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What is Faith?

by David A. DePra

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of

things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

     In the above verse from Hebrews, we find a precise definition of

"faith." Let's examine what God is here telling us about "faith," and

then let's add to it some other verses. We may find out that "faith" is

something quite different than we could have ever imagined. And

along the way we may discover a Truth or two which will help set us

free from error or incomplete teaching on the subject.

Real Faith is NOT Intellectual Assent

     Most people have a wrong idea about faith, as it is defined in the

Bible. Most of us think that "faith" means to agree that something is

the truth. Or that "to believe" means to agree with the facts. Thus, to

many of us, "faith" is nothing more than intellectual assent or

agreement that something is the Truth.

     Of course we are here talking about the faith of the Bible. We are

talking about faith in God Himself. So IF we say faith is "intellectual

assent," then we are saying we "have faith" if we agree, on an

intellectual basis, that what God says is the Truth.

     But is this really faith? To merely agree with a statement of fact?

To simply say, "Yes, that is true. I agree."? Is faith nothing more

than an intellectual assent to Truth?

     It may come as a shock, but if there is one thing which "faith" is

NOT -- it is intellectual assent. Now, faith can INCLUDE intellectual

assent. We do not turn off our thinking and our minds in order to

believe God. But faith is not the product of the intellect. It is not

MERELY agreeing with facts.

     We can know for sure that merely agreeing with the facts is not

all there is to faith, because the Bible says so. God says through


Do you believe that there is one God? You do well. But the devils

also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)

     Satan knows many true facts. He certainly "believes" that Jesus

Christ is the Son of God. The demons also "believe" true facts.

They cannot escape them. They KNOW. But they have no faith,

as the Bible defines it.

     James had a term for intellectual agreement to Truth -- but the

rejection of it in practice. He called it "dead faith." It is "faith without

works." You agree with the facts, but they have no effect upon you

as to your living.

     The point is this: To merely SAY, "I believe," is not real faith!

No. Even if I DO agree intellectually. Mere intellectual assent might

be fine for math, physics, or other facets of natural living. But by

itself, it is NOT the faith of Jesus Christ. It is not the faith spoken of in

Hebrews 11:1.

     Thank God that faith is NOT merely intellectual assent. For if it

were, then faith would depend on our intellect. Then we could be

said to possess faith only if we were able to intellectually grasp

the facts. In effect, our faith would be in our ABILITY to believe or

understand. It would not be in God Himself. Futhermore, we could

agree with Jesus Christ intellectually, and then turn around and

walk away from Him.

Faith is a Moral Choice

     Faith is more than intellectual assent to Truth. This must be true

because real faith always produces good works. But why does

real faith produce good works?

     Real faith always produces good works because real faith is

ALWAYS a surrender to the One in whom I believe and trust. In

effect, I cannot say I believe and trust in Jesus unless I am

in the process of surrendering to Him. I cannot say I trust Christ, but

then stand aloof from Him when it comes to surrendering to Him as

Lord of my life. To truly believe, and yet refuse to surrender is, in

fact, a moral impossibility. It is actually amoral. It is a dead faith.

     What we see here is that real faith is NOT an intellectual issue

at all. Neither is it an emotional issue. It is a MORAL issue. That

is why mere agreement with facts is not faith. Mere intellectual

assent demands no moral choice. It allows me to say I agree, yet

stand aloof from the power of the Truth, as it pertains to it's personal

impact upon ME.

     We must see this. "To believe," means to come, not to an

intellectual agreement, but to a moral agreement. But more so, I

come to a moral SURRENDER. Because I believe Jesus Christ is

the Son of God, and died for me, I cannot remain the same. My

belief in those eternal facts demand that I make the moral choice

to repent of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ forever.

     Thus, faith is not an intellectual conclusion. It is not an emotional

condition. It is a moral choice to surrender to God.

I Am Not the Source of Real Faith

     So much for the counterfeits for faith in our lives. Nevertheless

there is a true and living faith in Christ -- the faith OF Jesus Christ in

us. But how do we come to possess true faith?

     This is an important question, for many of us tend to frustrate

ourselves by trying to "generate faith" up to God. We think that's

how faith works. But according to scripture, it does not. It is only by

the grace of God that we possess faith. In effect, God makes our

faith possible.

     This is revealed quite clearly in the tenth chapter of Romans.

How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And

how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And

how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach

except they be sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of

them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of

good news?" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah

says, "Lord, who hath believed our report?" So then, faith comes

by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:14-17)

     According to Paul, we cannot "call upon Christ" unless we have

first believed. But wait. He also says we cannot first "believe in

Christ" unless we have first HEARD. But even that isn't the whole

story. He also says we cannot hear unless someone first

preaches the word. And then he summarizes the whole thing by

saying, "Faith comes BY hearing, and hearing (comes) BY the word

of God." Romans 10:17)

     Notice that. How does faith COME? By hearing. And how does

hearing COME? By the word of God. God must initiate this process

by speaking His Word -- through whatever means and by whatever

vehicle He pleases.

