We hear it all the time. When questions of belief are raised, the response is often “just have faith.” It can feel like a non-answer, or worse, one that implies there is no rational basis for a belief in Christianity and the best we can do is close our eyes and ignore the issue.
A lot of times, faith is associated with a kind of blind, baseless belief. It’s treated as a magic word for believing the impossible. This definition couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What does faith really mean?
In the Bible, faith is relational and evidence based. It means trusting God’s character and his ability to fulfill the promises He has made. Like the trust you might have in a friend or family member, the evidence for our faith is what we know God has already done.
The language used in the Bible also gives us a clearer insight into what is meant by faith.
In the New Testament, the original Greek word for faith is pistis, which is defined as having confidence, assurance, or being convinced of the persuasiveness.
In the original Hebrew, faith is translated as emunah. This is more of an active word than we understand from the English. It is equivalent to supporting or taking firm action.
Neither of these words points to the idea of faith many have today.
Where does the idea of blind faith come from?
To justify the idea of blind faith, people will often quote a few specific verses. One example is John 20:29, where Jesus is speaking with Thomas and says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Another commonly referenced verse is Hebrews 11:1, which says that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. “
When read alone, these verses do sound like they are asking us to believe without any rational justification. But that is the problem-they are read alone, not in the full context of the passage.
The example of doubting Thomas
If you back up in the passage, you learn that the tomb has already been found empty and both Mary Magdalene and the other disciples had already had an encounter with the risen Christ.
Thomas had eyewitness testimony, yet he refused to believe his friends and said “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” ( John 20:25)
What Jesus is correcting in that quote is not that Thomas asked for evidence, but that he was unwilling to believe in the face of sufficient evidence. All of Thomas’s trusted friends saw Jesus. Thomas also knew of Jesus’ prophecies and miracles before death and should have understood what was happening. Still, Thomas was stubborn, so Jesus corrects him.
The heroes of faith and Hebrews 11
The story of Thomas doesn’t encourage blind faith, but Hebrews 11:1 still sounds like it does-until you again look to the rest of the passage and find the verse was taken out of context. Following the verse, there is a long list of faith heroes-people like Abel, Noah, and Abraham who are used to illustrate the principle of faith spelled out at the beginning of the chapter.
We can see this a little clearer by focusing on the reference to Abraham and Isaac in Hebrews 11:17–19. Abraham, if you recall from Genesis, was asked to bring Isaac-his promised son that was supposed to be the start of a great nation-up to the mountain as a sacrifice. Though Abraham didn’t know how, He trusted God would not break his promise, which he was given multiple times before ( Genesis 15:4). So, he concluded that even if Isaac perished, “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”
Putting this back in the context of Hebrews 11:1, “the substance of things hoped for” was the hope Abraham had in what God had already promised. “The evidence of things not seen” means that though he could not see the future, he had confidence in God’s ability to provide.
These hopes weren’t delusional-they were grounded in things God had previously said. By his conviction of their truth and his action based on his trust, Abraham proved his faithfulness to God.
What does this mean for us?
This view of faith should guide our actions and decisions. Having evidence for things not seen isn’t a license to believe anything and everything. It is restrained by what God has said and revealed in his word.
We have certain promises we can cling to, like God’s love and character, the truth of the Gospel and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and that all things will work for the ultimate good of those who God calls.
Beyond what is explicitly stated in scripture, we need to be wary. When people claim to have faith that they will be given extra things God has not promised, like specific material items or events, that is not a faith claim. It is wishful thinking not grounded in God’s character or words, but the person’s own baseless belief. That kind of “blind faith” can only lead to disappointment, and we need to avoid it.
The truth does matter
For the early apostles, the truth of the Gospel was central to their message. Paul himself said. “”And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” ( 1 Corinthians 15:17–19)
All of Jesus’ followers were convinced in the absolute reality of the gospel, and that was evident in their preaching. When speaking to King Agrippa, Paul appeals to the common knowledge that the events he spoke of really happened, “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.” ( Acts 26:26)
The apostles were convinced that if people would listen openly to the things they said, they would find them to be true. They would repent and put their faith in Jesus, our God and Savior who died on the cross for our sins. Not just because they said so-but because the events and evidence God set into motion spoke for them.
Faith is not blind. It is holding to the truth of the gospel even when our emotions tell us it’s not worth it, when life gets hard and troubles come. It is staying obedient to God even when we don’t see how it will turn out, like Abraham did. It is knowing God’s promises and trusting them, no matter the circumstances.