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Series Theme:  Being a Christian






















































































































Title:   4. What is Faith?


A page that faces another misunderstanding about being a Christian 


1. Introduction - A Popular Misunderstanding

The fact that you have come to this page indicates you are willing to think about these things and, we hope, in some detail.

There is plenty of reading on this page (and indeed on most of the Resource pages on this site, because we don't want to give superficial answers) so we hope you'll take the time and make the effort, to read it through carefully and give serious thought to what is here.

If you have come to this page, we assume that you are someone who is either a Christian wanting to clarify their faith, or a seeker wondering about this strange ingredient that Christians seem to talk so much about.

Many people speak of their belief that Christians have "blind faith" meaning they make a leap in the dark and just hope that it will be all right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Other people think that people who have faith must be very special people, that faith is reserved for a spiritual elite. Again nothing could be further from the truth!


2. So what is faith?

"Faith" has two main meanings:

1. "The Faith"

In this use, it means the whole body of Christian teaching, the body of truth that traditional Christians believe. You find reference to this in Jude 3

2. "Faith" = firm conviction in a belief

This is the usual usage when people are wondering about faith.

Do I have enough faith to be a Christian? Do I have enough faith to do this or that?

Those are the sorts of way we use the word faith. We mean, "Do I believe strongly enough to be able to.....?"

How the Bible describes faith

In Hebrews 11:1 of the Bible we are told that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Now if we analyse that, we see two things being referred to:

1. Something future that we yet hope for, and
2. Something present that exists but cannot be seen.

But we also see two descriptions of how we believe:

- Being sure
- Certain

which of course are different ways of saying the same thing!

So, yes, faith is about being sure about unseen things!

So how can you be sure about what you can't see?

Well, let's use an analogy that one famous theologian has used.

Suppose you pass a piece of land and on it you see a concrete mixer, piles of bricks and so on. You would rightly infer that they were constructing a building. But what sort of building? Is it a house, a factory, a shop, or what?

There are only two ways to find out.

First you could wait until it was finished and you would see what it was.

Alternatively you could ask the architect and he would tell you, and you will believe him.

If the architect was a known rogue you might be quite unsure whether you could believe him, but if he was a man of known integrity, who was known by reputation to be scrupulously honest, you would be absolutely convinced that what he tells you is true.

That's all very well for a building, but when it comes to "life, the universe, and all that", you can't wait around to see the end result, so that means we are only left with asking 'the architect'.

He (God) tells us truth (that is the 'revelation' side of the equation) and we believe Him and act on what He has told us (that is the 'faith' side of the equation).

Being a Christian = Receiving Revelation AND THEN Acting on it

The Bible in fact says that "faith comes from hearing" (Rom 10:17). In other words, faith is responding to what God says.

But how, to start with, can we trust One who we can't see, and many of us feel we can't hear? (even assuming He is 'there'!)


3. Trusting the One who is There

There are a variety of approaches that have been suggested by various people to answer this one.

Basically you can THINK it through to a place of faith, or come through a CRISIS to a place of faith. The first two headings below are "think through" approaches.

1. Weigh the Evidence

If you really study the Bible, what's in it and how it came to be written and passed down through the centuries, you come to realise that here is a unique book that denies the assertion that "it is all chance".

If you study the person of Jesus Christ, his presence in history, his veracity, his works, his words, his life, his death and his resurrection (see other pages on this site for these things), you cannot help but be challenged and moved.

If you study Christian experience with an open mind, and include in that Christian history in detail, again you are left wondering about the amazing things that are observed: individual lives being transformed, for what can only be described as 'good', and indeed whole societies transformed for 'good', all because of belief in Jesus Christ.

If you study the history of Judaism in the Old Testament, right back to its origins with Abraham, again you are challenged by what you find: a people who, whenever they were strong in their belief in God, were strong and prosperous, but who, whenever they strayed from that belief, collapsed morally and socially.

When you study these things in detail, when you weigh the evidence that is here, you cannot but help be challenged by certain questions:

- If "God" doesn't exist, how can we explain the beliefs and the certainties of dozens of writers and millions of believers, that have transformed history for good?

- What is it in me that struggles against this mountain of evidence?

- How can I say it's not true when life fits how the Bible describes humanity and human experience so perfectly?

2. Take your Presuppositions to their Logical Conclusions

A useful approach is to take our beliefs and work through them, to their logical consequences.

For a whole variety of reasons, we all start off our thinking processes with different presuppositions - starter ideas that we have, that we believe, ideas about God, life, the universe, evil, me!

Let's start out with the human condition and use it to check our presuppositions and the logical consequences that MUST follow!

For our example, let's pretend that here we have under our microscope a thoroughly evil person (let's not argue 'evil' for the moment, just accept what most people would accept, our specimen is thoroughly evil).

