebrew” glasses. I want you to begin to think like a Hebrew. What exactly does this mean, you might ask? Well, Hebrews think in concrete terms, not abstract philosophy. That is not to say that the Hebrews were devoid of philosophy, or that Hebrew lacks an aptitude for conveying philosophical concepts. It certainly does. What it means is that in the Hebrew language and culture, philosophy, or ideas, are driven by action, not thoughts alone. While it is true for all people throughout human history that our thoughts drive our actions, Hebrews, as well as many eastern cultures, recognize and emphasize within their cultural framework how a person’s actions reveal his or her true thoughts.
Conversely, our modern American culture tends to focus not on actions, but on words, platitudes, sound bites, talking points, tweets and/or a person’s ability to verbally “sell” whatever is being advertised, sold, or campaigned to a largely uninformed passive TV or electronic based audience. This communication could be in the form of selling goods and services, political candidates, social issues, or even religious beliefs. Today it seems that everyone is in the process of “selling” something and vying for our attention in a world of information overload. In other words, our culture prizes those who can get our attention and sway with words alone regardless of the individual’s personal character or the validity of their message: as evidenced by our current political system. Our children are growing up in a culture where skepticism reigns because everyone knows that everybody is “selling” something, and purporting to believe and/or promise to do something that will, for all intents and purposes, never really be followed through on. This total disconnect between words, or you might say, “confessions,” and reality, is penetrating into the churches as well and further hindering our ability to understand the true nature of biblical faith, trust, and belief.
Hebrew is Concrete & Action Oriented
The Hebrew language, which forms the basis of our Scriptures, is a very concrete language. It is based on three letter verbal roots. Verbs, as you know, are action oriented. Thus, the Hebrew language is inherently action oriented.
To give you an easy example of the difference between our modern American language that is more abstract and the biblical text and authors, who lived and wrote in terms of a more concrete world than our own, all we have to do is look at a few simple words. For example, today we use the term in English “look” (an abstract term), but in biblical thought, we “lift our eyes” (Gen 22:4). Notice how “lifting our eyes” is a much more concrete manner of speaking that gives a more vivid picture of the action taking place than occurs when we use the more vague word “look”. Here are a few more examples of the difference between Greek/English words and their counterparts in Hebrew:
- Anger = burns, like “smoke in the nostrils” (Psa 18:18).
- To get ready = is to “gird up your loins” (Jer 1:17).
- To be compassionless = is to “bury your hand in a dish” (Prov 26:15).
- To be stubborn = is to be “stiff necked” (Ex 32:9, 2 Chron 30:8, Acts 7:51).
- To be determined = is to have one’s “face set like flint” (Isa 50:17).
Even what we think of as inanimate objects in Hebrew have action. Mountains and hills “shout for joy” while trees “clap their hands” (Isa 55:12) and stones “cry out” (Hab 2:11, Luke 19:40). We know through studies in Science today that some of these objects are more “alive” than we give them credit. In addition, we know that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1). This is not just a metaphoric statement, but literally true in that God uses the natural things of His Creation that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch to reveal the hidden spiritual things we cannot see. Everything we need to know in Scripture is revealed also in His Creation, and it all centers around the family. Childhood drawings from any culture depict this fundamental concept of a family, living in a house, on a piece of land. The problem today is that the enemy has divided the house and the family and removed the people from having any connection with the land such that much of the Scriptures have become a mystery to us, or have been turned into academic rhetoric rather than a living faith experience with God. We will dive deeper into this topic later in the study.
Today we live and are used to working with English terms and expressions, so there will be times when we have to rediscover the simple truths found in God’s Creation and connect them with the Hebraic manner in which these ideas were expressed. This means we may have to look at a particular word or phrase in Hebrew in multiple contexts in order to understand the full scope of its meaning. For example, to understand the Hebrew expression “hard hearted,” we need to examine various contexts in which the phrase is used so that we get an overall picture of its meaning and usage.
