What is faith? One of the go-to biblical answers to this vital question comes from the book of Hebrews.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
The chapter that follows this definition provides dozens of examples of this faith in action. But we are not limited to Hebrews 11 when looking for biblical teaching on faith.
Faith in 1 Peter
The apostle Peter has a lot to say about faith in his first letter. The first chapter of this letter alone is filled with descriptions of faith and its consequences.
Peter opens this letter with effusive praise to God (1 Peter 1:3–12). He reminds us of God’s mercy toward us in giving us new life (verse 3), an imperishable inheritance (verse 4), and his powerful protection (verse 5).
But faith is never far from Peter’s mind. Faith is the instrument through which we are being guarded (verse 5). Genuine faith will result in honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 7). And the outcome of faith is salvation (verse 9).
A Working Definition of Faith
I take two verses in the middle of 1 Peter 1 as a working definition of faith that is memorable, encouraging, and motivating.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
For the purposes of a discussion on faith, there are at least four important parts of this statement.
You have not seen him; you do not see him. Like the definition from Hebrews, Peter reminds us that faith is not one of the five natural senses. We have not seen Jesus with our eyes, and he is not with us in the flesh. Faith is a spiritual, God-given sense.
You love him. Faith is not merely belief. We do not receive faith by merely ascribing to a list of propositions about God. Faith involves our hearts, and a true believer doesn’t just acknowledge or trust Jesus, they love him.
You believe in him. Faith is more than belief, but it is not less! These verses follow several beautiful statements about salvation (verses 3–5) in which God’s role and the centrality of the resurrection (verse 3) are clear. Faith always has an object, and Christians must know and believe what is true about Jesus in order to have faith in him.
You rejoice with great joy. A faith that does not lead to rejoicing may not be true faith. Peter wrote to people who were suffering, and yet there was a deep, bubbling spring of joy within them because of their new life in Christ. Faith is always future-looking, and Peter points ahead several times in this first chapter. Suffering and trials are not reasons to rejoice; but when we understand the effect of our trials (verse 7) and we rest in the inheritance that is kept in heaven for us (verse 4), we can be joyful people. This joy doesn’t mean we are delusional or fake-happy. But our abiding trust in God’s goodness, his control, and his fatherly love will give us a satisfaction in him that looks strange to a watching world. And that may give us a chance to discuss the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
Cultivating This Faith
Faith is a gift of God, but it is also something we can tend and water so that it will grow (by God’s grace). This discussion of faith from 1 Peter prompts a few ideas about cultivating faith.
- Get to know and love Jesus. If faith involves belief, then we need to know what God is like and what he’s done for us in Jesus. This means that the Bible is essential to our faith! We might be naturally drawn to the New Testament to learn about Jesus, which is good and right. But the Old Testament also feeds our faith. Hebrews 11(quoted above) points to dozens of imperfect, Old Testament saints as having great faith. As you learn about Jesus, train your heart to respond in adoration and worship. Keep the Psalms handy.
- See beyond your sight. Peter twice mentions that we cannot rely on our eyes to see Jesus. Many of the most important things about us are invisible. Illnesses, injuries, loneliness, grief, and despair—they can crash upon us like a tidal wave. They are so tangible! But we must remind ourselves (and each other) that our circumstances are not the only true things about us. Crucially, they are not the final true thing about us. Instead, we are “born again to a living hope,” we have an inheritance in heaven that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,” and we are being guarded “by God’s power…for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” By Jesus’s work we are loved, adopted, and secured by God as his children.
- Grow in joy. Faith should produce joy, so if our efforts to cultivate faith are not leading to greater joy, we’re doing something wrong. There are many ways to grow in joy in Christ, but here is one suggestion: Find joyful Christians and learn from them. Listen to their music; read their poems, stories, essays, and biographies; watch their films and videos; take walks with them; call, text, or email with them. God gives his children faith, and he also brings his children into his church where we can learn from each other what it means to have such a loving and powerful father.