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What Is Faith?

Written by Nathan Cole on

When I was growing up, my Sunday school teachers would ask, “What is faith?” Amid the fumbling answers would be: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

While technically true, it was only true on a technicality–it was in the Bible. I have to confess, for me that was about as satisfying as an out-of-date Twinkie. The text has power, but back then I couldn’t make sense of it.

So it is that faith, for many of us, is an academic exercise. At worst lifeless, and at best a distant experience. To truly have a faith that is life-changing, we need to have an experienced, outward-winning faith that we then put into action.

Two Types of Faith

The first variety of faith is experienced, or saving, faith—when one repents of their sin and believes in Jesus’s saving work on the cross.

For many, faith starts and ends here. It shouldn’t. A Christian experiences saving faith at conversion, but then grows by it as well. Repeating this process of repentance and belief enables us to triumph over sin and live victoriously—which gives joy.

But where saving faith is concerned with saving a sinner and growing him up in Christ, a second type of faith fights an outward war. Hebrews 11:34-35 speaks of this type of belief:

“Who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions…”

This outward-winning faith believes God for something big and puts that belief into action—it is separated from presumption by the source of the belief: God himself. Outward-winning faith is our response to him.

Outward-winning faith believes what God has said. This isn’t just a general sense of being able to trust the Lord, but a specific confidence in what is promised or commanded, and it must be personally pursued even at the highest expense.

Outward-winning faith enabled the great heroes of faith to win kingdoms, and it is in this context that you and I can do the same.

An Outward-Winning Life

We have two amazing, Christian young women on our ministry team named Jalek and Bika. The ladies, both in their twenties, illustrate outward-winning faith in action. One late July morning this past year, they headed to their motorcycle after breakfast. Their bags were light despite the week’s journey ahead of them. They were separated from the new believers in the Kher tribe by a grueling eleven-hour motorcycle journey, a trip they’d have to make in a single day. They had no place arranged to stay on arrival.

But there weren’t just hardships–there was danger.

Jalek and Bika were heading back to the tribe where, two weeks prior, drunk men had entered the house where they slept and forced their way into the beds as the women were sleeping. Thankfully, Jalek and Bika escaped unharmed.

They thought about the many people of the Ker tribe who had believed. They thought about the village where two Ker families had believed and where they had held the first ever worship together–the founding of the Ker church.

Most of all, Jalek and Bika entrusted themselves to God. They believed the command to go and preach to all peoples. They believed the promise that one day people from every nation, tribe, and tongue would worship before the throne. As they believed, they got on their motorcycle—riding through the cold pouring rain on twister and broken roads.

I could share many stories similar to Jalek and Bika, for there are many teams who serve among many tribes. These men and women are filled with determination, fortitude, endurance, and integrity.

A Model for Other Believers

This begs the question, “What does raw faith by a few wild men and women, who probably lack sense anyway, and who live a world away on the edge of some slippery slope of some dreary jungle have to do with me?”


These modern wild men and women are modeling outward-winning faith that we can learn ourselves. Jalek and Bika followed an ancient pattern of faith. See how their actions and belief parallel that of Gideon (Judges 6-7):

  1. When God speaks, respond and begin to desire to do that work
  2. See your inability to see the work achieved as well as God’s total ability to perfectly complete it
  3. Your inability aside, prepare what little resources the Lord has put at your disposal, and get ready
  4. When you have all you were able to muster, when the time has come, begin the work
  5. Be steadfast in your first confidence in the Lord and don’t worry if the task is more impossible than imagined
  6. At the end, and sometimes with great personal cost, the victory by faith is won
Nathan Cole

Nathan and his wife Jan serve as College Park missionaries with Mekong. Their ministry consists of helping lead the Final 58 project in Southeast Asia. This project aims to send dedicated mission teams to each unengaged, unreached people group left in the country. Their aim is to see the gospel preached and believers discipled. They long to see indigenous, biblical, reproducing churches formed in every group.

The Coles have three children.

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