- The same Spirit gives great faith (πίστις/pistis) to another.… (1 Cor 12:9)
Nature of the Gift
The New Testament uses the word πίστις/pistis in various ways, not all of which apply directly to how we should understand the gift of “faith”:
- It can refer to confidence, trust, or reliance (e.g., Matt 9:2).
- When used absolutely, without an object, it is the essential Christian religion, that is, the faith (Col 2:23; Jas 2:17).
- It can refer to a pledge, a commitment to be faithful and loyal to the Christian religion (1 Tim 5:12).
- It can denote a conviction that brings certainty, faith, assurance (Rom 14:22).
- It can refer to Christian virtue, especially along with hope and love as characterizing (1 Thess 1:3).
- It can denote what inspires trust and confidence from others, faithfulness, fidelity, reliability (Titus 2:10)
- It can refer to a pledge, guarantee, or means of proof (Acts 17:31).
- Used objectively, it denotes the content of what is believed, doctrine, the faith (Rom 1:5; Jude 3).
As a Spiritual Gift
As a gift of the Spirit, it’s neither the saving faith by which believers gain salvation (Rom 10:8–10), the faith that should grow in every believer as fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), the faith that’s essential if one is to please God (Heb 11:6)—all believers should display such faith. As a spiritual gift, it is by definition a special gift distributed only to some in the body of Christ.
So would speak of this as the kind of faith that envisions things for which others can’t summon hope, knocks longer without growing weary, and expresses confidence where others express only resignation.
This faith is certainly not a humanistic optimistic tendency or Gnostic-like positive confession. The Scripture says faith “gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Heb 11:1). But it doesn’t say faith confesses things we know to be untrue—that’s not expressing faith, it’s lying. Nonetheless, it does envision things for which others can’t summon hope, knock longer without growing weary, and express confidence where others express only resignation. D. A. Carson looks at it from another angle: “This special faith, however, enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in Scripture, or some state of affairs grounded in the very structure of the gospel.”1D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Baker, 1987), 39.
This is faith distributed—as Jesus determines to distribute it around the body—as with all the other gifts. This special distribution may be characterized by a special focus on a particular issue requiring the exercise of faith. Or this special faith may manifest special endurance, an ability to sustain itself even through the valley of the shadow of death. I think of the dogged assurance that can be found among those who face potential martyrdom.
This gift of faith may even refer to wonder-working faith like Jesus described in this way: “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” (Matt 17:20; Luke 17:6). It is faith that is often linked with healing and other miracles.
No replacement for love
One final note on faith: The presence of even miracle-grasping faith is no substitute for righteousness and doesn’t constitute evidence of holiness. Paul said, “If I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).