Faith- Defined – Part 1

                 “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28) was the prayer from Simon Peter to the Lord who had come to take them ashore after their struggle throughout the night to cross the sea of Galilee. The fatigue of the toil was gone and a new day was about to dawn in the spiritual life of Peter and with him also the other eleven. They had seen the humongous multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish to feed to their fill 5,000 men besides women and children, totaling probably around 15,000. And now this exceptional vision was there in front of them, to turn their fear to joy. And Peter not only stepped out of the boat but walked on water towards the Lord. What is it that turns fear- to joy- to willingness to act absolutely contrary to ones beliefs and capabilities?

Faith is the oil that boosts our frail body to overrule the mind and jump into the void with the unexplainable assurance of some invisible hand holding us aloft. Faith is thus based not on facts and figures substantiating the same but a call of the heart which overrules logic or reason. Peter accepted the fact of the Lord Himself walking on water and thus having the power to cancel out the natural laws to help him to do the same. Though during the previous day they were witness to the miraculous feeding of the multitudes but that had risk involved, whereas stepping out of the boat was likely to result in death. The Jews had been made aware of the expected coming of their Messiah, through the Scriptures, and everyone in Judea during that period was waiting for His coming. Peter’s act of stepping out of the boat was the result of Scriptural teaching passed on from generation to generation for centuries about their God and His deeds as their redeemer.

This belief in the Most High God YHWH influenced the minds of the disciples to act in a certain manner and if faith does not cause any change in the followers’ personality, then it is of little value to them. Such faith would eventually retreat rather than grow and finally fade out. Faith is thus directly linked to religious beliefs as passed on through generations and is based on hope rather than concrete evidence. Peter was convinced that what he had hoped for in stepping out of the boat to walk on water was a certainty, though he could not see solidification of water per se. thus what Job believed a few thousand years ago was relevant then, during Peter’s time and even today. And this faith in God was not restricted to Israel but in all other cultures also though they may not have had any relation or communication with each other.

The Scriptures mention about the history of creation and God creating man in His image and likeness, but in essence every culture on the earth created a god for them that resonated with their own beliefs.  Thus the Israelites also fell prey to the creation of ‘the golden calf’ to worship and such local gods fulfilled the natural aspirations of the people of that specific area and at times other regions also. And from this each religion thus evolved its own set of revelations about creation and their relationship with their god requiring a set specific pattern of rituals and ceremonies which eventually got corrupted to include even human sacrifice.

The respective gods came to be so deeply associated with the personal lives of the followers that this god would die for them to save them from a particular situation and be born again to tackle something similar or different in another area. The theory of life after death got related to man also and the pattern was generally similar in all cases to have eventual union with God and Lord Jesus promised everlasting life not on the basis of one’s personal effort but through faith in His sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension to the throne of power in heaven. Almost all religions preached the theory that though they are not alone in their struggle for union with God, they had to rely on their personal good deeds to earn that right. Religious beliefs form the basis of all actions of an individual in dealing with others of the same or other faiths.

Faith can thus be defined also as an act of relating to the individual’s relationship with God and through that his behavior pattern with others and the world. As per this then faith would be a changing entity depending on the knowledge gained from time to time in the growth process of man from childhood to maturity; both physical as well as spiritual maturity. The final stage would be enlightenment when man lives with the basic principle of oneness with God and His creation with compassion and service of others as essential edicts of life.

But what actually is faith? The Bible defines faith as “the assurance/ substance of things hoped for, the evidence/conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This definition has two aspects- first is a guarantee of fulfillment of hopes and this can’t be based on dreams but on reality. Thus faith puts us on a firm ground of evidence and reality and not fiction. The second part is the strong beam of light pointing us forward into the future with courage through assurance inherently provided for. Thus what is ‘hoped for’ is not something imaginary but based on solid evidence from the Word of the Creator Himself. This gets further strengthened when we relate the preceding and the succeeding verses to this, for Apostle Paul weaves the narrative of the past heroes of the Scriptures with the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God and through this providing salvation what was hoped for.