Now let's consider the possibilities. In each case observe the presupposition (starting point) and then the outcomes which are logical results:

Possibility A - there is no God - so this being is a meaningless result of evolution. If there is no Ultimate Being then there is nothing to inhibit how we deal with this "creature". We might as well destroy him for the good of the rest of mankind.

If there is no God, then there can be NO purpose to existence, we can ONLY be chemicals that came into this form by time plus chance plus nothing! Concepts such as 'love' and 'beauty' and 'meaning' and 'purpose' can only be chemical reactions!

If there is no God, then who is to make the rules and on what basis? Don't even think about saying, "Who needs rules?" because even the most simple group of school children come up with the answer, "We need rules to protect the weak and bring order to society, because people aren't nice!"

But if you take God out of the equation, who is to make the rules?

A dictator? (They haven't done well in history!).
A committee of the most intelligent? (Intelligence doesn't always go with care, compassion and common sense!)
Democracy? (Where power groups actually influence, and who says they are right!).

No, take God out and you're left feeling slightly uneasy.

Possibility B - There is a God (an Ultimate Being)

If there is this 'Ultimate Being' then that presupposition creates a range of possibilities.

Within each of the options, it must be taken as read that this Ultimate Being had some say in the forming of what we call 'Creation' and, in particular, human beings.

HOW He did it is irrelevant - whether short term divine acts or long term planned evolution - it doesn't affect the possibilities.

(If you have a mind block at this point because of the existence of 'evil' in the world, then go to the reosurce pages entitled "The Problem of Evil".)

Possibility B1 - God made this person evil, and they had no choice.

Conclusions? This "God" is just as evil to have inflicted such a thing on this person and on others who are harmed by him.

Possibility B2 - God designed human beings, left them to it and laughingly watched them run contrary to makers design and so fall apart at the seams.

Conclusions? Still a pretty awful "God".

Possibility B3 - God designed human beings, told them the best way for them to live in accordance with His design, warned them how they would fall apart if they lived contrariwise, but left them to it, and just laughed when we did.

Conclusions? Still not a very kind God, not one worth knowing.

Possibility B4
- God designed human beings, told them the best way for them to live in accordance with His design, warned them how they would fall apart if they lived contrariwise. However, unlike B3, He actually stepped in to show us a way out when we originally ignored His instructions and got messed up, He stepped in and did everything possible without violating the free will He gave us, to help us. (This is the Biblical solution!)

In each of these situations, ask yourself, "Which one equates with how the world actually is?" and "Which one do I actually feel most comfortable with as an outcome?"

In we're really honest, none of are comfortable with the outcomes of Possibility A.

Everything in us screams against us being a pointless, meaningless 'object'.

Many of us actually spend much of our lives trying to achieve a sense of self worth and fulfilment, to put some sense of 'meaning' into our lives!

We may prefer to avoid the thought of God's actual existence, because of the consequences of that belief (that I'll have to do something about that!), but the alternative is something many of us try not to think about because, for some reason we've been taught to believe B1 to B3 above.

Alternatively, perhaps we simply don't like the thought that someone knows better about my life than me!

3. Believing through a Crisis.

What actually happens, for many people, is that they don't think through the issues above but instead come to a crisis in life, hear about Jesus Christ, grab for the straw as a drowning man, and then find 'life'.

They then start looking, reading and investigating, but now simply to confirm what has happened to them.

Whatever the process....

Whichever way it happens, the end result is the same: there is a growing conviction that THIS is true.

If a scientist tells you something is true, we're learning to check whether it is just a theory or whether it is a cast iron fact.

The only trouble is that modern scientists are increasingly less certain about their findings. They might say, "If we do it this way, we're fairly certain it will happen like that next time, but we can't guarantee it."

At the end of the day, we too can say, "If you come to this place where you surrender to God and believe in all the Bible says Jesus Christ has done for you, you will find your life being transformed.

Then you will find things happening that can only be explained by the presence and activity of God - but I can't guarantee it - you've got to walk it yourself and prove it for yourself."

THAT is faith.

How do you build faith?
We recognise that this page simply has a lot of challenges on it. Where does that leave YOU?

Maybe you've read the page and it's left you untouched. Fair enough, come back in six months.

But perhaps you're acknowledging that you need to progress this further. How do you build faith?

Do something simple - pray and ask God to give you faith, to help it grow in you, this sure and certain conviction. That could be a first step. Just do it and see what happens.

You're actually responding to what you've read on this page, and it could be that God was speaking to you as you read it.

Try something else simple - start reading one of the Gospels in the Bible, in a modern version, and see what it says to you.

If you need it, you'll find help on the "Trustworthiness of the Bible" resources pages in one of the sample Bible studies.