What is Faith?

by Steve Clark

Many times the reason people feel they are unable to have faith is that they misunderstand what faith is. Often people think of faith as a blind leap. According to this view faith consists in deciding to believe that something will happen even though there is no good reason to do so. Faith is seen simply as a blind act of the will, a leap with no assurance that there is a landing place. There are times in life when it is worth taking a blind leap (sometimes we have no alternative), but Christian faith, the faith which the Lord Jesus spoke about, is not the same thing as taking a blind leap.

In the letter to the Hebrews, faith is described in the following way:
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Although we do not see the things we are having faith for (if we saw it we would have knowledge of it, not faith for it), yet faith gives us a sureness, a certainty. We can have faith because we know something that allows us to expect that God will do certain things. Christian faith is a faith in the unseen, but it is not blind. A Christian does not have faith when he is in darkness, but when he has seen a light, and that light is God’s revelation to us.

Sometimes a Christian has caught only a glimpse of that light. Sometimes he can see only dimly (and therefore makes mistakes). But still he sees a light. Faith is a response to the fact that God is there, and that he has shown us what we can expect from him. Once we know the truth, once we see (or begin to see) by the light of revelation, we can have faith. Faith is expecting God to do what he has shown us he will do — expecting it, counting on it, and doing those things which allow him to do what he has shown us he wants to do.

Counting on God's promises
There are many ways that God reveals to us what he wants to do. God reveals what he wants to do through a promise that we know always holds. Then our faith can be sure no matter what the situation. Once we know that God has said he always wants something to happen, then we can simply count on it and expect it to happen. We can find promises like this in scripture. One such promise is the promise Christ made in the eleventh chapter of Luke when he said that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who would ask him for it:
“Everyone who asks will receive, and he who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to him who knocks. Would any one of you fathers give his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? As stingy as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask of him!” (Luke 11:10–13)
After I was prayed with to be baptized in the Spirit at Duquesne, I had difficulty for a while in opening up to the life of the Spirit. One of the big questions for me then was, would “it” happen to me or not? It happened to so–and–so and it happened to so–and–so, but would it happen to me? Would I ever get baptized in the Spirit? I was not clear on what “it” was, and since I had not experienced anything very distinctive when I was prayed with, I was not sure anything had happened. Therefore, I was not sure whether I could experience any of the things the Spirit was supposed to do for people — tongues, guidance, or anything else. I felt a great uncertainty, and therefore my whole Christian life began to lose confidence.

At some point, I began to understand things differently. I could see that according to the scripture, the Holy Spirit is for everyone. If you are a Christian, you can have the gift of the Holy Spirit if you ask for it. That is what the Lord promised in Luke 11. In fact, he said that the Father was generous in giving the Holy Spirit. He was eager for people to have the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. Christ seemed to say that the promise held true regardless of the situation. Therefore, since I had asked, I could count on having receiving it.

My new understanding made things very different. Once I began to proceed on the basis that Christ’s promise was reliable, all of a sudden things began to happen. I soon yielded to tongues, began to experience the Spirit guiding me, and began to experience some of his power in prayer. Or rather, to be more accurate, I did not so much yield to tongues as come to discover that the Holy Spirit had been prompting me to speak in tongues all along, and that I had not really had faith in it. I did not so much begin to experience the Holy Spirit guiding me; rather, I began to recognize the guidance he had already been giving me. It was not so much that God did something new for me; rather, I began to have faith in the promise God had made. I began to experience things happening to me that the scriptures said were supposed to happen.

There are promises the Lord has made that we can count on. Whenever the Lord says that something will happen if something else is done (“you will be given the Holy Spirit if you ask for it”), then we know we can count on that happening if we meet the conditions, even if it remains unseen for a while. Whenever the Lord give a command (“rejoice always”), or describes the Christian life (“love is patient and kind”), then we know we can have the power to live that way as we grow as Christians. We know that regardless of the situation, we should expect all the things that are part of the Christian life.

There are, however, many things that the Lord would like to do (and that we need faith for) that are not covered by universal promises. Therefore, we cannot appeal to scripture to know for certain that we can see them happen. Maybe we want healing. Maybe we need some money. Maybe we would like things to work out so that somebody can hear about the Lord. We know the Lord heals people, that he provides for his people’s needs and that he wants people to hear about him. But we cannot always be sure that in this particular situation he will heal, provide money, or arrange circumstances. There are many such things that come our way, but when we look through the scriptures we cannot exactly find a promise that will guarantee that we can expect these things to happen.