Stubborn = תְכַבְּדוּ֙ אֶת־לְבַבְכֶ֔ם Hard Hearted (1 Samuel 6:6)
Insensitive = הַשְׁמֵן֙ לֵב־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה Hard Hearted (Isa 6:10)
Obstinate = וְאִמֵּץ֙ אֶת־לְבָב֔וֹ Hard Hearted (Deut. 2:30)
Contemptuous, Cocky boldness = וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק יְהֹוָ֗ה אֶת־לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה Hard Hearted (Exd 14:8)
Why is all of this important?
There are two reasons. First, when meaning is tied to something in the natural world, something concrete, the meaning is less likely to change as drastically over time and culture. The meaning maintains its integrity because it is connected to something concrete, something all humans experience with their senses and observe in the natural order of creation. Therefore, Hebrew is less open for drastic changes of “interpretation” or meaning over time compared to other, more abstract languages.
Second, experience is the best teacher. It is one thing to talk about “sin,” or “love,” or “truth,” or “righteousness,” or “faith,” but it is another thing to experience these realities. There is a significant limit to what a person can truly understand about a particular subject until he or she actually experiences it. Deep down inside everyone knows talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. Again, why is this particular manner of looking at meaning significant? Because actions that conflict with words alter or change the meaning of the words.
|“Actions that conflict with the words spoken have the ability to alter or change the meaning of those words.”|
For example, if a man proclaims with his words that he “loves” his wife, and then proceeds to slap, punch, and beat her on a regular basis, either the woman will believe that love “means” something false, like physical abuse, or we can rightly say that the man does not really “love” her. Why do we know this? Because the greatest love of all time is rooted not in words alone or Promises of love, but in ‘specific actions’ that give the words their “true meaning.” “For God so ‘loved’ the world that He ‘gave’ His only begotton Son, that whoever believes (or ‘faiths’) in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). Note that this verse does not say “For God so loved the world than He confessed He loved us, so that whoever confesses to love Him shall not perish but have eternal life?” When we put the verse in these terms, the fallacy of our thinking about faith comes into focus. Had God not sent His Son to die on our behalf, and had only confessed that He loved us, would we have grounds on which to base our faith? Would our faith have “evidence” and our hope “substance” (Hebrews 11:1)?
The illustration above demonstrates how, even in our own culture today, people recognize an inherent connection between actions and words. The only distinction between believers and non-believers is the object of their hope and faith, which produces different evidence and substance in their lives based on what that object is. In Hebrews 10, the author informs us that the Messiah is the object of our hope, having entered the real Holy of Holies with His own blood through the veil of His flesh, becoming our High Priest, and allowing us to draw near with sincere hearts in full assurance of faith (Heb 10:9-21).
Main stream Evangelical Christianity speaks a lot about “faith” today. One of the first questions you might be asked when you come to a new church is whether or not you have ever “said” the “sinner’s prayer?” Or, you might be asked by someone in search of a new church what your church’s “confessions of faith” are. This is generally a list a beliefs or confessions that establish what a person is supposed to believe “about” God, the Bible, and Yeshua (Jesus), etc. Provided a person “confesses” Yeshua as their Messiah (or in Evangelical terms, confesses Jesus as Christ) he or she is considered “saved” (i.e. from death in the eternal sense) regardless of any other consideration.
What is interesting about this modern ‘practice,’ and more importantly what it often lacks, is something we do see among the leadership of the Assembly of Faith in Acts 15. The early leadership among the Apostles required converts to express more than just a public confession of faith in Yeshua before they considered them authentically “saved.” The early church was not teaching that keeping the four basic first steps of faith from Acts 15 were “necessary” to “save” you (i.e. they were not teaching a “works salvation”). So what’s going on then? The initial debate was about whether or not non-Jews coming to salvation needed to be circumcised according to the “custom” in order to “be saved” (Acts 15:1). If the initial issue was centered on the question of, “What was necessary for non-Jews to “be saved?” what was the answer? Was the answer to the initial disagreement—the four laws “were necessary” for salvation, but not circumcision? No: but why?
These four basic rules were simply the “minimal requirements” the Apostolic leadership placed on new converts. They were not “requirements” for salvation. However, the actions of the leadership in this regard betray the expectation and distinct connection they made between faith and faithfulness that shows they believed the two were justifiably intertwined. Thus, it would be acceptable to require these non-Jews coming into the fold of the Israel of God to obey these initial external commands upon their confession, but they would not be required to become Jewish proselytes, as had previously been the custom. Why? Because such a requirement “for salvation” distorted the true nature of the Good News.
