Demystifying Faith

Faith is a favorite term among active Christians. Someone, for instance, may be having a crisis of faith. Another person may have just come to faith. Still another may be seeking more faith. There is also a collective term—“the faith”—that speaks of Christian doctrine as a whole.

It’s an important term because faith is the basis for our salvation. Yet faith is often treated as a mystery. It may be asked, for instance, who has true faith and whose faith is temporary or misguided. Is God satisfied with my faith? Can I gain or display enough faith to be sure that I have eternal life?

Given this uncertainty here’s a proposal. Try reading the Bible as a faith-producing resource: as the antidote to unfaith.

Here’s our guiding assumption. God is able to produce faith. He has a clear mind, a captivating personality, he understands the problem of unfaith, and he has a plan to resolve the problem. So if he offers us a pathway to faith it’s certain to be effective. And that is just what Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Consider Abraham. In Genesis 11 he lacked faith—his proper faith only appeared in chapter 15—and even after he had faith he, for a second time, gave his wife away to another man. Yet by the time we reach chapter 22 he has become the paradigm of faith that is used in the rest of the Bible. The narrative of Genesis carries us along in his progression from selfishness to a decisive faith that is even ready to give up his beloved son in response to God’s calling.

Jacob is another model in Genesis. His early life is a disaster. His only faith is in his own wits and they aren’t adequate in the face of his brother Esau’s wrath and, after that, his father-in-law Laban’s manipulations. Yet by the end of the story he, too, is an exemplar of profound faith.

Chapter 11 in Hebrews traces all this. It helps to recognize that the author of Hebrews doesn’t mean to give us a pantheon of the most faithful figures in Scripture—Samson, for instance, isn’t a stellar model—but he does want us to see that the birthing of faith in a faithless world is a Bible aim from start to finish. And that content offers all of us a pathway and invitation to faith.

Yet we may make a mistake if we treat the Bible as a source of proof-texts rather than a relation-building gift. A corrective may be needed.

As we trace faith themes in the Bible we’re always pointed to Christ. In Genesis we find Christ as the promised “seed” who will defeat the seed of Satan. He is also found in the many Old Testament theophanies—seen as the visible, walking, talking presence of Yahweh—revealing the heart of the ever-invisible Father. His purpose is to draw out a people for himself. And in the New Testament he comes as the Son whose mission is to swallow death and to give life.

The point is that sin always has the wrong person in view: self. And the solution to sin is our turning to see the proper person: God as revealed in the Son.

So the heart of faith is a change of heart—to be drawn away from self-love into a love that responds to his love for us. Faith works through love—as Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:6—and love needs an object worthy of our love. Only the Son can satisfy this need.

Obstacles to faith, then, are always distractions from Jesus. It might be our career concerns—our love of success and security. It might by our ambitions—our focus on building certain skills or academic honors. Or it might even be our creedal commitments if we’re chasing a version of faith that misses Christ as its distinct focus.

The point is that faith isn’t a mystery: it’s the gaze of our soul. So if we’re captured by Christ and by his love for us, we’re living by faith. If we don’t have him in view as our guiding ambition and delight we may need to go back to the Bible and start reading.

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5 Comments

  1. Judy

    Thanks for exploring “faith.” It does conjure up a mystifying image of a spiritual nature, without God altogether. Yet, when grounded in God, faith takes on weight and reality that gives our journey with Christ substance. As you say…”Try reading the Bible as a faith producing resource: as the antidote to unfaith.” Some of the problems Christians have with understanding faith is that faith is not instant and it takes time, effort and commitment to read, meditate and memorize The Word – as in the verse you stated from Romans 10:17– reading and hearing God’s Word is the way our faith grow.

    In my current Bible read through, as I finish a book, I feel saddened, as if a long lost friend is departing, even though I know I will see them again and have joy at becoming reacquainted. It is truly amazing how our souls are only satisfied with a portion of manna from God magnificent Word causing us to grow in faith and love for Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks again for your post. Judy

  2. R N Frost

    Thanks Judy.

    I do see faith as a growing reality that takes time to mature. What helps here is to think of Christ as someone we get to know better and better over time. And with that knowledge our trust & confidence increases.

  3. Judy

    yes, I see what you mean. I took faith as a time issue instead of reading the Bible to know Christ better which strengthens our faith.
    Thank you for your response.

  4. R N Frost

    Yes, you’ve hit the nail, Judy. But to be clear I didn’t mean to challenge your reference to time. When our faith is “in Christ” we will want to spend time with him. So Jesus the person is the object of our faith – or, better, the focus of our desires – and our time spent with him is the fulfillment of that new ambition.

    In our pre-conversion state we loved self: we used our time to satisfy whatever made us happy. So the new ambitions of faith change the way we use our time. It’s an indicator of real faith, isn’t it.

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