The Lord has another way of revealing to us what he is ready to do. As we grow in the life of the Spirit, the Lord begins to speak to us and lead us. Sometimes his direction comes to us as an inner word. Sometimes it is just an inner sense, a witness to our own spirit. We come to know in a spiritual way that all we have to do is ask for something and it will happen or all we will have to do is act in a certain way so that the Lord can work through us and a certain result will happen. We get directly form God a spiritual assurance.

    A short while back, I was speaking to a student who was not a Christian. He had come back from summer vacation with some serious difficulties. During the summer he had faced the apparent meaninglessness of his own life and he was anxious about what he saw. He had come to me because we had known one another before and he was wondering if God was the answer. While I was talking with him I began to get a sense, a quiet sense that the Lord wanted to help him to see the Lord had the power to do things for him. The thought came to my mind, and I sensed that I could pray for him and he would experience a healing; that he would experience his anxiety go away and would experience himself being freed from some of the things that were bothering him.

So I put faith in what God was showing me. I talked to him for a while and then I said, “I can pray for you. God has given me the power to pray for you, and when I do, you will experience a change. There will a new peace afterwards.” He was willing to try anything, so we prayed together, and as I prayed the Lord led me in the prayer. I felt that I should pray for the healing of some specific things that had happened to him in the past. As I was praying for one specific situation, I had a mental image of Christ touching a red sore spot and then of black matter flowing out. Just as soon as that happened, he started to cry and he began to talk about the situation I prayed for. It was a purging experience for him and when it was over, he said that he had not realized how much that situation had bothered him. By the time we were done, there had been a healing. God had done the very thing that I had promised he would do.

We cannot always expect God to work this way. After all, many times when we want to ask God for a healing, healing is not the thing which is needed. But when I was in that situation, I had a sense that God was willing to do it for him. In other words, God revealed to me something that he would do. My part was to have faith in that revelation — to believe that it was actually from God, to rely on it, and then to do what I had to do; to make a promise to him on God’s behalf and then to pray for him so that the promise would come true. And it did.

There is yet a third way we can have faith through God’s revelation. Sometimes we do not have a universal promise that we can count on, nor do we have some sort of direct leading or word from the Lord about this particular situation, and yet it is till right to have faith in the situation. We may not have as much assurance as we would like, but we can still step out and have confidence in the Lord. We do so simply because God has revealed to us that he loves us and that he likes to do good things for his children.

A few months ago a friend came to visit and stayed overnight. When we got up for morning prayers and breakfast, I noticed that he was limping. One foot seemed to have some kind of pain in it, and he could not walk on it very well. After breakfast, we all prayed together, and while we were praying the thought came to mind — the obvious Christian thought — perhaps we should pray for his foot to be healed. The Lord heals people, and Christians have the power to pray for such healings. There was a certain reluctance for me to pray for it, but I decided that if I believed in Christ, I really ought to. So I suggested to him that we pray for his foot to be healed, and he agreed. I laid hands on him and we prayed for the healing. Then we went back to morning prayers, and after we had finished praying, I asked him, “How’s your foot?” He said with a surprised look on his face, “The pain is gone. It’s healed.” And then I said with an even more surprised look on my face, “It is healed?”

Now it is fairly obvious that his foot was not healed because we were filled with a great feeling of faith. Nor had I felt any special indication from the Lord that he wanted to heal the foot. Moreover I do not believe that there is any promise in scripture that the Lord will always and everywhere heal everything. But on the other hand, I know that the Lord has promised that he will heal, and I know that he life to give those who believe in him what they ask for. I was able to put enough faith in the Lord to pray for the healing, and it happened.

We can also have faith even when we do not receive an inner revelation from God or have a specific promise from scripture about a situation. We can do this because we know what God is like. We know that he has power and that he wants to work through us. We can make that the basis of our “leap.” In other words, God wants us to develop an overall attitude of faith in him. He wants us to expect him to do more and more — even when we cannot find a specific promise that covers it or when we have no specific leading for it. As we have more and more faith in him, we will see more and more happening.

