The Nature of Faith
According to Hebrews 11:6, without faith, it is impossible to please God. What exactly is faith? How do we obtain faith, and how do we go about increasing our faith? And what is it about faith that pleases God? Faith, in the Scriptures does not refer to intellectual agreement with a doctrine. Of course, in order to have real faith, one must believe certain things to be true about God, the self, and the universe. But such intellectual beliefs do not constitute faith as the Bible understands it. As James says, even demons in hell believe in God … and shudder (James 2:19).
Instead, faith is trust in the reliability of an object or person. If I have a ladder, and half the rungs used for climbing are broken, it is obvious that I will have reservations about climbing it. The ladder is not trustworthy. How do I know that the other rungs will not break when I step on them? Obviously the ladder has not proven reliable in the past, given the broken steps. Faith, therefore, is based upon a sound knowledge of the object in which we are putting our trust. If I were to climb up the ladder without looking at it, I would not be trusting the ladder, I would only be foolish. I also would not trust the ladder if the only place to put the base of the ladder was on ice. Faith is not an irrational leap into the darkness, without regard for the consequences of our choice. Faith is a decision to trust based on a careful examination of the object of our trust, its past history of reliability, the circumstances surrounding it, and of the consequences of our choice. Hence, faith involves careful reasoning, acute perception, and balanced judgement.
This is not only true of such objects as a ladder, but of people as well. Faith is not gullibility, in which I trust everyone who comes along, without regard for their reputation or past history. We tell our children not to trust strangers precisely because a stranger is an unknown: he might be harmless, but we have no experience of the man to know whether or not to trust him. Once I was in London, and a very friendly man came up to me. It felt good to have someone talk to me in such a friendly manner, especially as I was alone and feeling quite lonely. He told me a long story of how he was trying to get back to Scotland but had run out of money and wanted only twenty pounds to take a bus. I bought the story, not knowing the man, and gave him three pounds. But when he began pressing me to go to the bank and take out money to give him the twenty pounds, I knew I’d been taken. Because of my desire for companionship, I made the wrong decision to trust a stranger. I was gullible, and exercising faith in the wrong way. Thus faith is in itself neither good nor bad, it depends entirely on when and how it is exercised on whether reasoning, perception, and judgment is used.
Faith Is Knowing God’s Reliability
How much more is this all true with regard to God. We are all called to trust God, in fact, as Hebrews says "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Faith in God is not the opposite of atheism, but is nothing less than banking our lives on the trustworthiness of God, on the reliability of His words as contained in the Bible. The strength of faith depends on the trustworthiness of the person we are trusting, and if we know our God, our faith in Him should be boundless. As I said above, faith is a decision to trust based on a careful examination of the object of our trust, its past history of reliability, the circumstances surrounding it, and of the consequences of our choice. To have genuine faith in God, we must carefully examine His character and His past history of reliability. We have this contained in the Bible, as Paul says, "Faith comes from hearing the word" (Rom. 10:17). We know that God can be trusted based on all the things which He has done for His people. The Bible is the celebration of what God has done for us, and we cannot reasonably trust Him if we do not know what He is like, how He is likely to act in our world, and what He has promised to do if we trust Him. In the Scriptures is also contained the consequences of our choice to trust or not to trust: the promise of eternal salvation and the threat of damnation. Only by a careful examination of the Scriptures can we make a balanced judgement about trusting God.
Although faith involves such careful reasoning, nevertheless there is an element of risk to faith. Faith is not knowledge. When you trust another person, you render yourself vulnerable to being harmed. You expose yourself, and there is always the danger that your trust will be betrayed. Trust puts you in the hands of another person, gives him a measure of control over you, if he chooses to abuse that trust. Hence the decision to trust is not an easy one. But God never designed trust to be easy: otherwise no real choice would be involved. Difficulty is essential to free choice. At the same time, faith is a calculated risk. We do not pitch reasoning, perception, and judgement but use them in deciding whether or not to trust. Faith is not a leap into the unknown, not knowing whether God is love or cruel in nature, but a leap based on prior knowledge of God’s character and actions, just as we would make a decision to trust a person based on their past history. Nevertheless, the element of risk remains, and is essential to faith as faith. God might request that we believe the impossible as when he asked Abraham to believe that Sarah would bear him a son in their old age (Gen. 17:16-21; Rom. 4:19-21). Facing the fact that his body was as good as dead, he nevertheless believed that God was willing and able to do what He had
promised. He did not ignore or deny the existing circumstances, but after taking them into consideration, concluded that God was greater than the circumstances and had the power to change them. Abraham took the risk and trusted God, based not only on a realistic assessment of the circumstances, but on a realistic assessment of God’s character and power.
