You’ve probably heard it as often as I have.
“You just need more faith!”
“Just let go, and let God!”
The subject is faith, and the common theme is the modifier “just,” making it sound really, really simple. Like flip a switch, and suddenly I’ll have strong life-changing faith.
But where is that light switch? In a dark room I can fuss around a good long while before I find it. And if the switch is faith, once I find it, I may not know how to use it.
Where does faith come from?
I’ve been posting on the topic of faith lately (you can see all the posts by clicking here). Biblically it is a big word. In our generation it gets pushed aside by words like “love” and “relationship” — perfectly good words to use as we think about what it means to belong to God and follow Jesus, but “faith” needs a fresh look.
Faith was never more definitive than in the 16th century Reformation when Protestantism was born. The Heidelberg Catechism, the still-loved and widely used 1563 summary of biblical Christianity, takes on the question of where faith comes from in Question 65. (I’ve been posting on the Catechism all year in honor of its 450th anniversary. See all the posts by clicking here.)
65 Q. It is through faith alone
that we share in Christ and all his benefits:
where then does that faith come from?
A. The Holy Spirit
produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.
Notice first that the Catechism presents “faith” as the big hairy crucial center of everything. This is the thing we need to be connected with Jesus himself. This is the thing we need to gain all that Jesus promises.
But notice above all where faith comes from. Faith comes to us as a gift, direct from God, the Holy Spirit.
That means faith is not something I can “just do” on my own. If I understand that faith is, fundamentally, trust in God’s faithfulness in his promises, I can try to exercise that trust. But I’m going to need to admit that I can’t muster it up by force of will.
I need to ask God to give me the faith I need.
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Better still, according to the Catechism, I need to make good use of the things God designed to help me grow in faith.
Number one on the agenda is to hear the Gospel preached. “Preaching” is a word that has fallen on some hard times. Probably better to think of it as “telling” or “proclaiming.” The point is, to grow faith I need to hear the Gospel — the good news of God’s promise of salvation, embodied in Jesus Christ.
I will probably hear it first from a friend who follows the way of Jesus.
Eventually I will want to hear it in the church, where preaching happens on a regular basis. (So much for “spiritual but not religious.”) But the Catechism is helping me figure out what I need out of a church. To grow faith I need to hear the joyful news of how new life is found in Jesus.
The Catechism presents preaching the gospel (or telling the good news of Jesus) as something that builds faith:
- The gospel is essentially God’s loving promise to us.
- Faith is trust in a promise.
- When someone really trustworthy makes a generous loving promise to me, it draws out trust in response.
That is the outer side of a process the Spirit guides from the inside. In old-fashioned language, the Holy Spirit produces faith in my heart by the preaching of the Gospel.
Second on the Catechism’s agenda for building faith is “the sacraments”: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There is a lot to say about how the Sacraments build faith, and most of it is counter-cultural to 21st century North American Christianity. So I’ll save that topic for another series of posts.
What do you look back to as a moment God used to build your faith?
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