     Note the term "Word of God." This certainly includes the Bible,

as well as preaching. But it also includes much more than that. In

the Bible, when the term "word of God" is used, it also refers to

a spiritual work or seed which God has planted in us -- with the intent

of bringing us to a greater maturity. In effect, the "Word of God" can

often refer to something God speaks to our hearts -- in any number

of ways.

     There are a number of references we can point to to show that

the term "word of God" is not confined to the written Bible:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any

two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and

spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the

thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world

to come. (Heb. 6:5)

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the

word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (I Peter 1:23)

And the word of God abideth in you. (I John 2:14)

     We see from these passages that the term "word of God," while it

does include the scriptures, includes MORE than the scriptures. It

speaks of God's working in us -- even His life in us. Thus, the "word

of God" includes the living application of all that the written

scriptures teach.

     So when Paul says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the

word of God," he is not merely talking about reading the Bible. That

is included, for the Bible is the Word of God. But he is referring to

the fact that God must speak a "word" to us and open our ears. God

must take the initiative to do that, or we cannot hear.

     Now we get the the crux of the matter. We get to the actual

SOURCE of faith. God says that this "Word of God" is that source.

We must get this straight. Most of the time we think that WE are

the source of real faith. We think that WE sort of "generate" faith

up to God over the "Word of God" He speaks. But no. We have it

backwards. God says that the "Word of God" which He speaks is

the source of faith -- i.e., it carries faith from God down to US.

If we take our passage from Romans 10:17 and state it in reverse

order, we see this more clearly:

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.


The Word of God genders hearing, and hearing genders faith.

     God must gender "hearing" in us by speaking to us the "word of

God" -- whether it be through the Bible, or simply by doing an

unspoken work in us which opens our ears. Then, and only then,

can we hear -- that is -- be receptive to God. Then, and only then,

can it be said that FAITH is in us.

     Clearly, if the Word of God genders hearing, it is not ME who

originally creates "hearing." And clearly, if the hearing genders

faith, then the real faith of Jesus Christ does not generate from ME

as the original source. No. I do choose to hear and I do choose to

believe. The ability to do so must be gendered in me by God.

     But wait. Does this mean God does something in me to force me

to believe? No. God is merely giving me revelation and the ability

to believe and surrender to it. He is working in me "both to will and

to do." But I must DO the willing and the doing. I must yield. I must

choose. I must do this inwardly, in my heart, but then outwardly,

over circumstances and situations. 

     Right here is where we either choose to believe -- which carries

a surrender to the One I am believing -- or choose to refuse the

Truth. The Bible has a term for such a refusal. Doing so is called,

"hardening our hearts." This is the opposite of "hearing."

     Incidentally, in this we discover what the Bible means when it

says that "God hardens the heart." It is not saying that God forces

someone to refuse to hear or obey Him. Rather, it is saying that the

person who chooses to refuse God would not even HAVE a Word

TO refuse if God had not given them revelation. It is only because

God shows them the Truth that they become accountable -- that they

are in the moral position of choice to begin with.

"Generating" Faith

     One of the most common traps involving faith occurs when we

try to "generate" the faith necessary to reach up to God. Or we try

to "generate" the faith necessary to get God moving on our behalf.

The fact is, the faith of Jesus Christ does not generate from us as

the source at all.

     This statement may seem quite revolutionary, but it is the Truth.

If you and I think that it is up to us to conjure up the faith necessary

to reach up to God and get Him moving, we are deluded. We have

yet to see our utter reliance and dependence upon Him.

     Think about this for a moment. Let's suppose that it IS up to us to

generate faith. How are we supposed to do that? What do we have

to work with? How are we to create this faith, or execute it?

     If it was up to me to generate faith, then the "materials" I'd have to

work with would be purely intellectual and emotional. I would

"believe" only if I could get myself into a condition of intellectual or

emotional certainty. And guess what? Lots of Christians try to do

that! Their faith IS intellectual and emotional certainty. That is why

they go down this or that path and it turns out to be false. Faith

which is nothing more than intellectual or emotional certainty is

totally subjective. It can lead us into all kinds of dead ends.

Real Faith is Objective

     Herein we see a great Truth. Faith, if it is real, is NOT subjective.

It is objective. How so?

