Faith is a mysterious quality that has often been reduced to the idea of being able to believe in things normally unbelievable to rational minds. As a consequence of this type of thinking, it is thought that people who posses great faith are either simple minded or somehow impaired in their ability to think rationally. On the contrary some circles of thought regard faith as a mental discipline, where people of great faith have disciplined their minds to believe through constant focus on scripture. If we were to follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, those who lack faith are either lazy or themselves feeble minded. The common denominator between both extreme views of faith is the mind: one view suggests that only the simple minded can attain to great faith, and the other view suggests that only the mentally disciplined can attain to great faith. The scriptures however reveal that great faith has little to do with the mind at all, and more to do with the heart.
A good place to start when thinking about faith is the definition given to us in scripture, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” -Hebrews 11:1 Stated another way, faith is a quality that assures us of the reality of things that can’t be perceived by our natural senses. Faith then could be thought of as a spiritual sense that enables us to perceive spiritual reality. The concept that faith is a spiritual sense is different from the idea that faith is equal to belief. For example, a child could sincerely believe in Santa Clause, but this belief is in the mind only and does not perceive. For this reason sincere belief can’t be compared to faith in a Biblical sense, as faith is a spiritual quality that perceives and is not in the mind only. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have spoken…”-2 Cor. 4:13
We are all born with physical characteristics that enable us to perceive the physical world around us, and in the same way are born with spiritual characteristics that enable us to perceive the spiritual world. However, just as our natural senses can break down and fail to accurately perceive the physical world, our spiritual senses can likewise break down and fail to accurately perceive the spiritual world. This is the effect and problem of sin in the world, as it clouds our spiritual vision and prevents us from recognizing God. Paul wrote to the Romans concerning the loss of our ability to perceive God through sin, “…when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened…” –Romans 1:21
It is the quality of our heart before God that enables us to perceive His reality. Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” A pure heart however is not one that is confident of its own goodness, but one that is surrendered to God and thankful for His salvation. Paul made this distinction when he wrote to the Galatians, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love.”-Galatians 5:6 Growing in faith then is not a matter of ignoring our rationality, or simply memorizing scripture – but surrendering more of our lives to Him and growing in His Love. What causes our faith to decrease is yielding to the cares of this life that compete with our affection for the God who has saved us.
When we read about the men and women who accomplished great things through faith in the book of Hebrews, it is easy to impute a superhuman quality to them. After all, many of the things they accomplished do seem larger than life – they “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions…” – Hebrews 11:33 A closer look at the real lives of these people however will reveal that these were all very humble individuals who placed no confidence in their own ability, but decided to place their trust in the ability of Someone greater…
Read more articles by Jesse L. Smith or search for articles on the same topic or others.
"Who through faith, subdued kingdoms... I love this passage. Yes, that's what faith can do, even today. I once heard the now deceased pastor Adrian Rogers say, "Its not so much having great faith as having faith in a great God." Thank you for your anointed thoughts Jesse that serve to strengthen our faith in today's world. I'm so happy to discover your writings. The Lord bless you.