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Faith is a confidence or trust in the achievement of God's will, even though unseen and unexpected by non-believers. A classic statement of faith in the Bible was by the Roman centurion of Matthew 8:5-10, who expressed his confidence that Jesus could cure his beloved servant from a distance without even seeing him. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance and value of faith to his disciples.

Faith embodies more than belief. Faith elevates one's being, while belief is limited to a mental state or emotion. Faith implies a causal role by the believer in an outcome, as in Peter's walking on water based on his faith or in overcoming a personal fear. Faith also implies advancement or accomplishment rather than wrongdoing, while belief implies neither.

Faith plays a central role in overcoming addiction. Virtually everyone is plagued by one or more addictions, and faith enables overcoming those weaknesses.

Faith is also helpful in overcoming fear, such as fear of public speaking, appearing on television, or standing up to a bully.

Lack of faith includes fear, anxiety, depression and lack of confidence. A lack of faith can be very harmful, leading to self-destructive behavior.

Faith is expressed in Greek using the term pistis, and in Latin using the term fides. Faith is mentioned in 229 verses in the New Testament (KJV), but only twice in the much larger Old Testament (KJV).[1] In attempt to convert Jews to Christianity, Paul described Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac to God as an act of faith, though the Old Testament did not describe it with that term.

Faith is strengthened by prayer (Jude 20). For those who strengthen their faith, Jesus promised "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."[2]

Biblical examples

Perhaps the greatest description of faith is Hebrews 11. It states: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."[3]

Paul indicated that faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:8-9 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit

As discussed above, a potential reference to faith is Genesis 22 where God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As Abraham prepared to do what God commanded -he was stopped. Genesis 22:12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Martin Luther on Faith

Luther in his Table Talk papers writes this thought provoking and rather difficult passage on faith:

"This is the acme of faith, to believe that God, who saves so few and condemns so many, is merciful; that he is just who, at his own pleasure, has made us necessarily doomed to damnation, so that he seems to delight in the torture of the wretched and is more deserving of hate than of love. If by any effort of reason I could conceive how God, who shows so much anger and harshness, could be merciful and just, there would be no need of faith."

Faith as a virtue

The 'walking on water' episode, which both showed and tested St Peter's faith (painting by Konrad Witz).

St Paul identified faith, hope and love (or charity) as the three greatest virtues that are central to Christianity, and this idea is repeated and elaborated upon throughout Christian tradition. Faith is put first because it provides the foundation upon which the other two are built: a faithful heart and mind cause one to have hope, and hope causes one to have love for God and one's fellow man.

In Dante's Divine Comedy, St Peter is most identified with faith. This is appropriate, since he was the 'rock' on which the Church was built, just as a Christian life must be rooted in faith. Peter's great faith is shown in Matthew 14:28-31, when he is briefly able to walk on water until doubt enters his mind.

Uniqueness to Christianity

Christianity is unique among religions in that its followers are defined by faith rather than by adherence to a prescribed code. St Paul makes this distinction clear in Galatians 3:24-25:

The law was a kind of tutor in charge of us until Christ should come, when we should be justified through faith; and now that faith has come, the tutor's charge is at an end.

That is to say, whereas Judaism required (and still requires) its followers to obey the law, Christianity begins with faith, and any moral or ethical decisions must follow from that. In this regard, Islam has much more in common with Judaism than it does with Christianity: the word 'Islam' itself means 'submission to God'.

Other Definitions and Religions

Outside of Christianity, faith is misused as a synonym for "belief". The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, includes this definition of faith: "a system of religious beliefs."[4]

Alternatively, faith often refers to a "firm belief in something for which there is no proof" or evidence.

In the Koran, the concept of submission to Allah is mentioned 11 times, while the concept of faith in Allah is mentioned only once.

Etymologically, the word 'faith' is closely linked to the concept of "fidelity," which emphasizes commitment to something or someone, specifically Christ. Thus, faith is often understood to mean 'loyalty' to a particular view of divinity. Yet, faith can also be envisioned more broadly as a trust in providence, as it entails an active role for the believer himself for advancing good.

The literary critic Harold Bloom distinguishes Christianity from the other two dominant monotheistic religions in his book Agon by contrasting them with Gnosticism:

"Gnosticism polemically is decidedly not a faith, whether in the Christian sense, pisits, a believing that something was, is, and will be so; or in the Hebraic sense, emunah, a trusting in the Covenant. If religion is a binding, then Gnosticism is an unbinding, but not for the sake of things or persons merely as they are. Gnostic freedom is a freedom for knowledge, knowledge of what in the self, not in the psyche or soul, is Godlike, and knowledge of God beyond the cosmos. But also it is a freedom to be known, to be known by God, by what is alien to everything created, by what is alien to and beyond the stars and the cosmic system and our earth."

Faith is emphasized in Christianity but is unrecognized by the worldview of philosophical skepticism.


  2. John 14:12 (NIV).
  3. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV).

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