What is faith?

Author: Ed Welch Date: July 18, 2013

Category: Blog Posts

Topics: Faith

I asked a new friend how he came to know Jesus—always a great story. He had been a searcher from his early teens and investigated the religions of his best friends. After hearing an apologist for one faith, my friend was stunned by the incoherence of the religion and the dearth of supporting evidence. When he raised his concerns, the apologist said, “You have to have faith.”

“How do you do that?”

“Just find that burning in the pit of your stomach.”

Apparently my new friend’s lunch agreed with him, so he left unconverted.

No, he was not identifying his first brush with Christianity, but this story might be eerily similar to many people’s understanding of Christians and their beliefs.

It raises many questions for us, one being: What is faith? Though we might not say that faith is a burning in the pit of our stomach, I suspect that many of us would turn to feeling-oriented language to describe it. Too often, we describe faith as a leap into the unknown. Leave your mind at the door and jump. Before you hit bottom you should feel something.

But faith is certainly not a leap into the unknown.

Faith is faith in

Faith is a transitive verb. It assumes a direct object. It is shorthand for faith in Jesus instead of faith in ourselves and our idols. Scripture is unfamiliar with a leap into the unknown. Instead, it reveals the object of our faith, and reveals him over and over. Faith does not leave our minds at the door, though it does leave our pride there. So instead of trying to muster up faith, we study Jesus, learn that he is worthy of our allegiance. Then, we lay down our pride (again and again) and trust in him alone (Rom. 10:17).

Faith is a way of seeing

Scripture is also fond of describing faith as the way to see God’s realities.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:18)

With the naked eye we can see the physical world, but faith—which comes by hearing the word of God—allows us to “see” the Creator of the physical world (Heb. 11:3). Faith allows us to see that Jesus is the Word, the Son of God, the Rescuer of the world.

One way to use this perspective on faith is to pray with another, “Lord, open our eyes. Help us to see what is really happening.” And then ask at the end of your time together, “What did we see?”

Another way to use this is to encourage others to live with their eyes closed. Let me explain. The world that is available to our physical senses can dominate our spiritual sight. Physical trials, fiscal uncertainty, the safety of those we love, the intrusion of hard pasts—this whirlwind can blind us to the spiritual realities that are deeper and longer lasting. So in a sense, we need to close our eyes to the circumstances of life, so we can open them to hope. It might happen like this:

“What do you see?”

“I see the rejection of my spouse.”

“Close your eyes, and keep looking. Look around with eyes of faith. Now what do you see?”

“I see the rejection of my spouse.”

“Okay, keep your eyes closed and look at the world through the lenses of Ephesians 1, now what do you see?”

“I see . . . nothing.”

“No problem, we just need help. Let’s pray, which, in itself, is an expression of how we see by faith.”

The important point is that you are closing your eyes—not as a form of denial—but as a way to see more.

Back to the story, my friend became cynical toward his friend’s beliefs, but he was still a seeker. Soon after he graduated from high school, a co-worker gave him Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. On the very first page he began to “see.” After taking the next eight hours to read through the book, he knew he wanted to follow Jesus, though he didn’t know what that meant, and he did not know one other Christian he could ask. But when the Spirit is on the move, he doesn’t point us toward Jesus and leave us on our own. When he went to college, he met a Christian on the first day who introduced him to a larger group of Christians and a fine church. Today he is a pastor with a soft spot for college students.

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