Even though circumcision itself, as in the case of Timothy, was according to God’s will, the “custom” (Acts 15:1) that had developed and is referred to in the text carried with it too much of a “burden” in that time and culture. In other words, becoming a proselyte carried with it a lot of other non-biblical “baggage” that went way beyond simple obedience to God’s commandments. There were much bigger implications culturally, politically, socially, and spiritually. Not to mention, it would place the converts under the direct authority of the NON-believing Jewish leadership of that time, who would seek to manipulate these new converts away from Messiah. The nature of the “burden” being avoided and referred to then is not, nor can it be assumed to be, God’s commandments or instructions, as if to imply God’s Torah (His Instructions) are a “burden” that should be avoided. Rather, the political, social, cultural, and theological/doctrinal implications that would arise from such a requirement are the “burden” the Apostles argued over and ultimately sought to avoid so as not to end up mandating something that would ultimately distort the Good News itself.
In the end, it was the Apostolic leadership’s decision that only after a person demonstrated “faith” through obedience to the four minimal requirements for fellowship did the community of faith consider those new converts part of the community of faith. Whereas, previous to this time the standard Jewish “doctrine of salvation” said that only Jews were “saved” by God’s grace through birthright (just as they received the land by grace). Those not born into the covenant family had to be “circumcised” or become a proselyte and thus gain access to the Covenants of Promise (Eph 2:12). The initial four commands were simply the minimum standard of conduct a “saved” person was required to exhibit upon conversion, proving the authenticity of their confession of faith in Messiah that demonstrated to the rest of the community that the person was willing to, in modern terms, “put their money where their mouth was.” The Council notes how the Torah of Moses was read in every city, so the obvious assumption was that the converts would begin to hear the Word of God taught each Shabbat and the Holy Spirit would begin to transform their lives over time (Acts 15:19-21) as they learned what a “Christian lifestyle” was really supposed to look like.
We have to understand the dynamic at play here. If your church opened its doors to a flood of former prostitutes, drug addicts, and former pornographic stars, you would want some reassurance that their “confessions of faith” were authentic before you welcomed them into your fellowship, ate meals with them (a highly relational activity even today), and let their children play with your children. Remember, there were no “mega churches” back in that time. Most people met in homes. Would you have been willing to take these people into your home? Even in America today, the average church size is still 100 or less people. Those numbers allow for intimate knowledge and relationship building.
In contrast today, for the most part, a person only need confirm with their lips a belief in Messiah to be accepted within any congregation. The emphasis, with regard to faith, is often focused on teaching people what to believe “about” God, Yeshua, and church doctrine etc., rather than placing the emphasis on how to develop a living relationship with God based on walking in obedience to His specific commandments. In practice, this generally results in limiting “faith” to what a person thinks and confesses with his mouth through creedal and doctrinal points over and above how one actually lives and makes decisions on everyday life issues on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis drawn directly from interactive experience with the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. That is not to say that the system of church as we know it today is completely separated from any talk of how one should live. The problem is more subtle, yet dramatic in its impact, because the connection between belief and action is often rather limited (i.e. go to church, read your Bible, pray) and vague (i.e. “just trust God” or “just give it to God” type instructions). Or, it is based on the idea of positive thinking and self-help mixed in with whatever the particular denomination’s ideas about what a Christian’s life should look like.
God Develops Our Faith Through a Cycle of Sanctification
In other words, what is considered true “faith” varies from individual to individual based on which church one goes to or what denomination one is affiliated with. Sadly, such a system loses sight of the true, unified, biblical definition of faith. In other words, faith is no longer based on ‘a journey': a journey that involves an interactive, living relationship with God and engagement with His Word within the context of a community where everyone is doing the same thing simultaneously. This journey is directed by the Holy Spirit, not in the abstract sense, but in a concrete sense because it is based on specific commandments that help shape that community as each person develops and grows deep roots of faith according to an annual cycle of sanctification developed specifically for us by the Creator Himself. What we have instead today is a situation where people look at “faith” in a flat, linear timeline approach, and through a disconnected system of worship. What do I mean by linear timeline approach and disconnected system of worship?
