I think that it is obvious believing is an important aspect in faith, even though it is not the matching verb for faith. So it is important to understand where “to believe” is the same as “faith”.
So we begin with the oft-quoted statement that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” These words are from Hebrew 11:1 in Scripture.
Obviously, faith has two components described. One is about “the substance of things hoped for”, and the other, “the evidence of things not seen.” So here, it didn’t exactly say faith is about believing only!
The Substance of Things Hoped for
Here also, I will like to think of the hope of eternal life in regards to this statement on faith. Everyone’s hope in this life is to conquer death, and to have eternal life.
Believing acknowledges these are things “hoped for”, and it embraces the hope for the things we cherish. So we believe Jesus will save us and give us eternal life. Thus we trust Jesus and speak of inviting Jesus into our hearts.
This “willingness to believe and trust” Jesus is the “substance” in our faith for eternal life which we have not actually seen, but hoped for!
This is where to believe is about faith. It is because we have not yet seen the eternal life that we hope for. Nobody hopes for something that he has seen already.
The Evidence of Things Not Seen and “Blind Faith”
However, this leads some people to speak of “blind faith.”
Regrettably, this “blind” talk misses out “the evidence of things not seen” in regards to faith. The writer of Hebrews is saying that there is “evidence of the things” we hope, even though this is “not seen”!
In other words, faith is not blind. Faith is about having and “seeing” things that are not visible to the eyes.
How can this be? The answer is that faith produces results. To be “born again” cannot be seen.
So faith is seen by the evidence of “things unseen” in our lives. Faith is “alive” and will produce results in our lives. Our faith in God is evidenced by the transforming of our lives, from being a sinner dead in sins, to become alive in Christ. We are “born again”. This new creation in Christ can be seen. The evidence is about a living proof, and faith has living proof.
Faith is therefore speaking about beliefs that are “alive”. This is because the Spirit is life and will quicken us when we believe in God. The evidence is life changing.
Thus we can understand why James speaks of faith without “works” is dead.
No Faith and Little Faith
When “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, this is spoken of as “little faith”. The Christian is not unbelieving, but he lacks a deeper trust in God.
In similar context, when we doubt God, this is spoken of as “no faith”. Doubts often occur when the Christian is afraid. The fear destroys his actions in trusting Jesus. Here, we see that the Christian’s belief in God is intact, but he does not live out his beliefs because of his fears. So “no faith” is seen.
In Mark 4:40, the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and they encountered a frightful storm. They were afraid because the waves broke over the boat. So the disciples desperately woke Jesus from His sleep.
Jesus rebuked the waves, and the sea became calm. Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
In a contrasting incident, in Mark 5:21- 43, the ruler, Jairus asked Jesus to save his daughter. Jesus was blocked by the crowd to get to Jairus’ house quickly, and people came to tell Jairus that his daughter had died.
However, Jesus told Jairus “not to be afraid, just believe”.
It was necessary for Jairus to trust Jesus because trust forms the substance of things hoped for. If there was no “substance”, it was not possible for Jairus to receive the things hoped for.
So we see the importance for trusting, not doubting, and not to be afraid, when we speak of faith. Our trust in God is the substance in our belief when we speak of faith.
Good Works, the Scribe Contrasted and a Reminder
Many Christians will, of course, also caution that good works cannot save us. This is correct, and a good reminder, for we are saved by grace through faith.
For this contrast, we are reminded of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-27. He kept the law, but went away sadly from Jesus because he was unwilling to follow as commanded. Obviously, he had good works to show, but the rich young man was not willing to exchange his worldly good things for treasures in heaven. He was unwilling to have faith in Jesus.
Then, there was the enlightened scribe in Mark 12:28-34. He asked Jesus what the greatest commandments were in the law. Jesus said it was to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbour as yourself. The scribe acknowledged this.
So Jesus said that he was not far from the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying to him that he must be willing in his heart to believe. When he believed in Jesus with a willing heart, his faith would be alive.
