What is Faith?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith speaks of faith like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But does that mean that faith is blind? Is it being sure about something that we can know nothing about?

Surely not! The chapter ends be reminding us of what is evident throughout the chapter: faith is faith in God’s promises: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40). The “things hoped for” that believers are assured of, and the “things not seen” that believers are convicted of, are the promises God has made. This is not blind faith.

True faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust (called notitia, assensus, and fiducia by the Latin-lovers in theology).

Knowledge

There is particular knowledge that we must believe to have faith: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Resurrected Saviour of sinners. To have faith in Jesus is more than believing that there was a person called Jesus who existed. We have to hear the message of salvation and understand it (John 20:30-31 & Romans 10:9-14). Tedd Tripp writes, “We must know something of the One in whom we are to believe. It is not enough to merely be sincere.” We could be sincerely wrong.

Agreement

So faith must go further; we must agree that the knowledge we received is true.

If you stopped people at random as they walked along Bridge Street and asked them to tell you the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, probably most of them could: A little girl goes for a walk in the forest, finds a house, knocks, and goes in. On the table are three bowls of porridge. The first is too hot; the second is too cold; and the third is just right. She then tries the different chairs in the house, but breaks one; then she falls asleep in the last of the beds she tries. The bears come home and she runs away.

Different people may emphasise different parts of the story, but nearly everyone knows it. And they all know that it isn’t true. That is knowledge without agreement. For faith to be faith, there must be a conviction that the good news we know about Jesus is actually true.

Trust

If we heard someone agreeing that, ‘Yes, Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead to take away sin,’ we might think we’ve discovered someone with true faith. But remember James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” R.C. Sproul wrote, “Satan knows the truth, but he hates the truth. He is utterly disinclined to worship God because he has no love for God.” Knowing that the truth is true does not save.

There are personal (and often painful) examples for each of us. We think, ‘Why don’t they believe? They knew all the answers in Sunday School,’ or ‘We raised them to know the truth’. The difference is trust.

Trust is when, because the good news about Jesus is true, I depend on Jesus alone to do what He has promised to: to save me. And because there is this personal reliance, there will also be an affection for Jesus. We may know many things about salvation which are true, but unless the Holy Spirit changes the nature of our hearts, no amount of knowledge can save us. It is only when we know that the message of Christianity changes everything for us that we have true faith.

No one will be saved by believing, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, unless we add, “of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). So let us pray and speak so that we, our friends and family, our community and our world will know the truth, believe it is true, and depend on Jesus to save us.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

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