When the Apostle Paul wrote letters to the churches, he often followed a specific outline with three points: Faith, Hope, and Love. Sometimes changing the order, he commonly used these three words to describe the wholeness of the Christian life. There is no better illustration of this than the epistle to the Romans. In this letter, the whole book can be divided up cleanly under these main points. This week, we are going to look at these three essentials in the Christian life, offering meaning and revealing applications on how the believer can integrate them into their pursuit of God.
A Common Understanding of Faith
In our basic understanding of faith we commonly associate it with trust. Faith requires trust in a source. Perhaps you’ve heard is described abstractly as a chair. In this illustration, you put your full weight and confidence that the chair is going to hold you when you place your body off balance and sit down. I’m sure some of you have had an experience, perhaps in your middle school years, where someone pulled the chair out from under you and you fell flat on the floor.
The world can comprehend this sort of faith because it is something we practice every day. You trust that your alarm will wake you up in the morning in time to get you to work. You trust your car will get you to the office. You trust that you’ll make it through the day without dying. Trust, in a worldly perspective, is just a confidence in what you expect.
Every religion is built on faith. Even science is heavily dependent on belief. When the world refers to personal faith, they are often associating them with the major religions of the world: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. In this way, faith is used as a means of defining one’s identity. Our post-modern, secular society emphasizes equality across the board suggesting that each ‘faith’ possesses the same elements in essence to believe.
The Christian faith is unique, not because it is a better religion, but because it rises above the base forms of wishful thinking to a level of confidence that is powered by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Why is Faith Essential for the Believer?
In my favorite verse, Hebrews 11:6, the Bible tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith is essential to the life of a believer because without it, we cannot honor the One who created us, saved us, and sustains us.
God is a personal being and as such, He wants to be known. If you’re married or in a personal relationship, you’ll understand the importance of being known. As a loved one you want to be understood, trusted, and considered. You want your feelings to be acknowledged. You want to be heard when you speak. Likewise, God wants to be known. He has revealed Himself to us in so many ways. He is shouting to be heard. Will you listen?
What is Faith?
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 nkjv
Now this verse can be confusing. My late grate mentor once told me that he wouldn’t touch this verse with a ten foot pole. Here is my best attempt to explain it holding an eleven foot pole.
Hope, as we will look at tomorrow, is our confident expectation. Faith, therefore, is the foundational proof for our undaunted trust.
I once met with a guy who was a staunch atheist. Having been through Bible School and after studying philosophy, I felt pretty confident I could have an intelligent conversation with this guy. When he gave me permission to start the debate I asked him where he wanted to begin: The ontological, cosmological, or the teleological argument? He was impressed that I was well studied. But I stopped him as I saw him salivating over his well crafted arguments to debunk whatever I was going to say next and I told him that they wouldn’t do him any good. He looked at me stunned as I shared the gospel with him and then he asked me, “How are you so certain that what you believe is true?” I told him, “You wouldn’t understand if I could tell you because you’re dead and you’re blind.” With that he responded, “No one has ever been that honest with me.”
A few days later I got a phone call. It was him. He told me that he hadn’t been able to eat or sleep since we had talked. His friends had invited him to church the night before and he decided to go and maybe heckle the pastor. But he heard the gospel again that night and something got through to his heart. He told me, “I got saved!” Excited to hear this I asked him if he knew what I was talking about and he responded, “You’re right, I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t been made alive in Christ.”
Faith is that foundation of our beliefs. It’s what we rest on. As believers, we have the Scriptures to point us to the promises of God that we can trust in. Faith is taking God’s Word for granted and knowing that He will do what He has promised.
How Does the Bible Define Faith?
There are several different brackets of faith. Already we described what a common faith is, namely a basic trust in what we have come to expect by experience and understanding. When the Bible talks about faith it describes it in three different ways.
A saving faith is a faith that trusts in the satisfactory atonement of Jesus Christ. The very essence of salvation is contingent on the believer’s faith in Christ’s work. There is nothing else required in order to be saved than to place one’s complete trust in God, knowing that the cross was enough.
A healing faith is a faith that believes the physically impossible as informed by the word of Christ. This kind of faith is only seen in the Gospels when Jesus is healing the sick. Though many Christians suggest that this form of faith is legitimate today, there is no authority to suggest that it is still happening and many attempts to practice such faith only offer confusion and discord.
