Friday, August 28, 2009

What does it mean to have faith?

Recently, someone ask me: “What are your fundamental beliefs when it comes to faith?” Here was my answer:

A lot of people are confused about what faith actually is.

Some say that faith is a passive, intellectual accent, or acknowledgement of something. While this is indeed a type of faith, it is not the faith that brings about salvation for which the Bible talks about. After all, as the Book of James says, “the demons believe in God and they shutter” (2:19); yet they are not saved.

Some say faith is a matter of what you SAY you believe. But the Bible says "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, not everyone who claims Jesus is claimed BY Jesus.

Their close cousins are those that believe that faith is encapsulated in the very words themselves. They are referred to as the “Word of Faith” movement. Their faith is in the words themselves. They believe that the louder you say the words (like “Jesus!”) the more powerful the Spirit moves.

Others think that faith is just some sort of energy force that we just need to pay $19.95 for, and it will quickly rescue us from all our problems.

But real faith is something else. Real faith, first, involves active trust. Real faith is an active, receiving and trusting belief. This is what the Bible speaks of in terms of salvation. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (ESV)

Second, real faith involves active trust in something particular. In other words, real faith has an object of faith. When someone says they have faith, the common sense response should be “Faith in what?” One’s faith is only as good as the object by which it is placed. Something implicit in real faith is that it is also a right faith – that is, the object of their faith is worth trusting in. Conversely, one’s faith is misguided if the object of one’s faith is NOT worth trusting in. For example, if you had a physical condition that required treatment, trusting in the right doctor is critical for your recovery. Trusting in an incompetent doctor will only lead to worse physical problems. Similarly, let’s say you have a spiritual ailment. You need a competent spiritual doctor to help you, not a quack. We need faith (to trust) in the real God to save us.

Third, real faith always involves having reasons for why one believes in this object. Real faith is “trust based on evidence.” Some people think that the opposite of faith is reason. But the opposite of faith is disbelief. Everyone has reasons for their beliefs. Having reasons for one’s belief does not mean their beliefs are correct, but they have them because they have reasons. So if you’re trying to understand someone and where they are at, after asking the first question about faith (“what do you have faith in?”), another helpful question to ask is: “Why do you believe in that?”, or: “What are the reasons you have for believing that?” The answer one gives is their reasons. The reasons help them make the decision to trust in that thing. Those reasons can also be helpful in exploring whether one has trusted in right things.

In summary, real faith can be defined as an active trust based on reasonable assurance in right things. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith similarly: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

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