What is faith, really?
Some will tell you it is a leap into the dark — jumping into the unknown, off a proverbial cliff, and hoping that Someone will catch you. For Jesus that wasn’t faith; that was “tempting” or “testing” God, and he wouldn’t do it.
Or when we need faith to pray effectively people say “Just believe!” as if we could throw a switch and make it so. You know: I see someone who is sick, and I believe she is dying; I throw the switch; and by just choosing to believe it, I supposedly have faith that God will heal her. It sounds like I’m supposed to lie to myself.
The Heidelberg Catechism has a great section answering the question “What is true faith?” It is one of my favorite passages — Question 21 (Click here if you want to download the Catechism and see this passage in full. Or click here if you want to get my brief study guide to this widely used Reformed teaching tool.)
Real faith, the kind of faith Scripture says is so important, has two parts — or subtly three:
1. Faith holds as true what Scripture reveals to us.
2. Faith trusts that what Scripture promises in the Gospel applies to me personally.
Take just part of this as the whole and it can go terribly wrong. It is easy to find Christian people for whom the whole of faith is believing the Bible. It is also easy to find non-Christian people who tune Christians out because we seem to say Scripture teaches as fact what they think is contrary to science and history.
To really get the first part of Heidelberg’s faith (belief in what Scripture reveals) we actually need the help of the second part (wholehearted trust that the Gospel promises apply to us). And to get either one, we need the help of God. That is the third subtler part of faith:
3. Faith is something created in us by the Holy Spirit.
We don’t manufacture faith as trust or get intellectually convinced of the facts. God gives faith as a gift.
Luther led the way in teaching that faith means trust — interpersonal trust between us and God. We hear God make promises to forgive and love us in Christ, and we trust God to be true to his Word.
Once we trust God all of life is on a new footing — but we only come to trust God personally when the Holy Spirit does the inner work, overcoming our brokenness and fear and doubt. That then makes it possible for us to figure out what Scripture is really revealing and believe it as true — and we find the core message is about who God is, why we are a mess, and how God in Christ unmesses us.
Faith isn’t a leap into the dark. Faith is a leap into the light. We understand our problem and God’s solution as revealed in Scripture — by the light of the Holy Spirit. We trust in goodness of God and his promises in Christ — with the transforming help of the Spirit.
How do you hear people using the word “faith” in ordinary conversation?
In your own experience of faith how do “believing the Bible is true” and “trusting the promises of the Gospel” relate to each other?