The whole definition hinges on the word ‘substance/evidence’ and understanding of this is necessary to fully grasp the meaning of faith. tHe Greek word translated substance is ‘hupostasis’ which is formed of two words ‘hupo’ meaning under and ‘stasis’ translated as standing. The meaning of the word thus is “something that stands under and supports; foundation” or “the underlying or essential part of anything as distinguished from attributes; substance, essence, or essential principle”. The first part of Hebrews 11:1 could then be read as “Faith is that which underlies and supports what is apparent”; like a foundation supporting a  building- which though invisible but existing and real as base for the visible entity.

Faith, thus, may be termed as the ‘spiritual force propelling us into a visible action’. But is it within or without us that we can rely upon and in both cases the concept would have a different meaning. If it is within us in the form of a quality or a virtue then we can interpret the verse to mean that ‘Faith converts what is hoped for into a reality’ or transliterated as “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see”. In this, conviction or our internal quality forms the basis of faith making it a certain product of our belief.

On the other hand if we see this as something outside then another translation similar to the one mentioned in most cases emerges i.e. “Faith is the substance or proof or title deed of things hoped for”. This shifts the focus to something extrinsic to our being. But Apostle Paul mentions faith as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9) and Holy Spirit being an indwelling part of the Holy Trinity, the gift of faith would also work from inside to the outside of the human spirit. Defining and understanding faith and its operation is not a simple matter and both views appear to be right. However, the first interpretation of faith being a conviction based within us appears correct especially when used in context of not only the preceding and succeeding chapters but of the epistle on the whole. Paul repeatedly urges the Israelites to look into the past to get a clear glimpse of the future and that would necessitate a subjective understanding.

Having seen the first part of the definition to imply faith as the support or substance giving pillar that stands firm and does not go under the great weight of improbability of ‘what is hoped for’. The text by implication reveals that the things hoped for are without evidence or are non- existent as belonging to some future time. Apostle Paul clarifies hope itself as “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:24-25).

The Greek word used here is ‘elengchos’ meaning ‘a proof, or that by which a thing is tested; or conviction’. This word is derived from ‘elegcho’ meaning bringing to light, to expose or to convict and it indicates an inner conviction that is not based on visible matters. Aristotle claimed that elegchos is the proof that a thing cannot be different from what we say it is and thus it is a fundamental reality of that which lacks substance. The real translation of ‘elengchos’ in this context would probably be to put it to test or to bring it to conviction/trial or examine for proof. Thus faith would imply to put to the test the things that are visible and seen with those that are unseen and then only accepting them as real in the future.

The word translated as things in both parts are different; while in the first part it is ‘elpizomenon’  from the word ‘elpomai’ meaning to expect, to anticipate or to hope for. In the second part the Greek word used is ‘pragmaton’ which is also used in Hebrews 6:18, and would imply the reality of that which is thus spoken of or which are most surely believed. Thus the second part of the verse may be translated as ‘putting to test/ testing of things not seen’,  making faith as the scale to weigh what is visible and what is not and then coming to a conclusion.

Faith finally emerges as an internal conviction, based on the Word of God, that substantiates what that Word promises and in this light bringing the future blessings to a present existence as objects seen and not only hoped for. In arriving at this all faculties of man are exercised through a well analyzed and thought out conviction with his emotions and will also prevailing in the exercise. Faith is as much of the heart as of the mind and the spirit of a man and is thus a tangible product of the whole being. The act of Peter to step out of the boat is not an impromptu act but is based on several factors experienced by him, during his walk with the Lord, giving him the courage and conviction to walk out. Apostle Paul further explains that the gift of salvation itself is an act of grace of God but we receive or reject it through our faith or unbelief (Ephesians 2:8).

 Faith requires that final action to make the unseen become a reality, for God is capable to do it but the impetus to the process comes from our action. The woman with twelve years of suffering walked and became whole in body, soul and spirit with complete healing.

                  It is time to step out of that comfort zone of your beliefs and ‘look unto Jesus’ to receive salvation!!  

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