Where the Bible lays out the elementary teachings of Christianity in Hebrews 6:1-2, listed between "repentance from dead works" and "the doctrine of baptisms" is "faith toward God." What is faith, and what role does it play in the process of repentance leading to baptism and salvation?
Many people believe in God. They assume He exists, but He is not real enough to them to affect what they think and do. To believe God, on the other hand, is to have faith that God will do for us whatever He has promised to do. He expects us to act on that belief. He requires that we have living faith in His existence, power and promises.
Changing our lives to submit to God—what the Bible refers to as repentance—is based on the conviction that He will intervene in our lives and ultimately grant us eternal life.
Faith isn't some magical ingredient. It does, however, lead to a confident attitude toward God. Faith motivates our minds to the assurance of God's power and will to act in our lives. Faith becomes more than a mental conviction as it grows into a commitment, not only to trust God to involve Himself in our lives, but to do His will.
God's Word assures us that "the just shall live by faith" and "we walk by faith, not by sight" when we repent of our sins and begin to live dedicated, godly lives directed by our Savior, Jesus Christ (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7). People who live by faith as followers of Christ and members of God's Church are "believers" in Him (Acts 5:14; 1 Timothy 4:12).
God's Word has a good reason for calling them believers. In the New Testament the Greek word for faith is, in virtually every instance, the same word for belief. Although translators choose whether "faith" or "belief" is intended based on their understanding of the context of each passage, the meaning is usually much broader than either word alone.
Even in modern language, to believe in someone, something or some cause is to have faith in that person, thing or movement—to believe it is true, just and worthy of one's support and involvement. In the same way, to have faith as it is defined in the Bible is to fully believe in someone (God), to believe in and act on the truth of His Word (the Bible) and to live for the greatest of causes—salvation for all who believe in the coming Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).
Faith is belief. But let's not make the age-old mistake of thinking that if we believe in God—that is, that He exists—we therefore have faith. Many hold to this mistaken idea. They say they believe in God; they think, therefore, that they have faith.
To believe in God is only the starting point of faith. But believing in God does not necessarily involve conviction or commitment to Jesus Christ and God the Father. Belief in God is profitable, but incomplete. As the apostle James noted: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons [fallen angels] believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19). We must go beyond the level of faith exhibited by demons.
The "faith chapter" of the Bible defines faith this way: "Now faith is the substance [realization, confident assurance, solid ground] of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction, reality, proof] of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is our assurance of the existence of things we cannot see.
The remainder of Hebrews 11 identifies real people who long ago lived examples of faith. They believed God, even to the point of death, confident that He would deliver them or resurrect them to eternal life in His Kingdom. They believed. Faith gave them assurance to carry on.
But faith is not wishful thinking, a pie-in-the-sky feeling that everything will be all right. Faith is a deep conviction that God deeply cares for us and will always act with our best interests at heart.
Each of us can have this kind of faith. In fact, we must have it if we wish to honor and love God, because "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
The preceding passage describes two aspects of faith. First we must believe God exists. He is the all-righteous, all-powerful Creator and Ruler of the universe who cares about His creation, including us—something we can comprehend through the magnificence of the physical creation we see around us and within ourselves (Romans 1:20). Then we must believe God will ultimately reward those who humbly, obediently seek Him.
Changing our lives to submit to God—what the Bible refers to as repentance—is based on the conviction that He will intervene in our lives and ultimately grant us eternal life. Simply saying "I believe" without making accompanying life-altering changes is not sufficient. The kind of faith required for salvation includes not only understanding what God desires from us, but also our acting on that understanding. We must base our faith on a correct understanding of God's Word and a commitment to live by that Word.
To learn more, read or download our free booklet You Can Have Living Faith.