What is faith?
Imagine a Roman legion about to clash against a larger barbarian horde. They are outnumbered 3 to 1, but they have assurance that their greatest general is on the way with cavalry that will decimate the barbarian foot-soldiers. All the legion needs to do is hold on. If they flee from the battle, they will be branded as cowards, and one of their most important cities will be lost. What is faith in this situation? Faith is trusting the word of the general based on his character and letting that trust lead to action by staying in the fight. If one claimed, “I believe the general will come,” but ran away, would you take his word seriously? His actions would demonstrate that his faith was not genuine.
What is faith? Faith is trusting, relying, depending, or resting on some object. When you sit in a chair, you are exercising faith in that chair. Every time you speed down a road, you are trusting that the other drivers will stay on their side of the road. When you deposit money into a bank, you are depending on that bank to record the money to your account. You cannot absolutely know that the other party will come through on their promises, but neither is your faith blind. Based on past experiences and assumptions about employees, drivers, and chair construction, you feel confident in your behavior.
Often you will hear definitions of faith as “believing what you can’t see” or “believing something contrary to evidence.” It may be described as a “blind leap in the dark” or “wishful thinking.” Too easily these definitions can lead us to think that faith is something like climbing a ladder composed of mist — a vacuous nothingness of dreams and hopes. You can’t live in this castle of clouds.
The Bible paints faith as a far more concrete virtue. In Hebrews 11, the author cites numerous examples of individuals who all acted in faith. But notice that none of them were blind. Noah, Abraham, and Moses all had a sure and firm knowledge of God’s promises and so acted upon their trust in His character. This is what the virtue of faith is. Faith is a knowledge of some fact, an assurance that it is true, and an embracing of that truth for yourself.
How much faith do you need? Jesus says that you may have faith as small as a mustard seed (Matt 17:20). This is because it is never the amount of faith that is effectual; It is the object of faith. The airplane will transport those who swagger aboard while barking on a Bluetooth earpiece and those who hold their head between their knees for the entire ride. Those who, though filled with doubt, still painted blood on their doorposts were saved just as surely as those who never wavered (Ex 12). The object of faith is everything. God is mighty. Faith simply receives His acts.
How to practice faith
As with all of the other spiritual virtues and every good thing, faith is a gift from God. If you lack faith, ask! Hear the assurance of God that He knows how to give good gifts to His children who ask for them (Matt 7:7-11). Jesus will not turn away one who humbly asks for greater faith (Mark 9:24). He is not a harsh taskmaster commanding the making of bricks without straw (Matt 12:20).
If faith requires a sure knowledge of God, feed this virtue by remembering and rehearsing the promises of God as found in Scripture. Refresh your mind by rereading the great sweeping narrative of God’s creation and salvation of mankind. Watch God’s faithfulness and providential care shine through each story and episode. Any where you scratch the surface, you will strike gold.
Virtue is never an isolated act. It requires a community in which to be displayed. Encourage and exhort those in your community to exercise greater faith by reminding them of God’s word and works. Like an overexcited collection of molecules in a 3rd grade science fair, stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25).
Faith always leads to action. It is never impotent and lifeless. Far from being a mere verbal confession, real faith works (Jam 2:14-26). When we discuss the four cardinal virtues, this will be important to remember, for none of the cardinal virtues are pleasing to God unless they are from the seeds of faith, hope, and love (cf. Heb 11:6).