Faith: What Is It, Really?

Faith. That word is tossed around a lot. We are told to “have faith,” “take a leap of faith,” and that “faith is blind.” Some people think that faith is simply believing in someone or something. That is true, but faith is so much more than that. So what is faith, really?

There are no human words that can adequately describe faith. Faith is supernatural. Only faith can explain faith. When you have faith, you know that you know that you know.

Clear as mud, right?

The writer of Hebrews, moved by the Holy Spirit, described faith like this:

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen." Hebrews 11:1 ESV

To better understand this verse, let’s break it down by looking at the words in their original language, Greek.


Faith is the Greek word “pistis” and means confident trust. The root word of faith is peithô, which means persuade, be persuaded, to come to trust.


Assurance is the Greek word “hupostasis” and means a foundation on which you can be assured of something, a guarantee of a promise.


Hope is the Greek word “elpizó” and means actively waiting for fulfillment of a promise, expect.


Conviction is the Greek word “elegchos” and means proof that persuades and brings confidence that you will receive the things you hope for.

From these root meanings, we can conclude two things about faith:

  1. Faith is God’s guarantee that we will possess those things we hope for; and
  2. Faith persuades us and gives us confidence, bringing into sight those things we hope for but do not yet see.

I like how the International Standard Version puts it:

"Now faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come about and the certainty that what we cannot see exists." ISV

And the Passion Translation:

Now faith brings our hopes into reality and becomes the foundation needed to acquire the things we long for. It is all the evidence required to prove what is still unseen.


Believing without seeing is challenging, especially in a culture where people are conditioned to believe that if you can’t see it, touch it, taste it, or hear it, you can’t be sure it exists. They think faith is foolish and causes people to believe in something, even when it is unreasonable or doesn’t exist. They say faith is blind. But that’s not the case.

Recently, I heard an analogy that helped explain what faith is and is not:

Imagine the following:

A stranger, or at least someone you have no reason to trust, takes you to a swimming pool blindfolded. This person leads you into the pool area to the high dive ladder and tells you to climb up. You climb up. Then they ask you to “have faith” and take a leap off the high dive. If you jump, that is not faith; that is downright foolishness. Why? Because you have no idea what you are leaping into – maybe there is, maybe there isn’t water in the pool, you just don’t know. You have no foundation for trusting that there is water in the pool. 

BUT, if someone you trust, someone you know and can rely on, tells you there is water in the pool, leads you to the high dive ladder, tells you to climb up and jump, and you do, that is faith. Although you can’t see the water, you don’t have to wonder whether there is water; you are certain of it. You have a foundation for trusting that there is water in the pool. You have the word of the person you trust, know, and rely on. You jumped because you knew there was water in the pool. This is faith.

FAITH IS BASED on KNOWLEDGE. It is not blind or just a shot in the dark. Faith is not believing or trusting in something or someone you are unsure of or can’t see.


Ok, we have established that faith is based on knowledge, but where do we get this knowledge that helps us have faith?    The Apostle Paul in Romans 10:17 tells us that “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Faith comes through God’s Word! Faith has a foundation, and that is the WORD OF GOD.

The more we hear or read His Word, the more we have faith in the author, God HIMSELF! God’s Word is filled with His promises, including the promises God made Abraham, who we call the “Father of Faith.”


Faith is not just believing in God but believing God. Abraham believed God. Believing means trusting in, relying on, and having faith in someone or something.

 Oh, how Abraham trusted in, relied on, and had faith in God. He was one of the heroes of faith that “won God’s approval” through his faith. Hebrews 11:2 HCSB

Most of us have heard the story about Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22). This story is difficult, no doubt. But as you read it, remember that before God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham had walked with God for a long time. Through smaller tests, God had stretched and grown Abraham’s faith. Sometimes Abraham’s faith failed, and he made a mess of things. He was human just like you and me.

The writer of Hebrews describes Abraham’s act of faith like this:

"It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God's promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac even though God had told him 'Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted." Hebrews 11:17-18

Abraham offered up his son as a sacrifice. Many people think Abraham acted foolishly, that his faith was blind, causing him to believe something he couldn’t be sure of. They think Abraham blindly lept off that high dive without having any way of knowing there was water.

They are wrong. Hebrews 11:19 says this about Abraham’s decision to offer Isaac as a sacrifice: “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”

God had promised Abraham a son through which God’s promise of uncountable descendants would be born. (Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 18, Genesis 22:17) Abraham didn’t blindly leap off the high dive without knowing there was water. Abraham lept off the high dive because he knew God. He knew that God would never break His promise.

Abraham’s faith wasn’t foolish. He had a foundation for trusting that his son would live. He had the promise of someone he trusted, knew, and relied on. He offered his son for sacrifice because he knew God would save him. This is faith.

We also have God’s promises, His Word. We don’t have to blindly leap off a high dive without knowing there is water. We know there is water because God’s Word says so.

When we feel weak and like we have nothing else to give, we KNOW that God will strengthen us because His Word says He will give us strength! (Isaiah 41:10)

When we feel like we will never be able to resist that sin that we just can’t seem to shake, we KNOW that God will give us a way out because He says so! (1 Corinthians 10:13)

When we feel all alone and like no one cares, we KNOW that our feelings must be a lie of the enemy because God says He is with us always! (Joshua 1:5, 9)

You can believe God because you have His guarantee that you will have His promises set out in HIS WORD. Faith persuades you of this. It gives you confidence, allowing you to see spiritually those things you hope for but don’t yet see. HAVE FAITH!

For more on God’s promises see Promises: God the Ultimate Promise Maker and Promise Keeper



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I am a truth seeker by nature. My passion is studying God's Word and sharing His Truth with others.

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