Faith as a Linear Moment in Time vs. a Cyclical Journey
I mean that people often view the exercise of their “faith in God” and “faith in Messiah” as an event or moment in time, often in the past, when they made a confession of faith in Messiah that caused them to qualify for a ‘salvation’ in the distant future (i.e. an all access pass to heaven). While there is an aspect of faith that we identify as the moment in time that we know we surrendered our hearts to the Lord, that moment in time is not the ‘limit’ to our “faith in God and His Son Yeshua the Messiah.” And the salvation we received upon surrendering our hearts to Messiah is not ‘limited’ to the world to come; rather, the salvation we receive is cyclical and ongoing in the present age, and is experienced a little more every day as we learn how to surrender and submit every aspect of our lives to the Lord in concrete terms. The initial confession of faith is just the first step in a ‘lifelong journey’ that leads to our ultimate salvation (from sin and death) and a new birth at the time of the resurrection. Salvation begins and is accessible now, today, and every day that we exercise faith in Messiah. The problem we have currently is that people do not often identify their ‘daily choices’ as acts of “faith in Messiah” (or not). ‘Life is a test of trust: a daily test of faith.’ The parable of the sower is powerfully connected to this concept and understanding of faith and the importance of seeing “faith in Messiah” through its cyclical and ongoing dimension.
|“The problem we have today is that people do not identify their daily choices as acts of “faith in Messiah” (or not). Life is a test of trust: a daily test of faith.”|
This is not to say that ‘statements of faith’ or ‘confessions of faith’ are useless in our modern world; however, the point here is to recognize that these are not the basis for true ‘living’ faith. These confessions are seeds planted in the heart that require watering, weed pulling, tending, seasons of rest, and times of growth. A lack of knowledge of these biblical seasons is part of the disconnect we have inherited in our system of worship that is not allowing the seeds of faith to grow deep roots in future generations as 88% of children growing up in evangelical churches leave by the age of 18 and never come to a saving faith in Messiah Yeshua. That means in the current system of church that most evangelicals experience and are a part of, there is only a 12% chance that your child/children will come out of there alive (in the eternal sense of the word). Most people will immediately think, “Certainly not in my church;” however, the larger your church, the stronger the statistic will hold true. And even so, are you willing to take that risk?
Your next thought is probably, “Well, what do we do?” Thankfully, God gave you a workable plan. You probably just don’t realize you already hold it in your hands (i.e. your Bible). This plan is flexible, but specific, if we only allow the words therein to mean what they say, and say what they mean. God left no stone unturned, and He developed His plan in a way that would engage us on both an individual and a communal level, challenging us to deepen our faith walk with each and every step.
The first step in any growth process starts with planting. When a seed gets planted, the first thing the seed must do is go into the dark, damp earth and die (Jn 12:24). The reality is, only if the seed is willing to die will it be able to sprout roots, produce fruit, and begin to bring forth new life (1 Cor 15:36). Yet, this is the very nature of faith, you sow it at a moment in time, but if you are not willing to die, new life cannot come forth.
Let’s now take the first step in our journey toward a deeper understanding of the nature of faith.
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 Gal 6:16; C.R. Gal 3:7, 29; Rom 9:6; Phil 3:3.
 For more information on the specifics regarding the Jewish “Doctrine of Salvation” that Paul dealt with in the book of Galatians see my website foritiswritten.com for links to hear my teaching series in both TV and radio format, based on my Commentary on the book of Galatians, which you can also purchase via the website.
 Each Sabbath, the 7th Day that God sanctified and set apart from all other days of the week. Gen 2:3, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Ezekiel 20:20, “Sanctify My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.”
 Ex 20:6, Deut 5:10, 7:9, 11:1 & 22, 30:16, Josh 22:5, Neh 1:5, Dan 9:4, John 14:5 & 21, 15:10, 1 John 5:3.
 Biblically speaking to be “born again” is ultimately to be resurrected from the dead.
 Pipes, Dr. Jerry and Victor Lee, Family to Family: Leaving A Lasting Legacy, 1999, (Georgia: J. Pipes, 2005), 37.