God’s Perfect Circumstances
God might also ask us to do something apparently irrational, as when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Gen. 22). Isaac was the son whom God had promised to Abraham as an heir. If Isaac were to be sacrificed, the fulfillment of God’s promise would be jeopardized! But Abraham trusted God, and when he left his servant at the foot of the mountain, he told him in faith that "we would return" (Gen. 22:5). Abraham knew that God would not break His promise, and therefore, if needed, would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). Again, Abraham used reasoning, perception,and judgment in his determination to believe God and obey God’s command. Faith is not divorced from reason; instead it expanded reason to include the reality of an all-powerful, all-loving sovereign God. In fact, trust in such a God is a prerequisite to an accurate perception of our world and the circumstances we live in.
Like Abraham, we too are called to put our trust in God regarding the circumstances He has given us. We must believe that the circumstances we find ourselves in are those which He has given us for our benefit: "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called
according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Every situation in our life, good or bad, is God’s perfect circumstance for us, no matter what the appearance. This does not mean that the circumstances are good in themselves, but they serve God’s purpose in our lives. If we fail to perceive our circumstances in this manner, we sin, and allow Satan to take our lives and operate us. For Paul says that "everything that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Satan will then be the one living our lives, and acting out His lie of independent self through us. But if we put our trust in God, then Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17), and will live His life through us (Gal.2:20).
Faith, therefore, expresses itself in words (prayer) and actions (love) (Gal. 5:6). But we cannot begin to pray to change our circumstances until we have fully accepted them as coming from God. If we only see the evil of the circumstance, but do not trust God enough to control the circumstance according to His loving and sovereign will, how will we trust Him to change it? Rather, by faith we perceive God’s intention in the circumstance, while at the same time gathering all the wisdom we can from other mature Christians and from Scripture. Only then do we speak our word of faith regarding the circumstance, whether it is God’s intent for us to endure the circumstance, or to declare by faith that God will change it. The one who truly trusts God always has an attitude of submission to the will of the Father, as Jesus did in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-42).
The Burden Is On God
Faith in God also expresses itself in actions. James says that faith without works is dead (2:17,26). What is dead is ineffective and useless to everyone, and ultimately not real. Faith must be lived out in real actions and deeds for others. One who is truly trusting God in the circumstances of his life will be freed from self-concern in the circumstances, knowing that God always has our highest and best at heart. We do not need to think of ourselves, as the One who controls all things watches over us. We have no need to protect and defend ourselves, but can freely give away our lives in love, being relieved of the burden of caring for ourselves. Hence, only the person with an unshakable trust in a all-loving sovereign God can love in the manner that God demands.
Finally, faith is not believing something to be true of oneself, for we are only vessels of a spirit, Christ or Satan. Faith is the opposite of self-confidence, for we know our own inability to handle life on our own (Rom. 7). Self-confidence is the supreme expression of the sin-spirit, for there is no independent self to believe in and rely upon. Faith is trusting Christ to live His life through us, because we know that only a power greater than ourselves has the ability to do it. Only then can we acquire a right self-confidence, not as independent selves, which is a deception, but as Christ-operated selves who lay down their lives to complete God’s plan in the world (Col. 1:27).
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 10 No 2
- Questions & Answers
- To All Believers…It’s As Simple As This
- Editor’s Note
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- No Grey For God
- The Nature of Faith
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Word of Faith
- Just Say the Word
- A Life with a Purpose
- Reflections on the Twelve Steps
- The Mailbox
- Words to Live By
- Christianity’s Lost Chord