What is the Definition of Faith?

The concept of faith is found in many religious traditions, including Protestantism, Catholicism and Buddhism. While often related to a system of religious beliefs, faith also holds secular connotations.

From a secular perspective, faith emphasizes loyalty and commitment. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines faith as “an allegiance to a duty or person.” In addition, someone can act in “bad faith” when he or she has an intent to deceive. This contrasts with good faith, which holds honest intentions.

Biblically, faith is considered a belief and trust in God based on evidence but without total proof. This idea is associated with “taking a leap of faith,” a common English idiom.

Among all definitions, faith holds a common theme: trust. Whether you’re putting faith in a person, duty or belief, trust is a necessity. People of all faiths can likely agree on this notion, as trust creates a bond between the known and unknown.

The word “faith” originates from the Latin fidere, which means “to trust.” Over time, fidere evolved to the Latin fidēs and to the Old French feid to the word we know today.

What is the Biblical Definition of Faith?

“Faith” appears in the New International translation of the Old Testament and New Testament 458 times. Many of the verses use the word to describe a trust in God, even when he can’t be seen.

  • For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)
  • My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NIV)

What Does it Mean to Have Faith?

To have faith means to have trust.

For Christians, faith doesn’t end at trust. Rather, trusting the Word of God is an act of faith.

Take the Binding of Isaac, for example. In this biblical narrative, God tests Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

God didn’t really want a child sacrifice. But before Abraham could become the Jewish patriarch, God needed a demonstration of Abraham’s obedience. Although Abraham loved his son, he had complete confidence in God and the plan he had for his family.

As intended, God sent an angel to spare Isaac’s life moments before the killing. To reward Abraham, God made Abraham’s descendants as “numerous as the stars” (Genesis 22:17, NIV).

By putting our complete trust in God, like Abraham did, we can better align our actions with God’s commandments. Therefore, having faith is a twofold process: trust and action.

What Does it Look Like to be Faithful?

Being faithful is when you turn trust into action. This action-based faith is detailed throughout the epistle of James. For example, James 2:26 (NIV) says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Here, James highlights the connection between faith and action. Good works don’t provide salvation, but they do affirm it. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we allow him to shape our spirit and behavior. After this transformation, we exhibit true faith though the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)

In many contexts, being faithful can look like loyalty. When you are faithful to someone, you hold an unwavering commitment to that person. However, when this allegiance, or loyalty, is defiled, it means to “break faith.”

Additionally, being faithful can be demonstrated by conscientiousness. For instance, a hardworking employee may be considered faithful to his or her duties.

No matter the context, being faithful is recognized as an active trait.

Faith Versus Hope

Religious faith and hope are connected but have different timeframes.

On the one hand, faith is present focused. Again, faith is biblically defined as an unwavering trust in God. It is a present trust because God showed himself to be reliable throughout the Bible.

To illustrate, God’s ultimate promise of salvation was realized through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. So based on the fulfilled promises we have seen, we trust that God is reliable.

On the other hand, hope is future focused and means to anticipate something. The ultimate hope of Christians is that Christ will one day return to earth.

Despite their distinctions, faith and hope are inextricably linked. In Hebrews 11:1 (NIV), the author writes, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This shows that faith serves as a foundation for hope.

As Christians, hope should naturally arise from our faith. Because of our faith, or current trust in God, we can have assurance for the future.

Faith Versus Belief

Although intertwined, belief and faith are not synonyms. As opposed to faith, belief is a feeling that something is true.

But a strong belief alone does not constitute faith. Similarly, actionless trust does not define faith. Consider James 2:19 (NIV): “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.”

Like trust, a firm belief must be paired with trust and action to have value. What good is believing it will rain and not bringing an umbrella? The same question can be asked within Christian faith: What good is believing in God if you don’t love him and follow his commandments?

How Does Faith Apply to the Work of Compassion?

Because we are a Christ-centered ministry, Jesus’ life, teachings and character shape our programs and guide how we work, love people, respect communities and cooperate with nations. We serve in Jesus’ name, and because of our faith, we devote ourselves to helping children in poverty.

Every day, millions of children living in poverty around the world find help and comfort in our church-driven Child Sponsorship Program. Thousands of local churches in low- and middle-income countries tailor our holistic child development model to the specific needs of the children in their communities. Doing so enables these churches to best deliver the help and care the children most need to alleviate the suffering of living in extreme poverty.

Each child assisted by our frontline church partners receives care that is personal, individualized, relational and tailored to the child's age, gender, health, culture and family situation. This gives the children opportunities to grow and develop physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually — to thrive as whole and healthy people.

The benefits of our child-focused sponsorship program include:

  • Better health.
  • Better nutrition.
  • Educational and vocational support for a brighter future.
  • Safety and protection.
  • Socioemotional development.
  • The opportunity to hear the gospel and learn about Jesus.

More than 70 years ago, our founder, the Rev. Everett Swanson, ministered to American troops fighting in the Korean War. He was increasingly troubled by the orphans he saw living on the streets, abandoned by society.

God calls us to defend the fatherless. So, Swanson could not turn his back on the suffering of the children he saw, and he vowed to find a way to help them. His response was the definition of faith in action. As a ministry, we follow his example.

Live Out Your Faith by Sponsoring a Child Today!

Give With Confidence

With Compassion, your donation is used wisely to help children around the world.

Lock IconWe use industry-standard communication protocols to ensure your personal information is encrypted and transmitted without risk.

Trusted Charity Since 1952

Have Questions About Compassion and How We Work?

Donating to a charity is an important decision. So when you’re passionate about a cause and want to make a difference, we encourage you to do your research. Compassion is 100% committed to financial integrity, stewardship and using each dollar wisely. If you have any questions about Compassion or exactly how your donation will be used, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Please call us at 800-336-7676, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MT, to speak with a Compassion representative.