The entire Christian life from beginning to end, when properly lived, is a faith life. At least four times the Bible makes the statement, "The just shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Of particular interest is the statement found in Romans 1:16 that contains that classic testimony of Paul where he declares:
Many have memorized this prized verse, but have you ever carefully scrutinized verse 17?
Notice especially the phrase from faith to faith. It is telling us that the good news of how to be righteous with God begins with faith, continues in faith, and ends upon faith.
Similarly, Colossians 2 admonishes:
How did you receive Christ? By faith. How are you to walk in Him? By faith. In fact, Paul, in discussing questionable areas of life, affirmed:
Add Hebrews 11:6 to the above verses and you get this undeniable mandate from God:
Let the phrase sink deeply into your soul: without faith it is impossible to please Him! If we must have faith to please the Lord, if it is absolutely impossible to please Him without it, then it is imperative that we know what faith is and how to appropriate it to our personal lives, our families, our ministries, our businesses, our needs, our wishes, our dreams, and to all of life.
What Faith is Not
Faith is not emotions or emotionalism
We all have emotions. If we didn't we would be inanimate like a rock. We feel. We long for things. We have emotional highs and lows. But faith is not the same as emotions, nor is it based upon how we feel at any certain time or about any given situation. Neither is faith emotionalism. How does emotionalism differ from having emotions? Emotionalism is a state of being; it is how some people operate, how they cope, how they function in life. We all have emotions, but emotionalism is when we base our every move upon how we feel.
I may feel emotionally down — drained, in fact, but I can still believe God and trust Him to see me through my down times. In my emotional lows I may be in fellowship with the Lord but may not feel close to Him, or in my emotional highs I may feel extremely close to Him but not be. It is when I allow my emotions to dictate my perceptions, decisions, and actions that I have adopted emotionalism as a way of life. Operating in this way is not living by faith; it is walking by feeling.
Faith is not a hunch, a gut feeling, or just "knowing"
Have you ever said, "I just know this is going to work?" It may have been a business venture, a relationship, a machine you've been tinkering with, or an investment. You just knew it would turn out all right; your gut feeling told you so.
So many believers approach their walk with the Lord in this same way. They decide where they will live, whom they will marry, what career to pursue, what schools to attend — all based on this somewhat intuitive gut reaction to life's many twists and turns. This may be just another substitute for a genuine faith walk. Faith may be the exact opposite of our best hunches.
Living by faith is not necessarily logical
Though God is the most logical person in the universe, His logic is often quite contrary to human powers of deduction.
How logical was it for Israel to march around Jericho once a day for a week and then to march around it seven times, blowing trumpets and shouting on the seventh day? Is this great military strategy, or what? Or how about God promising Abraham that the world would be blessed through the offspring of his son, Isaac, and later telling Abraham to sacrifice that same son on an altar? Logical? Certainly not by our standards.
You may be thinking, "I don't confuse logic with faith. I know the difference." Well, consider this scenario: You are praying about something and all the pieces seem to be coming together; so you say to yourself, "It must be God's will because…" You then reason it all out in your mind logically and conclude "God is in this thing because of how everything is working out." Of course, it may be true when God is doing something in our lives the pieces do fit, but not always. If you were Joseph being sold into slavery and rotting away in jail for something you didn't do, or Job with your flesh full of putrefying sores, or the mighty Moses tending sheep for 40 years in the desert, you may not observe any pattern at all — at least while you were going through the trial. Faith looks beyond the present situation or problem to the God who knows what He is doing, and does it in His time.
What Faith Is
True biblical faith is founded upon God's character which is revealed in His Word. So, faith is taking God at His Word, which is another way of saying that faith is totally dependent upon what God's Word reveals about what God is. He is faithful, truthful, merciful, righteous, holy, infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He can be trusted. I can safely put my faith in Him knowing He will stand true and be there for me.
Kinds of Faith
Scripture reveals two kinds of faith, and we need to recognize the presence and validity of them both.
Active faith is usually connected in some way with the commands of God. God commands his children to do something, and because they believe He has commanded them, they obey. For instance:
Active faith is the kind of faith we normally think of when we hear or read about someone's faith. How often have you heard some well-meaning person say, "If you really believe something you'll act upon it"? Well, that's true of active faith where there is something God expects you to do, whether it's to abhor what is evil (Romans 12:9), or to be thankful in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18), or whatever God has commanded. Active faith does the thing commanded for no other reason than God has stated His desire or will concerning a matter.
There is also passive faith that is evident where God has given a promise and there is nothing the recipient of the promise can do but to trust the One who has promised. Surely the faith or trust is obedience, but there is no activity required to bring about the promised result.
The obvious example of this kind of faith is in salvation.
Not only is believing in Christ all we must do to be saved, it is all we can do. Another good example of passive faith is Sarah. Hebrews 11:11 states this description of her faith:
What could Sarah do at her age to conceive? Absolutely nothing. There were no fertility pills or magic potions. All she could do was to "receive" strength from God. And how did she do that? By faith, "counting Him faithful." This was a beautiful example of what I emphasized earlier, that living by faith is based upon God's character. Can He be trusted? If He can, then the faith walk is a walk in which we rely upon this altogether trustworthy One, our heavenly Father.
Three Phases of the Faith Walk
First, where God has spoken in His Word, commanding us to do something, obey because He is the One giving the command. "Forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32) demands action on our part. Disobedience to a clear Bible command shuts the door to further development in the school of faith living.
Second, where there may be no direct command but there are clear promises to believe or principles to apply, respond in faith to those promises and principles. Example:
An acceptable attitude of faith brings deep peace within because faith knows He is telling the truth.
Third, where there is no direct command or clear promise and you are not aware of a Bible principle to apply, trust in the revealed character of your God and Father, knowing He will not and cannot fail you. When you search and grope for meaning in the darkness of your life, He is still the same and can be trusted through all times and in every situation.