Sunday, September 6, 2015

Some thoughts on Faith

Faith. By faith the men of old gained approval. Without faith it's impossible to please God. By faith our forerunners subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the foreign armies. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.
But if you were to define it, or better yet, describe it, how would you? What words would you pick to help show it for what it is?

The ordinary generic understanding of faith is that it's synonymous with belief. Faith in God is means that you believe in Him, and for a general definition I think this is sufficient. But faith is an interesting and multifaceted thing, and seems to change as you consider it over different conditions.

When you compress the essence of it into a single moment I suspect the best word for is trust. That's how Martin Luther translated it into German from the Latin at any rate, and there's a good reason he did so. Casting yourself wholly on God as if He alone and crying out for mercy is a trusting act. You're declaring He's trustworthy enough to make good on your confidence, and you're declaring He's strong enough to support you. A trust fall is a nice concrete image of a moment of faith.
When he put his faith in Jesus the thief on the cross was demonstrating trust in the promise of God alone.

But when you don't compress it into a singularity but instead stretch it across a lifetime, I don't think either trust or belief is the best descriptive word. I think it's faithfulness. A husband is faithful to his wife when he forsakes all others and guards jealously their relationship. A mother is faithful to love her children when she stays up with a sick kid at night. Faithfulness conjures the image of two people helping each other every time the need arises, or someone putting in 40 years at the same company. It's a proven loyalty that endures regardless of difficulty or circumstances. Faith as faithfulness really serves to highlight the fact that the life of faith is a walk, or a continuous journey.

This method of looking at faith is particularly helpful in reconciling the Arminian arguments of "people can have real genuine faith and lose it" with the Calvinist one of "genuine faith perseveres until the end." It's evident that people can have faith in the sense of a genuine moment of trust in Christ (and if they died at that moment go to heaven) and yet not have faith in that they were not faithful until the end. 

My gut tells me there's more to be mined here, but so far these two perspectives to faith is all I've got, so I'll close it here.


Anonymous said...

"It's evident that people can have faith in the sense of a genuine moment of trust in Christ (and if they died at that moment go to heaven) and yet not have faith in that they were not faithful until the end."

Your notion of the "perseverance of the saints" is as hypothetical as is your conception of salvation.

Phil said...

I thought about taking your comment down Ann-nonymous, but I think it's instructive of the ridiculous rigidity of the Reformed movement in general. Don't read the blog carefully, don't consider the point being made, don't try to reconcile the warning passages with the promise passages, just get on the internet, see that it's not TULIP, give a wookie yell, insult the author, then ride off. Like a drive by shooting in a thug neighborhood.
My goodness you'd think I'd never written anything on the topic of perseverance of the saints before at all, let alone a whole series on it.