What is faith? Hebrews 11 answers this best:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith in God means believing in and trusting in the greatest hope—that God became man, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death for your sins, and rose again to glory so that you could have eternal life by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Michael Ramsden with RZIM.org shares,
“It is in this way that the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust in God’s promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking. Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who wants to be known to us.”
Paul addresses hearing God speak in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (ESV, bold emphasis added)
What Does “Faith Comes by Hearing” Mean in the Bible?
The ESV Study Bible explains verse 17,
“Paul now sums up the argument thus far. One can come to faith only through hearing the gospel, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, that is, the good news about Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior.”
Romans 8:33 reminds us that it is God who justifies, so faith is not something we can accomplish on our own. If we could reach out and take faith for ourselves, we would be able to save ourselves and that contradicts Scripture and our need for the Savior.
According to the Lutheran Study Bible English Standard Version (ESV), the meaning of hearing includes, “the act of hearing, the ear, or the message heard. The message is the meaning here.” (Romans 10:17 Commentary p 1930). The ear receives the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, faith begins in the hearer. Is it that simple? If so, why aren’t more people coming to faith? What is the problem today?
Christians Sometimes Misunderstand What Faith Means
Some Christians do not understand what faith means, because the message of the gospel is being drowned out in the world and not just by unbelievers. Within our churches, some pastors focus on the merits of good works and fail to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners, taking their punishment for sin, offering forgiveness and raising them to new life. When heard through this proclamation the meaning of faith becomes clear to the hearer. Faith is confidence not in our ability to do good works but in the meritorious work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Many lay dead in their sins, while they live on earth, because the message of the gospel has been neglected in churches today. Many congregations hear the drumbeat of works, works, and works! The church in many respects has become a business built on the backs of the membership. And the flock despairs because they are oppressed by programs and works but have not heard the life-giving message that Jesus Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:25). This emphasis on works over grace is not new. In fact, it is the ongoing struggle of the church in the world.
The Gospel Allows Us to Understand the Meaning of Faith
Why would a person call on God unless he expects to hear from Him? But not all who call will hear. Some do not call in faith, in belief in Christ, but believe in their own righteous effort. Jesus gives this example in Luke 18:9-14 between the Pharisee and the publican. The sinner calls in faith; the Pharisee calls on his own merit. The sinner languishes to find “the righteousness of God…revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17) as his means for salvation. The Pharisee falsely believes in his own righteousness as a means to salvation.
The cross of Christ fulfilled God’s plan of salvation for the world. Those who hear this message and receive it come to understand the meaning of faith. They know that faith is a gift from God and that salvation is God’s grace poured into the hearts of the hearer through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can say with certainty, “God gives us faith as a gift, through which Christ’s righteousness is credited to us (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our sins are forgiven (Romans 3:22-24)” (The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon, 95, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions).
Faith Comes by Hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Look closely at Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
When we hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed we know that “faith is that very righteousness through which we are accounted righteous before God. This is not because faith is a work that is worthy in itself. It is because faith receives the promise by which God has declared that, for Christ’s sake, He wishes to show favor to those believing in Him, or because God knows that Christ Jesus was ‘made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30).” (ibid, The Lutheran Confessions)
Only through the preaching of the gospel can faith come from hearing. And the faithful need to pray for ministers of the gospel to be sent into the world so the sinner can be raised to life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans 10
Martin Luther addressed this issue in his commentary on Romans, “Those cannot preach the divine Word and be messengers of God whom He has not sent and to whom He has not entrusted His Word.” Explaining the verse 10:15 “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace” Luther writes, “The word ‘beautiful’ stand for purity, for they (that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tiding of good things) do not proclaim the Gospel for their own advantage or on account of vain glory, as this happens here and there today. They preach solely from obedience to God and for the sake of the salvation of their hearers. But the Hebrew word means also what is lovely and pleasant. Therefore, the meaning of the expression is: ‘For those who are under the Law, the message of the Gospel is lovely and desirable. The Law indeed reveals sin, makes the sinner guilty, and fills his conscience with fear; the Gospel, however, proclaims to those who have been terrified the desired healing” (151).
In its context, “faith comes from hearing” means that the called ministers of the gospel must be diligent in proclaiming the message so those who are dead in sin will hear the truth of Christ’s atoning work on the cross and be saved by God.
The Message Determines Whether We Listen or Not
The other day at practice I explained to my young gymnasts the order in which they were to rotate through each skill station. Then I asked, “Do you have any questions?” They shook their heads no. “Do you understand the rotation?” Their heads bobbed up and down.
I was hopeful. Maybe this time they had heard my instructions and would listen to them. After a moment, however, my hopes were dashed. Two gymnasts moved in the opposite direction of the rotation. Clearly, they had not heard the instructions. They had not received my message. They hadn’t observed the direction of their teammates, and chaos ensued. The other athletes called to them, but the errant gymnasts continued to move against their teammates. After a few moments I stopped them, turned them around, and showed them their next station.
Nearly every day in the gym I think about this passage, “[They] have eyes to see, but see not, [they] have ears to hear, but hear not…” (Ezekiel 12:2). Anyone working with children understands the challenge of helping them learn to hear. For that matter, everyone working with people understands the challenge of helping them learn to hear. We all have selective hearing. If we like the message from another person, we receive it. If we do not care for the message, we ignore it. In most cases, the message determines whether we really listen.
Although listening to what bosses, co-workers, spouses, friends, and others say to us is critical, what’s most important is hearing what God speaks to us through His Word.
Pete Briscoe with Crosswalk’s Experiencing LIFE Today devotional writes,
“What, then, is faith? It’s a decision of the will to act on what the mind believes is true. The mind reads something in Scripture, and in our spirit the Holy Spirit says, ‘Yes, that’s true,’ and we say, ‘Yes, that’s true,’ and then in our will we make a choice to step out in that truth. That step is faith. There is no power in faith itself. The power is found in the object of faith: Jesus Christ.”
May Jesus be the object of your faith today and every day, and may you share the good news about Him as often as possible.
RELATED: How Do I Put My Faith in God?
Denise Larson Cooper has a passion for Jesus Christ and teaching the Scriptures. She is the author of three devotional books: Life is a Metaphor, Ordinary Days with an Extraordinary Savior and Godnesia: Keeping God in Mind Each Day. She co-produces the daily devotional podcast Ordinary Days. She is an avid walker and teaches several small group Bible studies and Sunday school. She graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. She is a wife, mother of two grown daughters and currently works as a gymnastics coach.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin and history of specific verses within Scripture context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God’s Word in relation to your life today.
“Pray Without Ceasing”
“Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”
“Faith Without Works is Dead”
“Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart”
“All Things Work Together for Good”
“Be Strong and Courageous”
“Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go”
“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
“Take Every Thought Captive”
“Do Not Fear”
“God is Love”
“Eye for an Eye”
“Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
“I Can Do All Things Through Christ”
“The Lord is my Shepherd”
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