Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What is faith?

The Bible is crystal clear on the fact that salvation is by faith (e.g. Romans 3:28), and given how long eternity is, how awful hell is and how wonderful salvation is, if salvation is by faith we must make sure we know what faith is. Sadly this word is widely misused and abused. I hope this clears the air from the clouds of confusion and mists of misrepresentation.

The first point I want to make is this, faith is not anti-intellectual. This is one of the most common notions being pushed by atheists today. Richard Dawkins called it the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think, and Hitchens said it is the surrender of reason. Peter Boghossian asserts that faith means "belief without evidence" and "pretending to know things you don't know" (he got thoroughly embarrassed by Tim McGrew on this subject, you can hear that here).

This is pretty annoying because it is either a misunderstanding born of culpable ignorance or a misrepresentation spawned by malice, but it is certainly not what the Biblical writers intended when they spoke about faith, and it's not what the vast majority of people mean the vast majority of times they use the word either.

Consider this, do you have faith in your spouse or in your parents? Hopefully the answer is an immediate Yes! Is that because you have no reasons or evidence? Of course not. Your faith is based on many reasons and loads of evidence.

Similarly, if you needed major surgery and some very young, very dishevelled looking man stumbled in, with glazed eyes and trembling hands, and announced in a slurred voice that he was your surgeon, would you have much faith in him? Absolutely not. But if you heard that the surgeon was an expert, well qualified, with loads of experience who had never lost a patient, your faith would grow and be strengthened. But wait - your faith is increasing as you get more and more evidence. This shows that in the everyday things of life we base our faith on reason and evidence.

So it is in scripture. The Biblical writers did not speak about faith because it was a foreign concept shrouded in mystery, but because it was a term everyone understood and a faculty everyone used, and they give us loads of evidence to enable us to take a reasonable step of faith. Consider, for example, the fulfilled prophecies of scripture and the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. These two areas of investigation give us solid, safe and sensible ground on which to rest our faith.

So faith is not anti-intellectual, but here's the second point - faith is not only intellectual. Faith is not merely believing certain facts to be true, but it is actual, active trust in someone or something to do something for you.

Think about leaning on. A man has jumped off the pier and is drowning. Someone grabs the lifebelt and flings it out and it lands within the reach of the drowning man. That man believes the lifebelt will support his weight, that the rope will take the strain, that the man at the other end will pull him in - he can believe all that and drown, what he needs to do is actually lean on the lifebelt, grasp it, depend on it, put his faith in it. So it is with salvation. God has, in His grace, thrown a lifeline out to a perishing world: "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14), and because of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary salvation is within the reach of all mankind, but you need to take Him for yourself. You could believe all the facts about the Lord Jesus, but you could believe every fact and be lost forever. Unless and until you actually rest on Him for salvation you will never be saved.

Think about leaving with. You take your hard earned cash down to the bank and you hand it over to a member of staff and walk out with a receipt. What have you done? You have entrusted your money to that bank - you are placing your faith in that bank to keep your money safe. It's out of your hands now, you aren't responsible for it now, they are. Some people have found that their faith in the bank was misplaced and their savings were lost, but you have something far more valuable than any amount of money, it is your soul - you. The Lord Jesus said it is worth more than all the world (Mark 8:36), and the thing is, because of sin, your soul is in danger of being lost. The Lord Jesus Christ is calling on you to leave the matter of your soul's salvation with Him - there is no one else you can save you. Paul, the apostle, said as he neared the end of his life, "I know Him whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him..." (2 Timothy 1:12). If you leave a task with me you could well worry that it will be done, but if you leave something with Christ you have no need to worry, He is the almighty Son of God who cannot fail.

Finally, think about leaping to. There's a fire in the house and someone is trapped upstairs. The fireman comes up the ladder and calls on the person to jump into his arms. That person has to make the decision, "Do I stay where I am, or do I put my faith in this person?" The decision is made, the person jumps, and if the fireman is strong enough the person is saved. Because of our guilt we are in a position of real danger. The warning of the Bible is "Flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7). The Lord Jesus stretches His arms out to you and invites you to cast yourself upon His saving power. If you put your faith in Him then the only question is, is He strong enough? The Bible assures us, and the personal experience of the Christian confirms it, "He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).

The Lord Jesus Christ is uniquely qualified to save you because of who He is (truly God, truly man), and because of what He has done (died for our sins and rose again). He is worthy of your trust. Put your faith in Him, and you will experience the reality of salvation in your own experience.