How do you build real faith?
Faith in God is listed as one of the fundamental teachings of Scripture (Hebrews 6:1–2). In fact, Christians are told that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). However, Jesus Christ, looking ahead to the end of this present age—our time today—raised a sobering question to His disciples. He asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Since the Bible records the question, it might be good for each of us to consider how it applies to our own personal situation. As we will see, the Scriptures indicate that real faith will be in short supply as we approach the end of this age. The parable of the ten virgins reveals that five were unprepared for Christ’s return because they lacked certain qualities (Matthew 25:1–13). They were not invited into the kingdom of God as a result, and they missed out on an incredible reward. In the light of these scriptures, perhaps we can see why Mr. Roderick Meredith has repeatedly emphasized the need to build an atmosphere of faith within the Church of God. To build real faith we need to understand some vital aspects of faith.
What is Real Faith?
Faith has been attacked and ridiculed for centuries. Mark Twain remarked “faith is believing in what ain’t so.” Atheist H. L. Mencken asserted, “faith is an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” Karl Marx termed faith in religion “…the opium of the people.” One prominent American businessman has stated that religious faith “is for losers.” Many misconceptions also exist today about real faith. One dictionary definition states that faith is “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”—which, as we will see is just the opposite of the truth.
The word faith comes from a Latin word fidere, which means to trust, believe, or have faith. Faith has been defined as an “unquestioning belief” in God, religion, an idea, a person or organization. Faith generally means having a strong conviction, deep trust, reliance upon, or loyalty to something. Your faith can also refer to a religion or system of beliefs. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for faith is emuwn which means to trust, or have faith. In the New Testament the Greek word for faith is pistis, which means to trust, believe, have faith or rely upon. But do these words mean we must have faith in or rely upon something or someone for which there is no proof? Do we just decide to believe without asking any questions? Hardly!
The biblical definition of real faith is found in the book of Hebrews. The Scriptures plainly state that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not [yet] seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Substance means assurance, realization, something like a title or deed to a house or piece of property. Evidence entails proof. The author of Hebrews states “By faith we understand that the worlds were formed by the word [command] of God, so that the things that are seen [the creation] were not made of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Many scientists today are coming to realize the universe could not have evolved by accident. The prerequisites for life are so many and so tightly defined that the universe had to be planned to sustain life from the very beginning. The proof of God is definitely there for those with eyes to see! Real faith rests on solid proof—not just feelings, conjecture or wishful thinking. The modern notion that faith doesn’t rest on proof actually undermines the real faith that Scripture talks about.
Faith is also described in the Bible as a fruit or quality imparted by God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit is given to those who repent (Acts 2:38) and who make the effort to obey the laws of God (Acts 5:32). We will grow in faith as we exercise faith—as we trust God—and actually follow His instructions. As our faithfulness to God increases we will become more staunch, firm, determined, resolute in our belief in God. Martin Luther’s definition, “…faith is a living unshakable confidence,” is a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58.
The Foundation of Real Faith
Today we are tempted to put our faith in many things. However, not all are that dependable. Some are actually dangerous. Some people trust in God, others in money, friends, self, political leaders, or military power. Still others trust in science, other experts, astrology or fortune- tellers. The American philosopher, Eric Hoffer, has stated somewhat cynically, “Faith in a holy cause is a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” He comments further that, “…where there is the technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for faith.” While there is a certain physical truth in what he says, he is actually mocking an example used by Jesus Christ (Matthew 17:20).
Our choice today of where to place our faith is almost endless. However, the Bible offers specific warnings about where not to place our faith. Nearly 3000 years ago Solomon wrote, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). The Bible warns repeatedly about trusting in other gods beside the true God (Exodus 20:1–6). We are told when David numbered the fighting men of Israel—trusting in his own military strength—he sinned and did a very foolish thing (2 Samuel 24:1–11). Jeremiah warned about trusting in the lying words of false teachers (Jeremiah 7:4). Jesus cautioned about trusting in money and wealth (Matthew 19:21–23).
In terms of positive instruction the Scriptures urge us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5–7). This is why it is important to prove and know that God really does exist. We must also learn to trust in God’s Word—the Bible (Psalm 119:142,160; John 17:17). This involves studying, proving and learning to live by every word of God. We must not only develop faith in Jesus Christ—that He was the Son of God who came to die for our sins—but also develop the faith of Jesus who trusted and obeyed His Father’s instruction to the point of saying “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). We must also develop real faith in Christ’s message about the coming kingdom of God(Mark 1:14–15). This means coming to understand what the kingdom of God is all about and our potential role in that kingdom. As that message becomes more real to us, our faith will grow.
