Digging Deeper -- What is “faith”?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter from prison, wrote:
“I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor … He said he would like to become a saint. At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said in effect that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didn’t realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like that … it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner … a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [repentance]; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian … How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this kind? … May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.”
Often we equate faith with intellectual assent, what we call “belief.” But the Greek word pisteuo (“believe”) carries a deep sense of commitment and action based on a conviction of the truth. So to believe in Jesus means to follow him in our actions – and it is this relationship of a follower to Jesus that the Bible calls “faith”!
Scripture and questions for reflection:
1. Often we make the mistake of equating “faith” with “belief” and by “belief” we mean simply “believing that something is true.” So we say, “I believe in God” meaning we believe God exists, and we consider that belief the same as “faith.” What does James 2:19 say about such belief?
2. One helpful definition of faith is “a relationship of trust.” When have you been most trusting in your relationship with God? When have you been least trusting? Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. What do these verses say about trusting God when things are difficult?
3. Throughout the Bible we see those who have faith taking action based on their trust in God. Romans 4:3 reminds us how Abraham believed God, and God counted him righteous because of that belief. Look at the story of Abraham and consider how often Abraham acted based on his belief. See for example Genesis 12:1-7; Genesis 17; Genesis 22. What kind of trust do you see in Abraham’s life? How can you take action today based on God’s commands to you?
4. In Mark 1:15, Jesus preaches his first sermon, which ends with a command to “repent, and believe in the good news.” In the next verses, we see what kind of response Jesus is looking for from those who believe in him. What do Simon, Andrew, James and John do in response to Jesus’ call? Would you say that they have faith in him? Would you say they have a “mature” faith?
Ephesians 4:11-16 describes what mature faith looks like. These verses say that Jesus gives leaders to his Church as a gift so that his people might do ministry, and eventually come to mature faith in Christ. Read and then re-read these verses. What do you notice in this description of God’s goals for his church? In your own life, how have you seen God’s Spirit moving you deeper? Where do you still need to grow in your faith?
6. A Roman soldier’s shield was designed specifically to protect, among other things, against flaming arrows. Paul says that the attacks of the devil are like flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:16), but that the shield of faith protects us from these attacks. The devil’s attacks are always based on lies and distortions of the truth (John 8:44). How can you come to better know the truth about God so that your trust in him is based on fact, not lies?
7. A Roman soldier’s shield was not designed for individual use, but rather for use in a line where each soldier locked his shield with the soldiers next to him. Go back to Ephesians 4:11-16 and consider why Paul uses plural words here – saints, us, we, children, etc. What does faith look like when it is plural? How can our faith together strengthen those who are having trouble trusting God?