What Is Faith?

What Is Faith?

Faith is an integral part of the Christian life. But what is faith?

Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see. William Newton Clarke

In 1958, Legson Kayira, a poor boy from an African tribal village, had a dream. More than anything else, he wanted a college education like his hero, Abraham Lincoln.

The sixteen-year-old said good-bye to his parents and his village and left in pursuit of his dream. With only a blanket, a small ax, two books, and little food, Kayira began walking toward America.1

Kayira’s journey would become a remarkable picture of faith. And from his story, we can observe a few universal truths about faith.

Faith Is Trust

Faith begins when a person chooses an object in which to trust. For Kayira, he fixed his hope on a college education.

This world is full of people and things in which we can invest our faith. People may put their trust in themselves, their money, their careers, their families, or their causes. Whatever they choose, their faith is evident in their strong allegiance to that object.

Likewise, Christian faith is about trust. Hebrews 11:1 describes Christian faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

However, Christian faith has one distinguishing feature. Although Christians value people and things, they fully invest in something beyond this world. They place their ultimate hope in a personal relationship with God. Christians believe they are able to do this through Jesus Christ, whom they believe is God’s son.

Faith Is Action

Kayira’s tale perfectly illustrates the next facet of faith: action without assurance. Kayira began his journey without knowing if he would succeed. In fact, he barely had enough resources to make it through one week. He literally stepped out in faith toward an unknown ending.

Faith requires bold action in the face of uncertainty. It is not something you feel; it is something you do. Essentially, faith is hope in motion.

Faith in Christ requires the same resolute movement. The Bible says, “What good is it . . . if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”2 A Christian dares to know and love God without having all of the answers. He fearlessly shapes his life around God through baptism, studying the Bible, prayer, and daily choices. 

Faith Is Perseverance

Kayira showed incredible trust and bold action, but his journey toward an education was just beginning.  

Over the next 3,000 miles, he faced many obstacles. He cautiously entered villages and heard strange languages. Sometimes Kayira found work and shelter; sometimes he foraged for berries and slept outside. He survived—just barely—a grave illness, thanks to medicinal herbs provided by strangers.

Kayira became physically weak and emotionally discouraged. Painfully aware of how much further he needed to travel, he turned to his books for encouragement. The Bible and a book about Abraham Lincoln provided the inspiration he needed to continue. Kayira regained his health and recommitted to his journey.

The difficulties of Kayira’s journey are evidence that faith will be tested. In fact, faith can be lost entirely to fear and unbelief. Obstacles, time, and resistance can cause a person to feel depleted, discouraged, and worn down. In the face of overwhelming troubles, Kayira was tempted to give up and cut his losses.

Trust and action must be accompanied by deliberate loyalty. Faith is the willingness to go to immeasurable lengths to keep a promise, even in bleak circumstances. Faithful people find critical resources that keep their eyes fixed on their goal.

Likewise, faith in Christ demands the endurance of hard times. The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”3 Christians turn to prayer, the Bible, and other believers to renew and strengthen their faith. 

Faith Is Expectation

Incredible rewards awaited Kayira after he recommitted to his journey.

Not long afterward, he spotted a photograph of a college set in a mountainous region. The mountains behind the school reminded Kayira of his village. He decided to set his hopes on that school: Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Washington.

After many more months, Kayira finally reached Cairo, from where he could fly to America. Three obstacles remained: his college admission, his passport, and his airfare. Kayira was undeterred. He spent his last coins on a pair of shoes so he would not enter college barefoot.

Then three amazing things happened. First, the dean of Skagit Valley College—who had heard of Kayira from an African village—granted Kayira admission, as well as a scholarship and a job.

Next, Kayira wrote to missionaries in his village for help with his passport. With their assistance, his passport was approved by the government.

Finally, the students and citizens of Skagit Valley pooled their money in support of Kayira. When they mailed the full amount for his airfare, Kayira dropped to his knees in exhaustion and gratitude. All of the pieces had fallen into place.

Two years after his journey began, his dream became a reality. In December 1960, Legson Kayira entered the doors of Skagit Valley College.

Kayira certainly reaped the reward of his faithfulness to his goal. In fact, his dedication continued to pay off. He would go on to become a respected author and a political science professor at the University of Cambridge.

Although Kayira’s dream was realized, not every story of faith ends so happily. Factors beyond their control often rob people of the joy of seeing the fruit of their faithfulness. Jobs can be terminated, marriages sometimes end in divorce, and people may die too soon.

However, Christians believe their faith has one sure, happy ending in spite of the pain in this world—and they don’t believe that anything in this world can rob them of that promise. As a matter of fact, they do not expect to see their reward in this lifetime.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”4

Christians hold an unshakable belief that they will one day inherit eternal life with God. Like Kayira, they wait for the good news that will drop them to their knees in exhausted gratitude. Until then, they fix their eyes on the glorious doors of heaven through which they will find their joy.

  1. Cynthia Kersey, Unstoppable, (Chicago: Sourcebooks, 1998).
  2. The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011,James 2:14–16.
  3. Ibid., James 1:2–4.
  4. Ibid, James 1:12.
  5. Photo Credit: Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com.