     Well, if faith were subjective, then believing something would

make it the Truth. But if faith is objective -- and it IS -- then my

belief makes nothing true. Rather I believe BECAUSE it is the


     Again, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of

God." I believe BECAUSE it is the Truth and has been revealed

to me.

     If there is nothing else we get straight about faith it must be that.

I cannot create reality by believing. I cannot make something be

true by believing it is true. It is either true or it isn't -- completely

apart from me. It is the Truth whether I believe it or not. Then,

precisely because it IS the Truth, I can believe it.

     Do you see how this brings us back to the fact that God must

take the initiative to first reveal to us the Truth BEFORE we can

believe and embrace it? Sure. Faith comes by hearing, and

hearing by the Word of God. Otherwise, the only reality there

would be is the one we create.

     Faith is the result of God revealing to us the Truth. And the Truth

He reveals carries with it the living faith necessary to believe it.

Thus, faith does not generate from ourselves as the source. It

generates from God, but is implanted into us by His Word. THEN

we choose either to yield or refuse the Truth.

Faith IS

     Now back to our original passage from Hebrews 1. God there

says, "Faith IS....." -- two things. He says;

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

     Notice something vital here: There is no mention of "believing"

anything! None. Rather, faith is said to be "substance" and

"evidence." But of what? If you have a substance OF, and an

evidence OF, there has to be something which the "OF" points to!

Faith is the substance OF the Truth, and the evidence OF the

Truth. Of God's plan. Of God Himself. God is the OBJECT of

our faith!

     God is here likening faith to a "deposit" in us of something

eternal, but not yet made manifest. Faith is the "substance" in US

of something hoped for, but not yet come to pass. Faith is

"evidence" in US of something not yet seen -- but of something

which will BE seen. And in the final analysis, all of that can be

summarized as God Himself, through Jesus Christ, living in us

and bringing us on into the eternal ages.

     But also note: If faith is substance and evidence of things eternal,

then faith is NOT originally of US. It cannot be. Rather, it is the

substance and evidence of eternal things which God has put in

us by His Word.

     This goes back to what we've been saying about the Word of

God gendering hearing, and hearing gendering faith. It goes back

to the fact that real faith does not generate from ourselves as the

source. No. Real faith is substance and evidence of something

which is not OF US. It is something IN US which gives evidence

and witness to the eternal Truth.

     When we are born again as a new creation, we possess, by

nature, eternal life in Jesus Christ. This eternal life, in and of itself,

IS substance and evidence. It is substance and evidence of that

which is not of this realm. It is substance and evidence of that which

will be made fully manifest someday in the eternal ages, through

the physical resurrection and much more. As God works in us, to

cause us to grow spiritually, He is not really "adding" something

to this new creation that we are. Rather, He is simply bringing forth

to fruition and manifestion what we are in Christ. He is taking the

substance and evidence which has been born in us and causing it

to grow to fruition. One of these manifestations is what we call


     Let's take a natural example. If my son brought to me his birth

certificate, this would be substance and evidence that he is my son.

But this evidence is not what makes him my son. Rather, it merely

exists BECAUSE he is my son. In the same way, our faith does not

MAKE us new creations. It exists in us as evidence of the fact that

we already ARE new creations.

     We are able to exercise faith, therefore, NOT because we are

smart enough to figure out what is true. We have faith because God

has shown us what IS true, and has done a work in us which enables

us to believe and embrace it.

Believing and Receiving

     Faith is gendered OF God, in us, that we might offer it back to Him.

But it does have to be practical. What is the practical application of


     In this day and age, the Truth about faith has been distorted by

the popular "positive confession" movement. We are told that our

words actually create reality. So if we continually confess

something AS true, it will BE true. Of course, this is all supposedly

backed up by scripture.

     This teaching is, to be blunt, a lie. Our words never create reality.

Our faith never creates reality. Rather, our words should be

adjusted TO reality. And our faith is only real if it embraces the

reality that was there a long time before we discovered it. In effect,

we come back to what we saw before: Faith is substance and

evidence OF things eternal. It does not create things eternal. Faith

creates NOTHING. It believes and embraces what already IS.

     Now, once we realize this, it will have a great impact on how we

pray, and upon how we believe. Indeed, it will set us free from much

struggle and frustration about faith.

     For instance, we all know that Jesus made the following

statement about prayer and faith:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatever you shall ask the Father in

My name He will give it to you. So if you have asked nothing in My

name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (John


     John added this clarification:

And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask

according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that if he hears

us, that we have the petitions that we desired of Him. (I Jn. 5:14-15)

     Here we see that if we ask anything according to the will of

God -- not according to OUR will -- that God will give it to us. Not just

sometimes, but ALL the time.

     Now, we need to be clear about this. God never promises to do

what we want Him to do. He promises to do what HE wants to do.

