Who could argue against the proposition that Faith is a central component of what it means to be a Christian?
“Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the Bible declares (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is a vital part of what it means to be a Christian, alongside Hope and Love (1 Corinthians 13:13), and it is Faith, acting as a synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a part represents a whole), which summarizes what God wants from man. Thus the Lord proclaims, “The Righteous man lives by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17). Likewise, the Scriptures say concerning the Christian life, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
It is quite literally impossible to be a true Christian apart from Faith.
Yet central as Faith should be to a Christian’s life, it is a philosophy often honored in word more than in deed. While most claim to have faith, far fewer actually live by faith. Many do not even understand what Faith is, where it comes from, or how true faith should affect them.
Biblical Faith is neither blind trust nor is it a mere mental assent to truth.
Many claim, quite mistakenly, that faith is believing without reason to believe. But the Faith that God wants is quite grounded in sound reasoning, truth, and a preponderance of the evidence. Consider the words of John as he closes out His gospel. He says concerning the works of Christ he records for us: “these are written so that you may believe.” (John 20:31). That is, John was presenting evidence in order to build faith. Likewise, the apostle Paul tells us “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). God offers reasons, in His words to men, about why they should believe, and also tells them what it is they should believe in.
In the book of Hebrews, the Bible has quite a bit to say about Faith, including offering a definition of Faith, which helps us to understand it as something more than an ephemeral dream. “Faith” we are told, “is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1; NKJV) The words translated as “substance” can also be translated as “assurance” or “confirmation.” The word translated as “evidence” likewise denotes “conviction,” “assurance” and “proof.” In other words, Faith is grounded in a solid reality, at the heart of which is the truthfulness of God’s message, backed as it is with many proofs of genuineness and accuracy.
Likewise, many assume that as long as they agree with the right propositions, their faith is sufficient to be pleasing to God.
James, the brother of the Lord, very poignantly reminded his readers that when it comes to such thinking, even the demons and unclean spirits believe, and they tremble. (cf. James 2:19) But that does not mean they are in a right relationship with God. Jesus spoke to Jews who believed in Him, and told them that they were if their father the devil, because their actions were of a devilish nature. (cf. John 8:31-47) If they truly wanted spiritual freedom, they needed to do more than just assent to the identity of Jesus. Jesus told them that they needed to “abide” in His words. (John 8:31)
When God spoke of the righteous man, God characterized that man not as a mere believer, but as one who lived his faith. When Paul says, “we walk by faith,” the word “walk” denotes a manner of life lived on a path of obedience.
The faith, spoken of in Hebrews 11, by which our spiritual ancestors obtained a good report from God, was a faith that believed and then acted. It was the faith of Abraham, who, when told to go, obeyed and went (Hebrews 11:8). It was the faith of Noah, who, when told to build an ark, was moved to build that ark (Hebrews 11:7). It was the faith of Moses, who, when told to lead, got up and led the people of God from Egypt (cf. Hebrews 11:23-28).
A man cannot say to live by faith if he never actually does anything that his faith tells him he needs to be doing. More than assent, God wants action and obedience. Otherwise, as God also tells us, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17, 26)
The church of Christ invites you to put your faith into action and come worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.