Faith is trust, not just knowing things and believing them in your head

Faith is trust, not just knowing things and believing them in your head

‘Faith’ is one of those Christian words that everyone assumes that they know what it means. However, it is one of those words that people mean different things by. So let’s start by seeing what faith is not, before we see more clearly what faith is.

Faith is not blindly hoping something is true. I hope, every year, that my football team wins the premiership. And most of the time, my hope is misplaced. My holding onto hope in my football team, often irrationally, is not faith in the Biblical sense. The writer to the Hebrews defines faith as being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see (Heb 11:1). That doesn’t mean that you hope with no foundation! No, Christians have reason to believe what we do. There is much evidence provided in the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit assuring us that it is all true.

Faith is not believing something you know to be false. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist biology professor from Oxford, loves to use this definition, but it is very foolish. Dawkins claims that Christians believe in Jesus against all reasonable evidence; that is simply not true. God doesn’t expect us to blindly trust Him; there is all kinds of evidence given that is consistent with our faith.

Faith is not believing that certain facts are true. The typical Roman Catholic definition of faith is agreement with certain facts, like the Apostles’ Creed for example. Christians do believe certain facts, that is certainly true! We believe in one God, in sin, in Jesus who was a real person who died and rose again and ascended to heaven, and in eternal life. Being a Christian does include learning and agreeing with facts. This is not enough, however. Faith is described as something that can be seen (Matt 9:2 among many other examples). There are many people in the world who say they agree with the historic creed and who yet don’t live any differently to those who don’t know Jesus. Knowledge is needed, but it is not everything.

OK, it is clear that there are all kinds of ways of misunderstanding the word ‘faith’! So how can we understand it properly in a way that accounts for how the Bible uses the word?

Faith is best understood as ‘trust’. Many of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation defined faith as trust. This captures the thrust of the way the word is used in many places. Trust is a relational word, rather some mechanical agreement with a set of facts. And, critically, trust leads us to act in a different way to what we would otherwise act.

There are all kinds of implications to defining faith as ‘trust’, but let’s limit ourselves to a few for the purposes of this blog post:

  • You know trust is real by what someone does. A child trusts that their parent will provide food for them. A person waits at a coffee shop, trusting that their friend will come at the time and place agreed. Trust leads to action. As James says, we show our faith by what we do (James 2:18). Someone with Christian faith will pray to God and love to tell others about Jesus, for example. Faith cannot help but lead to action. You can see a whole lot more examples of this in Hebrews 11.
  • You can see someone’s trust. In Matthew 9:2, Jesus saw the faith of the men who carried their paralytic friend to him. Jesus didn’t mean that he saw that they believed certain facts in their heads; he meant their actions spoke very loudly. They did something at significant cost and effort because they trusted that Jesus could heal their friend. True faith is something others can see.
  • You stop focussing on yourself. Sometimes we hear calls for us to have more faith, with the understanding that having more faith will lead to healing or answered prayer. That contradicts Jesus’ teaching which says that we only need faith the size of a mustard seed for incredible things to happen (Matt 17:20). How can that be right? Because the focus is not on the person who is trusting, but on what the object of their trust is. Healing happens because of the work of God, should he choose to heal someone, not because we forced God to do something. We can grow in our level of trust in God, sure, and we should; yet any understanding of faith that leads to us thinking more highly of ourselves instead of more highly of Jesus must be incorrect.

Faith is such a wonderful gift that God has given to us. Let’s trust Jesus and live in line with what He calls us to, a life that honours and glorifies God.