Contend Earnestly: What Is Faith? Stripping the Christianese From the Term

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Is Faith? Stripping the Christianese From the Term

There are certain terms that we use so often in our cultures that they have either been stripped of their meaning or no one really knows how to define the actual term. What usually happens with these terms when someone is asked to define them, they'll either say, "I don't know?" or will try to make up some odd explanation that forces them to talk in circles and making as much sense as Sarah Palin explaining foreign policy.

One of these terms is "faith." In the Christian world we have done a poor job explaining what this term means and have used such terms as "belief" to equate it with faith. People will say, "faith means to believe". What does believe mean? I don't know. So the spiral of confusion continues. Some say we have to just "take a blind leap of faith." What does that mean? And does anyone actually ever take a blind leap of faith?

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a great explanation of faith that tells us what we should expect from God when he tells us to have faith. I am not going to be a complete apologetical theologian and explain in this post who God is, or prove he exists. I am going to assume you believe in some sort of greater power than you that created all things. If God created all things, we should probably take his definition of faith while trying to explain it...especially those who claim to follow Jesus.

Here is how Hebrews 11 defines faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

What this one verse doesn't tell us is what the term meant in all of the Scriptures when spelled out in Greek. The term always related to Jesus or God and their work. So, when we see assurance, or sometimes translated as substance, of things hoped for, what things is it speaking of? The "things" hoped for has to do with the work of Jesus Christ. That because of the work of God in this world that is evidence of who he is we can have hope that what he said will happen in the future will happen. Maybe this doesn't help practically. Let me explain. Everyday, we have faith in other things that we don't feel have anything to do with God. This faith is assurance or substance of things hoped for. Example. We believe that when a woman is pregnant that she'll have a healthy baby. Why? The reason is that based on other experiences of seeing people have babies and the stats we see, the probability of that woman having a healthy baby is really good. Even more so, our faith in this goes way up when the doctor tells us that everything is going as planned in the pregnancy.

So, is this faith blind? Not at all. It is based on something. It is based on other actions and evidence that we have seen to have made our minds up that having a healthy baby is pretty common. Is this a blind jump of faith? No. Is it faith? Yes. You don't know what's going to happen. The doctor has no clue, he's just playing probabilities.

The second part of Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the conviction, or assurance of things not seen. This definitely plays into the last example I gave. But this has to deal with why we can have so much assurance or conviction today for things that have happened in the past. Think about sitting in a chair. You have no idea, usually, who made the chair, where it was made, or if it will hold you up this time. But, based on your knowledge of seeing others sitting in the chair, your experience sitting in chairs without them busting underneath you, your faith is built up that it is okay to sit in chairs even though you never saw it being built. You have a conviction and assurance of something not seen, namely the carpenter building it and the time he put into it to make it sturdy.

Is this faith? Yes. You have faith that the chair will hold you up. The two part process of faith in Hebrews 11 is very hard to separate as they go so much together. So, what do followers of Jesus mean when we speak of faith?

Basically, based on seeing God's providence, power, creation, historical evidences and scientific evidences throughout our lives, the lives of others and through nature we have the assurance that our hope is in the right place (namely the work of God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit) and that we have a true conviction that where we are presently in our faith is the outcome of knowing that we have not seen truly happened and happens.

Our faith in Jesus is not a blind leap of faith. It's based on substance, assurance, conviction and evidence, all given to us by God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

For those who are Christians who want to know a very practical way to think of your faith, it was spelled out very well in a book I am reading.

A translator was trying to translate a Bible for a tribe, but the tribe had no actual word for the term faith. As I speak to translators, this happens all the time, but what they look for is evidences of a certain word in that culture and then attach biblical terms with those local understandings. This translator went out with the local chief to hunt for the day. They were out all day and were very tired from all the hiking through the forest. As they got back to the village, they both sat down and just rested in the chairs in the front of the chief's home. At that point, it hit the translator clear as day. He asked the chief, what is the term for what we are doing right now? You know resting after working so hard and being tired? The chief told him and that was the term he used for faith.

Faith is resting in Christ and His work.

Jesus said,

My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:30

If, as a follower of Jesus it is hard for you to understand this, your faith is probably not on resting in Jesus, but probably toiling in your own works. We are to believe that the works of Jesus are enough and that our work is merely sprung from the love we have in our Saviour who bore our sin on the cross and rose again to show us the victory was won in Him, and nothing about us.

I hope this post helps explain faith in a clearer way to those who ask you.


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