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What is Faith?

Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.” — Mark 11:22

Atheists often ridicule Christians for their faith. Atheists ask, “Is faith a reliable guide to truth?” They answer by saying, “No!” This is because atheists define “religious faith” as “believing without evidence” or “pretending to know things you don’t know.” Richard Dawkins wrote: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” Or, as Mark Twain said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Atheists ask, “If there are ten million gods, and the worshippers of all of the god’s all claim faith as their reason for believing, how can your claim that your faith is unique?” They say the main problem with faith is that it can be used to believe literally anything. What good is faith if it can lead to any conclusion? However, the atheist’s definition of faith and the biblical definition of faith are different. When the atheist speaks of faith, he is talking about “wishful thinking,” a faith that chooses to believe in something in spite of contrary evidence.  But the faith spoken of in the Bible is belief based on solid evidence.

Biblical faith is based on evidence

Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed Himself to the people of Israel through physical manifestations. To set them free, He sent plagues on the Egyptians and He parted the Red Sea. He provided for them in the desert by sending them manna every day for forty years and by causing fresh water to flow from rocks. He appeared to them in a cloud and as a pillar of fire. When they arrived in the Promised Land, He gave them victory by bringing down the rock walls of Jericho. The Israelites had tangible evidence of God’s existence.

In the New Testament, Jesus offers many tangible proofs of His deity. 

  • When John the Baptist was thrown into prison, he wondered if Jesus really was the Messiah he had thought him to be. Jesus did not tell John’s disciples go back to John the Baptist and tell him, “Just have faith,” instead Jesus told them to talk about the miracles they were witnessing: “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).  
  • When the Pharisees questioned if Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, Jesus proved his deity by healing the paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-8). 
  • When Jesus rose from the dead He revealed Himself to the disciples, He ate food with them, and He invited doubting Thomas to touch the holes in His hands. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:40-43).  
  • After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to over five hundred people, giving those who had seen him die, proof that he was indeed alive again: “To whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). 

The Bible does not teach “blind faith.” The Greek word tekmērion translated in Acts 1:3 as “many convincing proofs” is a word used in court to refer to “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, in the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus proved that he had risen from the dead. Jim Burkett asks, “Was it the resurrection that caused the disciples to have faith or was it faith that caused the disciples to believe in the resurrection?” The answer is that the faith of the disciples was based on their experience that Jesus actually rose from the dead. As the Apostle John wrote: “That…which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1.1-3). The early church saw Jesus alive and this fact became the foundation for their faith. Christianity is a factual faith.

It is true that, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), but this faith is based on the “evidence of things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Have you ever read a detective story or watched a criminal investigation series on TV? By carefully examining a crime scene, the sleuth or investigator reconstructs what happened during the crime. Tiny clues provide evidence of events not seen. Faith is the same: from the things which can be seen it provides absolute proof of things we cannot see. The Apostle Paul explains:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… (Romans 1:20-22). 

In this passage, Paul says those who do not believe in God are without excuse because of the overwhelming evidence of creation. Paul calls atheists “fools” because they choose to ignore the evidence of the things which can be seen. For those who are willing to look, there is more than enough evidence for God’s existence. God has left a bread trail of crumbs that lead directly to the Bread of Life. 

Faith based on experience

Not only is Biblical faith based on evidence, it is also based on experience. For example, when I sit down in a chair, I have faith the chair is strong enough to hold me. However, this belief is not blind faith or wishful thinking, instead it is based on a lifetime of experience. In my dining room, there is a chair that I have sat in hundreds of times. Today’s trust in my chair is based on yesterday’s experience when that chair did not collapse when I sat down. In the same way, Christians have faith in God because of His faithfulness. 

We all live by faith in our everyday lives. When I get on an airplane, I put my faith in the pilot to fly me to my destination. When I purchase food from the supermarket, I have faith it will nourish me. When I go to work, I have faith my wife is not running off to sleep with another man. My faith in these various areas is based on past experience. Atheists would say that believing that the sun will rise tomorrow or having faith that a seat can hold your weight would better be called “trust” or “confidence” because it is based on evidence and experience. In this, Christians concur. Our faith in God is trust and confidence in Him that is based on both evidence and experience. Christians do not have a blind faith that rejects evidence, but a wide-eyed faith that sees and acknowledges the evidence for God. 

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About the Author:  Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.

Proof God is Real