Faith, then, is not a blind leap, but it is a response to revelation. It is a response to what we know of God and what he wants to do. But it is a very particular kind of response.
Faith is the response we make to a rock. A rock can be relied upon. A man can lean upon a rock, or build upon a rock. He cannot trust sand, but he can trust rock. Because it is firm, he can count upon it and expect things from it.

In the Psalms, the Lord is called our rock. He is our rock, because we can rely upon him. When he says something, we can count upon it. If he indicates to us something will happen, we can expect it. If he tells us to do something, we should act upon it. We know, because he is trustworthy, that we have a firm footing when we walk in faith in him.

Three kinds of faith - believing, trusting, and expecting faith

There are three kinds of faith — believing faith, trusting faith, and expecting faith — and we do not begin to see the glory of God until we have expecting faith. Believing faith could also be called doctrinal faith. Many people have this kind of faith because they accept the Christian truths. They have faith that Christ is the Son of God or that there is a heaven and a hell. Trusting faith is faith in God’s goodness. When people have trusting faith, they believe that everything will turn out well. God will take care of them because he loves them. Believing faith and trusting faith are both important, but they are not enough to see God’s glory.
The difference between just having believing faith or trusting faith and having expectant faith can be seen in the story of the woman suffering from severe bleeding that is told in Mark’s Gospel:
“Then Jesus started off. So many people were going along with him that they were crowding him from every side. There was a woman who had suffered terribly from severe bleeding for twelve years, even though she had been treated by many doctors. She had spent all her money, but instead of getting better, she got worse all the time. She had heard about Jesus, so she came in the crowd behind him. ‘If I touch just his clothes,’ she said to herself, ‘I shall get well.’ She touched his cloak and her bleeding stopped at once; and she had the feeling inside herself that she was cured of her trouble. At once Jesus felt that power had gone out of him. So he turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples answered, ‘You see that people are crowding you; why do you ask who touched you?’ But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. The woman realized what had happened to her; so she came, trembling with fear, and fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. Jesus said to her, ‘My daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed from your trouble.’”  (Mark 5:24–34)
As Jesus was walking through the crowds, the woman suffering from severe bleeding came up to him. She reached out to touch him, and when she did, she was healed. It was her faith that allowed her to be healed. But it was not just believing faith that she had. When she reached out to touch him she did not say, “This man is the Son of God,” or, “this man is the Messiah, and I want to touch him.” She might not have even known who he was. All she knew was that he had healed people. Nor was it just trusting faith that she had. When she reached out to him, she did not say, “This is a good man, a man I can trust. He will see that whatever happens to me is the best possible thing.” Rather, she had expectant faith. She said, “If I touch just his clothes, I shall get well.” She did not just believe in who Jesus was, nor did she just trust him, but she expected that if she touched him in expectant faith, and that, Jesus said, is what healed her.

Expecting faith
The kind of faith which makes it possible for us to see the glory of God is expectant faith. God wants us to reach out for many things, because we have a confident expectation that he will do things for us if we only turn to him. When we put that kind of faith in him, things happen.

Expectant faith often means that we have to do something before we see God act. A good example of the active element in our faith is Peter’s walking on the water. Peter saw Christ walking across the lake, coming closer to them. When Peter saw him, he asked Christ to let him walk on the water. So Christ told him to come, and he did. He stepped out of the boat and began to walk.

In order for Peter to walk on water, he actually had to walk. It may sound stupid to say it that way, but Peter’s part was to walk, and his part was indispensable. There would be no walking on water unless Peter actually did some walking. It was the power of Christ which made it possible for the water to hold Peter up, but the power of Christ could not do everything. His power could be there, but if Peter had never stepped out of the boat and walked, there would have been no story to tell.

In order to walk on the water, Peter needed some expectant faith. He may not have needed a lot, but he at least needed enough to take the necessary step. Moreover, he not only had to expect something to happen. He also had to do something to make it possible. His expectant faith had to lead to action. He had to act upon what he knew Christ had said.

A response to God's revelation
What is faith, then? Faith is a response to God’s revelation. Once God begins to show us something about what we can expect from him, we need to respond to that by believing it, counting on it, acting upon it. As we begin to put expectant faith in what God is showing us we begin to see things happen.

This article is excerpted from Growing in Faith, copyright © 1972, 1980 by Stephen B. Clark, and published by Tabor House. Used with permission.

Steve Clark is past president of the Sword of the Spirit and founder of The Servants of the Word. 

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