One of the reasons you are confused about faith is because it has been ruthlessly redefined beyond recognition. Some people in religion have defined it as a power, while secularists have mocked it as believing contrary to proof. Both are wrong. We develop faith in God and his doctrines in the same way we develop faith in the non-religious aspects of our life.
A member of an atheist group has just as much faith as a Christian attending church services. Just consider this: when a member of an atheist group hears other members mocking God and the Bible and just nods in agreement, he is believing by faith. We know this because he does not point a finger at the speaker and say, “Prove it! What evidence do you have?” He just accepts what he hears; he does what he accuses the Christians of doing: believing apart form seeking facts; “stepping out into the darkness.”
The difference between the faith of the atheist and Christian is the subject of their faith. The atheist believes in himself. The Christian believes in God. The character of their faith is the same; where they point their faith is different. So through the gospel, the atheist has to make but a slight change in direction regarding his faith, and he is saved! The very faith God gave him to practice in day-to-day life is the same faith that will save him when exercised toward God.
Faith, in the Bible, means to know something is true. It is a personal conviction. It doesn’t mean to wish or hope something is true. It doesn’t mean to try to believe something. It is not a power like a force of some kind that controls and bends reality. Faith is a personal conviction that something is true; as we see with the atheist, if it is aimed in the wrong direction, it is still faith, but he is believing lies! So it is not enough to have faith; our faith must be aimed toward God, and must be of the truth.
Faith in God is developed in the same way as faith in people. We don’t put a lot of faith in someone we don’t know, do we? But when we know the person better, especially in how that person’s willful actions define his strengths and weaknesses, especially in trials, we know in what ways we can trust him. We can have faith that he will keep a secret, or be there on time, or keep a promise, and so on. We have this faith because the person has proved himself that way.
In other words, our faith is based on facts.
If the person has proven himself trustworthy in some matters that we can verify, then we begin to trust him for those things we don’t have direct knowledge about, such as his past work or learned knowledge. Then our faith is not based on facts, but on the integrity of the person speaking, an integrity that has already been proven to be solid. It is normal to develop faith like this in people; it is likewise normal to develop faith in the mysteries God has spoken about after we have come to trust him in other things we’ve verified.
In the beginning, we will likely not trust God for a lot of things; it takes time to read the Word, learn what God is like, pray, and see God work in our lives as he said he would. Then our faith increases when we are convinced of his working in our lives. If he answers a lot of prayer, then we’ll believe him for our prayer lives more, for instance, since he’s proven himself in that way. When God has been proven trustworthy in some ways we have found by experience, then we begin to trust him for other things in the Bible where we have no experience; that faith is based on the integrity of the person we have come to know.
We have heard various appeals on television commercials based on personal testimony. The woman tried the diet program and lost 50 pounds. If we had the same need (to lose 50 pounds), we may be convinced by the ad just enough to try it out for ourselves. That is the beginning of faith. Our experiences with the program will increase our faith in it or decrease it. That faith was based on the testimony of another.
In the same way, two women may be having coffee together, one telling the other of her difficulties. Then the other woman says, “I understand what you are going through. I had the same problem. But then I found someone who was able to help me. Mind if I show you a Bible verse?” Then she introduces Jesus to the person in need. That person may then develop enough faith to ask Jesus to help her and start studying the Bible. Her experiences afterward have an opportunity to increase her faith as the Bible guides her choices to a better life.
Some people wonder why others have such a strong faith in God while they don’t. Very likely, they don’t have much to do with God in the first place. They can’t trust whom they don’t know, remember? The world is their focus, not God’s will. If you are in this place, then begin to act on the faith you do know, then God will see your seriousness and add to it, then your conviction will grow.
We make faith such an alien thing when it is actually something we practice on an on-going basis. When God created this world, he made its natural laws perfectly reflect his spiritual laws. How faith works in our natural life is exactly the way faith works in our spiritual lives.
The people in Jesus’ day believed he was the Messiah because his works proved him to be so; not just because they were miracles, but he did miracles in the context of the kingdom of God. Their faith was based on reason, personal experience, and others’ testimonies. In John 7:25-31, the Jews were arguing among themselves whether Jesus was really the Christ. They compared his life with the portrait God gave in the scriptures to see if his life lined up or not. They used reason to come to faith.
In order to “know” something is true (have faith), you need a reason to believe it is true. If you don’t have much faith, then you need to equip yourself with reasons to believe. If you want to be inspired by a painter, then you would go where his original paintings hang – in the galleries. Similarly, get involved in the local church’s activities where God is at work so you can find him working through you, too. Pray; and practice what you read. In other words, God wishes to move mightily in holy vessels, so become that vessel and see him work in you. Listen to other Christians as they tell how God has worked in their lives. Make friends of those who are pursuing God. Read trusted conservative commentaries to understand the Bible and how God works. Read biographies of men and women of God.
You have already developed faith in many things. Now use the understanding of how your faith has increased in secular things to abound in the knowledge of God.