According to Hebrews 11:1, 'faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' That seems simple enough, or does it? The 11th chapter of Hebrews is best known as 'the faith chapter, and for good reason the author, or compiler of this book has deemed it necessary to rehearse for us the several, even manifold examples of the faith that God granted ( John 6:65, Acts 11:18, Philippians 1:29 ) them, and which they had faithfully practiced. The question before us, and has been batted back and forth for centuries, albeit maybe unconsciously, is ' is faith a work of God, something that He must give us, which we only then exercise, or is it altogether a work of man, a choice that he makes, and actions that he performs because of that choice?'
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus ( Ephesians 2:8 & 9 ), 'by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [ it is ] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast'. Aside from being one of the most mis-quoted, and thus mis-understood verses in the Bible, this passage has been argued over in the past ( and probably will be ever ), debating whether Paul was saying that faith is a gift of God, or whether he was referring to salvation as that most precious of gifts. Undoubtedly; salvation is most obviously a gift of God, and one which man obviously could not accomplish on his own, but when it comes to trusting ( having faith ) in what Christ ( God ) accomplished for us, and believing, at the very heart of the matter, that Jesus was who He claimed to be, 'very God of very God', or the Son of the Father, the fine line gets a little blurry! Philippians 1:29, referenced above, says 'to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake'. It seems pretty clear that Paul, at least, believed that even our faith, our ability to believe in Him was granted, and is granted by God. Except in several cases, notably, Deuteronomy 32:20, which says 'I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end [ will be ], for they[ are [ a perverse generation, children in whom [ is ] no faith', and more famously, Habakkuk 2:4, which reads 'Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith' ( Young's Literal Translational renders the Hebrew as 'stedfastness' ( more in keeping with the context of Scripture, I believe ), the Old Testament Scriptures make no mention of 'faith' ( as a noun ), referring instead, to the 'faithfulness ( or lack thereof ) of the covenant people of God, and of the enduring faithfulness of God Himself ( II Timothy 2:13 ). Throughout the Psalms; David extols the faithfulness of God, and the prophets, even Solomon in the Proverbs, condemn the people of the covenant for their lack of faithfulness towards the covenant that God had made with them.
Phrases like 'I have faith in you', or condemnation of a lack of faith, as, 'your faith just isn't strong enough', are easily bandied around, without consideration of where that faith comes from, or even what exactly 'faith' is. To most, probably; faith is simply believing, and as a noun, what one believes, but truly, faith, particularly as the Bible, or Scripture, defines it, involves, not only belief ( 'Even the demons believe—and tremble!' ( James 2:19 ), but trust, an unfailing trust, in the promises of God. As we can see throughout Scripture; it is not in man ( Alone ) to be constantly, and unfailingly faithful: man can always fail, but God can never fail; God will never fail!
Faith, as we saw above, defined by the writer to the Hebrews, 'is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'. I used to, when I was more of a deterministic Calvinist, believe that this was to say that faith, as a gift of God ( I still believe that ), was simply the evidence ( in nature, and elsewhere, that God was truly who He says He is ( John 4:24 ), but have come to see that he was speaking, not only of the faithfulness of God, but of the faithfulness of His elect covenant people, of the actions, through the faith God had granted them, of those who God had predestined ( Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:3-6 ) to salvation in the Christ. In the very next verse of Hebrews 11, we read that 'by it the elders obtained a [ good ] testimony'; do you think, as many seem to think, that they simply 'obtained' this testimony ( Genesis 15:6 ), that this occurred just because they believed, or because they acted on that belief? James elsewhere wrote 'as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also'; thus our 'faith' does us no good if we do not act upon it, and before someone objects that I a, contradicting myself; let me clarify by saying that, though this is a gift of God, and stands on its own, we do not benefit, particularly in this life, will be of no benefit to the people of God, if we do not do what that faith purports.
Let me end here, by saying, in other words, that though this 'faith', or trust, is only available as a gift of God; it is our responsibility, and ours, to exercise, though through the power of God, that faith, but acting our beliefs out in our daily lives. May we all, especially me, begin, more and more, to 'Just do it'!
Charles Haddon Shank