A true Christian called by God will also want to find the true Church of God—the descendants of the church founded by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Paul urged the Gentile churches in Thessalonica to follow the parent “churches of God” in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:14). That Church exists today (Matthew 16:18). It continues to teach the same gospel and same way of life as the first century Church of God. You can identify God’s true Church by comparing the doctrines it teaches with the Scriptures. The truth of God does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8) over the centuries. With this positive identification you can put faith in the fact that you have found God’s true Church.
The Bible warns repeatedly about trusting or following false teachers who claim to be ministers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:15–20; 24:4,5,11; 2 Corinthians 11:1–14). Yet the Scriptures also urge Christians to follow and respect the ministry (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). You cannot put your faith and trust in the ministry unless you know they are teaching the truth. This will involve listening carefully on your part and comparing what you hear with what you clearly read in the Scriptures (Isaiah 8:20; 1 John 2:4). The apostle Paul commends the Bereans for doing this very thing (Acts 17:10–12). This is why Paul was inspired to write, “Test [prove, carefully examine] all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When we do this we build a firm foundation for faith.
Why Do We Need Faith?
Although critics may scoff at the need for faith in God and His Word, the Bible reveals a dimension of knowledge that is clearly missing in our modern secular world.
From the Scriptures we learn that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). As a result of knowingly or unknowingly breaking the laws of God (the biblical definition of sin—1 John 3:4) we are subject to a penalty of death for all eternity. However, by putting our faith in the fact that Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins we can be forgiven of our sins. This is what it means to be justified by faith (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). In order to put your faith in Jesus Christ you need to prove that He really did exist, that He was who the Scriptures say He was, that He really did die and that He was resurrected. Knowing that you know the real facts builds faith.
A Christian must also live by faith (Galatians 3:11). This means changing your life so that you begin to live by every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:2–3; Matthew 4:4). You will start keeping the Sabbath and the Holy Days, to obey God (Leviticus 23) and to follow the example of Jesus and the early church (Luke 4:16; Acts 17:1–2; John 7:1–10; 1 Corinthians 5:7–8). As you step out on faith and begin to observe these commanded assemblies with other true Christians you will begin to understand God’s plan of salvation for mankind and the true purpose of life.
Your faith and practice of these biblical concepts will actually begin to set you apart from the rest of society—you will be different. This is what is meant when the Bible says you will be sanctified [set apart for holy use] by faith (Acts 20:32; 26:18).
The Bible reveals we are healed by faith (James 5:14–15), we will be saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8) and rewarded according to our faith (Hebrews 11:6). Healing involves trusting God for what only He can do. Salvation will include receiving eternal life and becoming part of God’s family when Christ returns to judge mankind (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 8:14–17). The reward for those who grow and overcome will be to rule as priests and kings with Jesus Christ in the coming kingdom of God (Daniel 7:27; Revelation 2:26; 3:11–12; 5:10; 11:15–18). When you have proven to yourself what the Scriptures actually promise, your faith will grow!
Lack of Faith Today
Believe it or not, the lack of faith in our modern world was prophesied nearly 2,000 years ago. The apostle Peter was inspired to predict, “…scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘where is the promise of His coming?’” (2 Peter 3:3–4). Peter states that people will deliberately ignore such things as prophecy and the facts of recorded history (2 Peter 3:5–13). The apostle Paul predicted that people would be deceived and depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1), deny and discard the faith (1 Timothy 5:8), and that the faith of some would be overthrown by misleading ideas and arguments of false teachers (2 Timothy 2:18; 3:8). Paul indicates these activities, which flourished in the first century, would also prevail in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1–9). But how did Paul know this would happen? How could God inspire such accurate prophecies?
The Bible reveals that the tendency to doubt is a proclivity of human nature. Peter doubted even when Jesus invited him to walk on water (Matthew 14:31). Jesus chided His own disciples for their lack of faith that He had actually been resurrected (Luke 24:38). Thomas doubted until he actually saw certain evidence (John 20:24–29). We aren’t any different from the disciples. We, too, will doubt until we prove something otherwise. This is why proving what you believe is so important. With proof, there is no room for doubt!
We are also told in Scripture that Satan will plant doubts to undermine real faith in God. He did this with Adam and Eve by suggesting that God wasn’t telling them the whole truth (Genesis 3:1–4). Satan tried to undermine Jesus Christ’s faith in God by misquoting the Scriptures (Matthew 4:1–11). Peter warned that practice would continue and would undermine the faith and confidence of some (2 Peter 3:14–18). That practice still continues today—so we must be careful! Paul also relates that the carnal human mind, influenced by Satan, actually resents trusting in God and resists following the instructions that God has revealed in His word (Romans 8:5–9). This is a battle we all have to fight—just like Paul had to fight it (Romans 7:14–25). As we trust and obey God, resisting and overcoming this negative tendency, we will grow in faith.
