Saturday, June 03, 2006

I Believe (Part II)

The Apostle's Creed begins, ""I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." In this post, I want to focus on the word "believe." Faith is a very important concept for Christians (the most frequent name for Christians in the Bible is "believers"), but it is a very misunderstood one.

In the original language of the New Testament, the words "believe" and "faith" come from the same root word, with "believe" being the verb form of the root and "faith" the noun form. I once heard a preacher on television make much ado about the fact that he was going to do more than just "believe" something: he was going to "faith it." However, there was really no point to that kind of statement, since biblically belief and faith are the same thing. As I am sure this gentleman had not studied Greek, perhaps he should be forgiven this little display of ignorance.


The word "faith" is also used frequently in popular culture -- sometimes with religious overtones -- in ways that differ markedly from the biblical conception of faith. Probably the most common popular use of the word makes faith to mean something along the lines of positive thinking or stubborn optimism. While those may be good things, they are not Christian faith. In addition, they have less foundation than biblical faith. I am reminded of a Celine Dion song from a few years ago: "Don't give up on your faith. Love comes to those who believe it." That sounds wonderful. Where does that confidence come from. With her voice rising in a joy not justified by the hollow words, she concludes, "That's the way it is."

That was good for Walter Cronkite talking about what had already made news, but its not much of a foundation for faith. Fortunately, Christian faith rests on much more.

When defining faith, the most common verse that Christians turn to is Hebrews 11:1 -- "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." That passage goes on to describe Old Testament figures who manifested faith. For example, Noah built an ark based on God's command even though he had never seen anything that warranted such an effort. Abram left his home and set out for a new country he had never seen, because ultimately he looked for a land "whose builder and founder is God."

With those introductory thoughts in mind, here are a few statements concerning the nature of Christian faith:
  • Faith is not merely intellectual assent. In that sense, the modern way of using the word "believe" is not always helpful. Faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will. It is not merely a matter of deciding that certain things are true, but it is about trusting in those things for our eternal salvation.
  • Faith is both a human responsibility (Acts 16:31) and a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive concepts. Christian belief is not based on philosophical rationalism, as Christians ultimately rest their faith in God's self-revelation found generally in creation and conscience and specifically in the words of the Bible and in the living Word, Jesus Christ. However, reason and revelation are not in opposition. Christian belief is both internally coherent and externally consistent. Talk about faith as though it is a leap into darkness involves theological constructs that are not consistent with Christianity.
  • Faith in the Bible always has an object: faith in God, God's promises, Christ, the finished work of Christ, and so forth. Thus, faith is not merely positive thinking. It involves trust in who God is or what he does and provides.
  • Because faith always has God or His work as its object, faith is not found by looking inward, but by looking up. To have faith is not to find a great internal resource -- it is to find that we have a great God in whom we can confidently rest.
  • The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith alone. As such, the Christian message to outsiders is not to reform their lives: it is to be reconciled to God by repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.
  • While salvation is by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. When I was younger and didn't know better, I used to say that human works have nothing to do with salvation. It is true that we are in no way justified by our deeds; however, saving faith inevitably produces a changed heart and life (see Ephesians 2:10).
  • Faith is not merely the response that initiates a person into the family of God; it characterizes the life of the believer throughout.

As this has become a long post, I think I should stop. I have benefited from writing it, and I hope someone gains something from reading it.

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