‘The Faith’ refers to the collection of teachings about God, the knowledge of God we define as theology (Theo = God, ‘ology = the study of…). We’ll look at this explanation of faith a little later, but first clarification on saving faith and healing faith.
How Do We Get Faith?
The Apostle Paul tells us that faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Many well meaning Christians wrongly misinterpret this passage suggesting that grace is the gift, when in fact, faith is the subject of the verse. While we all posses an ability to believe that the sun will come up tomorrow, we don’t posses the ability to acknowledge God and trust in the redemptive work of His Son on the cross. Therefore, this saving faith is much more than the faith we commonly possess.
Jesus said that if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains (Matthew 17:20). Does that mean that faith is quantifiable by weight or size? Can someone have more faith than another person? If a person has cancer, do they die because they didn’t have enough faith to be healed?
When Jesus addressed the Disciples lack of faith, he was pointing out their misdirected faith. Instead of trusting in God, they were trying to do what Jesus did. They had wrongly assumed that because they were associated with Christ that they could function in their own power. Surely, if faith is all that is required to make one’s life better and easier, then Paul would not have prayed three times to have the ‘thorn in the flesh’ removed. A healing faith is not a magical power. It was a work of Christ to proclaim His deity and supremacy.
What Do We Do With Faith?
Earlier I described faith in the analogy of a chair. Many evangelists have used this illustration to encourage the lost into making the first step of faith. The problem with this illustration is that it depicts faith as being something dormant, and not much better than what the world has to offer. The reality is, faith is better described with the analogy of a unicycle.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This is a function of your faith. Faith is not something at rest, but something that is constantly working. James tells us that faith without works is dead and good for nothing. Like a unicycle, you have to keep peddling to keep from falling. Without the constant struggle and determination to know God more, the Christian faith becomes stagnant and incapable of sustaining the believer. Doubts, fears, and anxiety torment those who have ceased to exercise their faith.
Fruthermore, we are told to fight for ‘the faith.’
“…I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3 esv
Earlier I mentioned that ‘the faith’ is referring to a collection of beliefs about God. Here Jude is challenging the church to fight for and defend the faith. God has made Himself known to us through His Word and we are responsible to defend His honor and character as revealed through the pages of Scripture. To do so, we must all become students of the Word.
I consider it a tragedy when I hear people say that they are not theologians, as if it was someone else’s duty and responsibility to work out their salvation for them and deliver it to them on a silver plate. Too many churches have settled for this hierarchy to knowing God. Now, worse than ever, there is a sorry lack of understanding about God among those sitting in the pews every Sunday morning.
God wants to be known, but not only by the theologians and Bible school professors. He wants to be know by all mankind. Salvation is not the ending point. Your faith is not something to rest on. You must earnestly strive to know God more each day. If you treated your spouse or family like you treat your relationship with God, you would be sleeping on the couch or finding yourself served divorce papers. Fortunately, God is better than us, and will not break His promise of salvation. But if you’re relationship is cold, it’s not the fault of your heavenly Father.
An Artistic Analogy
When I picture the Christian life, I think of a tree. Many times through the gospels Jesus used trees as a symbol for spirituality. I’ve always been fascinated with trees.
When I think of faith, I imagine the root structure of a tree. It’s the thing that goes unseen. It stretches deeper and deeper into the dirt to find the nutrients that the rest of the tree needs to survive. In essence, it is the life providing foundation to the tree. That’s what faith is. Your faith works underneath the surface to sustain the rest of your life by providing a firm foundation.
I know a lot of ‘Christians’ who are just sticks in the mud. You can see them by their fruit that their root structure isn’t very good.
Years back I was volunteering at a camp when a storm came and within fifteen minutes over 200 trees were toppled. Some of the trees were completely unearthed, pulling the roots right out of the ground. At closer inspection, we could all see that these trees had not grown very deep because they were all growing on top of rocks. Their roots went horizontally across the surface of the rock, but they were not deep enough to stand when the rains and wind came.
What about you? Do you have a deep faith? Are you currently struggling with your knowledge of God? That’s healthy. Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ to save you and sustain you? Are you earnestly contending for the truth? How does your faith measure up?