One of the biggest reasons for the lack of faith today is that doubt and skepticism about religious faith permeates our culture. God is allowing us to reap what has been sown down through the centuries of Western civilization (Jeremiah 2:8,19; Hosea 4:9). Doubts about God are a prime example. Euripides, a Greek poet of the 5th century BC wrote, “Do we, holding the gods exist, deceive ourselves with unsubstantial dreams and lies, while random careless chance and change alone control the world?” Thomas Jefferson advised people to “question with boldness even the existence of God.” Jefferson felt God would prefer reason to blind faith based only on fear, which he appears to assume the Bible advocates (but, as we have seen, it does not). Our sad state of affairs is summarized by the statement, “O Lord, if there is a Lord, save my soul, if I have a soul.”
Although 95 percent of Americans believe in God, many wonder if the miracles in the Bible actually occurred. Some have been told the Second Coming of Christ may be only a figurative or symbolic event—that it will not really happen. Many theologians today openly teach that it is no longer necessary to keep the Sabbath or the Holy Days—in spite of the commandments, the example of Christ and the apostles and the clear facts of early church history. These are among the many reasons why real faith is in short supply today—as Jesus Christ indicated it would be!
Building Real Faith
The challenge facing each of us as Christians is, how do we build real faith? What is involved? This is nothing new and is not limited to our present age. Even in the first century as Christ was beginning His church, “…the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’” (Luke 17:5). They knew they needed more faith and they asked for guidance. Peter later writes that we must give diligent effort to increase and add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5–11). But what must we do? Consider the following 7 steps.
- Ask God for more faith. Jesus instructed His disciples to ask, seek and to knock (Matthew 7:7–12). James offers the same advice (James 1:5). This is why the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. We can do the same. Pray earnestly about this.
- Prove what you believe. Follow Paul’s admonition (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and prove that God exists, that the Bible is His inspired word, where the true Church is and who are God’s true ministers. Prove what the Bible actually says, and hold fast to what you prove to be the truth.
- Study what the Bible reveals about faith. Read and meditate on the examples of faith described in Hebrews 11. Read the original accounts in the Old Testament. Determine what lessons you can draw from these accounts. Learn and grow.
- Stir up God’s Spirit. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives His Spirit to those who repent and obey Him. Pray, study, meditate and fast regularly. Nourish and use God’s Spirit. Doubts will disappear as our faith grows (2 Timothy 1:6–7).
- Live by faith. Put into practice what you read in the Scriptures. Trust God and His Word. If the Bible says to do it, then do it—don’t argue with the Scriptures. The American writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “We live by faith or we do not live at all. Either we venture or we vegetate. If we venture, we do so by faith simply because we cannot know the end of anything at its beginning. We risk marriage or we stay single. We prepare for a profession by faith or we give up before we start. By faith we move mountains of opposition or we are stopped by molehills.”
- Endure trials that will arise as you strive to live by every word of God. Enduring and overcoming the trials will help us build both faith and patience (James 1:2–4). It has been said, “If we desire to increase faith we must consent to its testing.” Remember that God has promised to get us through the trials (1 Corinthians 10:13) and the trials He allows are for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).
- Don’t compromise or deny the true faith. The Bible warns repeatedly about false teachers who will undermine and overthrow the faith of others by promoting misleading doctrines and ideas. We are also told many will depart from or discard the true faith. However, the Scriptures clearly state there is one faith and one body [church], and it is the job of the ministry to promote the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:4–6, 12–13). The role of the church is to maintain true doctrines (1 Timothy 3:15–16, see also Acts 15). This is why it is so important to know where God’s true Church is today and what the Bible actually says. The Scriptures are not to be interpreted as each individual sees fit in his or her own mind (2 Peter 1:20). This only leads to confusion, which damages and destroys faith. As we approach the end of this age and Satan increases his attacks on true believers, we will have to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude :3).
Faith is important to God. Faithfulness is as important in our physical life as it is for our eternal life. As the apostle Paul saw the end of his life approaching he concluded, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). He knew—he had faith and total confidence—his reward awaited him. The God of this universe has big things in store for all mankind—especially for those He is calling to be His firstfruits—those who learn now to trust Him. Let’s make a diligent effort to grow in faith. Let’s hold on faithfully to the Truth God has revealed to His Church. Let’s strive to build an atmosphere of faith in the Living Church of God—so when Jesus Christ returns He will find real faith in those He has called.