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Faith Defined

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 6:

The most concise definition of faith in the Bible is in Hebrews 11:1 where it states that, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. In terms of this, we can understand ‘faith’ as a mental attitude of certainty which acts as the catalyst for receiving and imparting spiritual things. Word of Faith theology, on the other hand, holds that faith is a force. Protagonists of this view teach that faith is a tangible power force which makes the laws of the spirit world function. 
I do not believe that faith is a force, although, as you know, I do contend that there is a form of spiritual energy and that God the Holy Spirit is the source of this energy. The scriptures do not give a name to this energy. Jesus referred to it as “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). John referred to it as the “anointing” (1 John 2:27). Perhaps one could refer to it as holy spirit, with a lower case ‘h’ and ‘s’ as opposed to the person of the Holy Spirit (capital H and S).
The distinction between ‘anointing’ and ‘faith’ is not just a matter of semantics. If the Bible did not consistently use the word ‘faith’ as an attitude of belief and trust, then perhaps we could substitute it for ‘anointing’. However, to use a word such as ‘faith’ to mean ‘spiritual power’, when it is already well used and defined in scripture, is to pervert the meaning of otherwise clear texts.
What then is faith?
The Amplified Bible translates Hebrews 11:1 as, “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].” Many people have written concerning this verse, and so I will only deal with the aspects which are relevant to the proposition that faith is the catalyst for releasing and receiving spiritual energy.
The Hebrews definition concerns mental activity – being sure and certain. So, faith is a mental attitude of certainty. Similes for the word ‘faith’ include belief, trust, confidence, and conviction – all mental attitudes. Faith is an act of the will. The only exception to this which I can find, is the reference in 1 Corinthians 12:9 to the ‘gift’ of faith. My understanding of this is that there are times when the Holy Spirit manifests himself in and through a believer by granting an unshakable conviction, a gift of faith. Not only is this qualitatively different from normal human faith, as I define it, but it is a manifestation, not of the mind of man, but of the Holy Spirit.
Can we develop faith?
Those who understand faith as a force believe that we can develop, build up, our faith. I understand faith, not as a force, but as an act of the will – so you have it or you do not. We cannot have just a little faith for salvation; we either believe, and are saved, or we do not believe.
A few texts tend to indicate that we can increase our faith. Matthew 8:26 asks; “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” I understand this as a description of the disciples’ condition rather than a definition of faith. The Message translation, for instance, reads, “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Similarly, it translates Matthew 17:20 as, “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously’. The NIV translates this verse as, “Because you have so little faith.” We are not obliged, in terms of the context or translation conventions, to see in these texts the idea that faith can be ‘grown’.
I see faith as a sort of mental ‘switch’. When the faith switch is on, then we can receive and impart spiritual power; when it is off, we cannot. I think that Jesus was making this point when he said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)  He was comparing the smallest thing in the local environment (a mustard seed) to the largest visible object (probably Mount Hermon). We could therefore paraphrase the text as, ‘I tell you the simple truth; if you had a mere kernel of faith, as small as a mustard seed say, you would tell this mountain, “Move!” and it would move.’

In the next blog post, I will discuss if faith can be activated, stay tuned! 
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Christopher Peppler



2 thoughts on “Faith Defined”

  1. Dr. Peppler, thank you for this article and your insights.

    Let me start off by saying I am no theologian or biblical scholar by any means but your posting touches on some issues that have been close to my and my wife’s heart.

    When it comes to healing (or lack of it) things can get very emotional and upsetting. The truth is that we all want to see healing and see God’s glory manifest.
    When healing doesn’t manifest I often hear people deflect by saying God is sovereign which in my opinion is a “cop-out”, I think the term God is sovereign refers to the fact that God is above all things, but the way it is used often sounds like God does what he wants (and even though He can) I would like to think that God does what he SAYS rather than what He WANTS, and that’s why we look to his word and can trust Him. Imagine an altar call, 3 guys go up and give their lives to Christ, we would never think one of them might not be saved because God is sovereign, it just doesn’t work, and if that was the case then surely we cannot be certain of anything, which shakes the foundation of what we believe in. We never doubt our salvation but on the topic of healing it seems we are willing to concede, why is that?

    I hear things like “it was God’s will” or “God wanted her to be with Him”…really? I have to believe that if we can truly appropriate what Jesus has done, and like salvation, we should not doubt, in-fact, not even accept it when someone does not get healed. My wife says that something like un-forgiveness can “block” healing but that aside, Jesus has done it all on the cross, and though God is sovereign He is good and he does not want us to be

    Is it then that the only answer is that we are somehow missing the key “ingredient” of faith?
    I realise that when there is an untimely death nobody wants to say to the grieving that we didn’t have faith, so the only thing left is to deflect with those statements, but it minimizes God and what Jesus has done for us.

    You are saying you have faith or you don’t (on or off) but is it possible to have faith for one thing like salvation and not have it for healing, or can they not be separated?

  2. @anonymous When it comes to lack of healing, people often resort to simplistic either or thinking. Either God chose not to heal or there is a problem with us. Either the minister or the sick person lacks faith or there is sin in their lives. The first explanation for lack of healing stands on the belief that God predetermines everything at all times and therefore it must be His will not to heal the afflicted person. The second explanation stands on the converse idea that God is limited by human will.
    Your contention that healing is unconditionally available to everyone through the atoning work of Jesus Christ also stands on an underlying belief; that Jesus has provided bodily healing now for all who have faith. The extent of ‘healing in the atonement’ is a much debated issue. My view is that Jesus did provide full salvation (Spirit, soul, and body) on the cross of Calvary. However, the timing of the application of this ‘full salvation’ needs to be considered. Just as man died spiritually instantly when he sinned in the Garden of Eden, so we are spiritually reborn instantly by the power of the Holy Spirit when we receive salvation. We are transformed (sanctified) mentally (soul) over the course of our lives on earth. We are ultimately physically restored (body) at the great resurrection at the end of the age. Spiritual ‘healing’ is therefore instantaneous, mental ‘healing’ is progressive, and physical healing is eventual. Any physical healing we receive in this life is therefore a result of God’s grace and compassion; it is not automatic, and nor can it be demanded. Similarly, we can have faith for salvation and will receive what we have faith for because it is assured in the atonement as a current benefit. However, faith for healing is only one component in the complex and mysterious interplay between God’s grace and man’s God-given ability to choose.
    I deal with some of these complex issues in the P3 blog series (and book) but I found the following to be a good article on the matter;

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.