In these accounts, the problem for the scribe and the young man was not that they had no good works. Their need was to have faith in Jesus, and this must come from a willing spirit to accept and trust Jesus.
Faith and Unbelief
We see it is important to be clear where we understand believing is the same as in faith. We know that we encounter many nuances in “believe”.
Here, we consider also our everyday language and contemporary use for “believe”.
In Mark 9:14-32, we have a rather lengthy account on the healing of a boy who was demon possessed. The disciples were unable to cast out the demon. So the boy’s father brought him to Jesus. Jesus was distressed by this and said that this was an “unbelieving generation”.
The man desperately pleaded with Jesus to help his son, since the disciples could not. The man only said, “If you can” to Jesus. But Jesus told him that everything is possible if he believes. On hearing this, the man asked Jesus to help his “unbelief” because he “believed” in Jesus.
Jesus cast out the demon from the boy. So we understand Jesus acknowledged the boy’s father had faith, for he believed and sought God. The father acted on his beliefs in Jesus.
Yet we are surprised that the disciples could not cast out the demon also. So we must wonder whether the disciples were “unbelieving”.
Were the spirits of the disciples unwilling to believe in Jesus?
The answer is “No” when we consider the spirits of the disciples. The disciples believed and had faith in Jesus, of course. They were willing in their spirits to do what Jesus commanded.
Then why were the disciples unable to cast out the demon?
Jesus said this needed prayer and fasting. We know the disciples had followed Jesus, so we are curious why Jesus said this.
The disciples were already given Jesus’ authority to cast out demons. This authority is also given to Christians, as promised in the Gospels. Mark 16:17.
The answer has also something to do with perspectives for “unbelief” and “unbelieving” as seen in the encounter.
Prayer, Discipleship and Faith
This healing took place near Caesarea Philippi, the region north of Galilee. The people were Hellenistic in lifestyle because of the cosmopolitan environment of Jews and Gentiles. The “unbelieving generation” that Jesus spoke of, is an ungodly generation.
Unbelief was seen in the way the people in this place had lived. Their faith was missing in action, as God was not evident in their daily lives. Their ungodly living gave the demon the legal right to dismiss the disciples’ command to come out.
The demon has a legal right to remain in ungodly people because they are Satan’s prisoners. This was why the boy’s father cried out, “I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”
Moreover, this demon made use of the evil of being deaf and mute to deny help to the boy. This means the demon could turn a deaf ear to the disciples’ verbal commands, even though the demon could hear. This was why Jesus said, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
It is obvious the demon could actually hear and talk, because the demon shrieked on hearing Jesus’ command. Thus the evil of being deaf and mute was used by the demon to be “physically deaf” to the disciples’ command.
If we are to overcome, Jesus said we must pray and fast. Prayer is the spiritual tool to make the demon hear. Prayer prevents the demon from hiding behind the evil of being deaf and mute. Prayer is speaking in the spirit and the demon cannot hide from spiritual commands.
We also fast because we must consecrate ourselves, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we are not fully consecrated, we may not be able to claim fully God’s power. So we pray and fast for this purpose.
It is written: The weapons we fight with are not weapons of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:4
Jesus shows us that in Christian ministry, we will encounter spiritual opposition from Satan. There is spiritual war because we are stepping into Satan’s domain of darkness and bondage, and Satan has his legal rights in his domain. Those we seek to set free are in his bondage of sin.
The Sum of Faith, Hope and Love
To this end, Hebrew 11:1 gives a profound statement for our victory. For faith is the substance of believing for things in our hope, the evidence is seen in our love as God commanded. Thus faith, hope and love are all seen together in this wonderful proclamation in Scripture.
NB: Scripture texts in italics are from NIV.
Note: Mr Yeo Teck Thiam is a retiree who used to work as a chemical engineer, specializing in food and perfume chemistry for an international food company and perfumer. His other main interest is astronomy and other mathematical matters, relating to the Biblical passages. –
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