He never promises to do OUR will. He promises to do HIS will. It

is therefore a fact: God will always answer a prayer which is

according to HIS will. He will NOT answer a prayer which isn't.

     This is where faith comes in. It may sound like a revolutionary

statement, but it is true: I cannot have the faith of Jesus Christ for

anything outside of God's will. Why? Because faith is present for

ONLY that which is God's will. Faith is carried only in that which God

speaks and reveals to us -- i.e., His will.

     Once we think these things through in the light of scripture, things

are pretty cut and dry. I CANNOT have the faith of Jesus Christ for

anything which Jesus cannot have faith for! I CANNOT have REAL

faith for anything outside of God's will. But -- I can ALWAYS have

the faith of Jesus Christ for that which IS God's will. Why? Because

Jesus has faith for that which is in God's will.

     The wonderful Truth is, real faith in me will always be at one with

the faith of Jesus -- and that will always be according to the will of

God. Or my "faith" is simply not the faith of Jesus Christ.

     This should take the strain out of trying to generate the faith

necessary to move God. NO! The battle is never to generate faith.

The battle is to stand in Truth BY faith! Once I see the Truth and

know the will of God, I DO believe. Then, I must stand by faith in

what I believe against anything which would contradict it.

     God is not sitting in heaven waiting for us to generate the faith

necessary to move Him. No. He is revealing to us the Truth so that

it can do a work of faith in US! Faith is God's work in us. It is the

evidence and substance of His life in us. It is not what WE do to get

God moving.

What Was Jesus Promising?

      Natural thinking has corrupted Jesus' promises to answer

prayer. Some have taught that if we force ourselves to believe hard

enough, that this constitutes "real faith," and therefore God must

grant our request. Heresies like "positive confession," and the like,

all go back to this error. It is predicated upon the notion that it is up

to ME to some how conjure up and generate the faith necessary to

get God to answer me.

     Part of the reason these errors exist is that some people think that

"faith" is a "force." That means we can generate this "force" by

thinking, doing, and even "planting a seed of faith" in the way of

giving money to a ministry. So if I can make myself believe that

I have this "force," I can make myself believe that if I generate

enough of this "force," that God will do what I want Him to do.

     But faith is not a "force." If it were a "force," then faith would be

a thing unto itself -- almost like an independent item which we "use."

Indeed, it has been preached that we should "use our faith!"

     Faith, rather than an independent "force," which we can "use" or

"generate," is the outcome of my relationship with God. It is the

result of knowing God. It is my attitude of trust and reliance upon

Him. Faith is the outcome of a RELATIONSHIP.

     Jesus said as much. He said we must become as "little

children." Now ask: Does a little child "generate a force" upon

the parent to get the parent doing what the child desires? No. That

is nonsense. The child trusts the parent in a very uncomplicated

manner. That trust is not forces or demanded. It is the outcome and

result of a relationship.

     Thus, rather than be something we generate to act upon God,

faith is actually the evidence and substance of something God has

done in US.

     What this means with regard to prayer is this: I don't need to

"try to have faith" about what I am asking. If what I am asking IS the

will of God, and I am surrendered to His will, then the faith I need

WILL be there in me. It will be. I will have faith, because I am asking

according to the will of God. And if what I'm asking is not the will of

God, it doesn't matter how much I try to generate real faith, I won't

be able to do it. There will be nothing in me OF real faith, because

I'm asking for something outside of God's will.

     When Jesus was promising to answer prayer, He was not

leaving it to us to decide what God should do. No. He was, in

effect, saying, "God has a will. If you ask according to His will, the

faith will be there in you. The substance and evidence will be there

in you. You will therefore be able to exercise real faith. And

because of your surrender to the will of God, you will receive what

you ask."

     God says that faith IS the substance of things hoped for -- and --

the evidence of things not seen. Now note: Faith is not IN things

hoped for. Faith is not IN things not seen. No. Faith IS the very

substance and evidence.

     What this means is that if something is the will of God, then there

is already in me the very substance and evidence of it. In me is

the faith. That's because God puts in me the faith necessary for

His will to come to pass through me.


     The things of God in Jesus Christ are always simple and

uncomplicated. They are never confusing. This means that we

need not try to figure out whether we have real faith or false faith.

We need not try to generate faith. No. Faith never works through

those mind games. God says to do one thing: Present our bodies

a living sacrifice. In other words, surrender to Him. Surrender on

whatever level we are on. Regarding whatever Truth we do know.

Then faith will be in us and it will grow.

     Again, faith is the outcome of a love relationship. It is not the

outcome of struggle and strain and focusing upon ourselves. In

effect, faith means REST. It means to rest in the faithfulness of the

One in whom I trust.

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