•••by Russell Young
What is faith? It is well worth the believer’s time and effort to come to some understanding of what “faith” really means. Because it is usually left undefined and unclear, people apply meaning according to their own imaginations. Strong’s Greek Dictionary identifies faith as “persuasion.” (#4102) This understanding gives a practical and realistic meaning to the term. From experience we can understand that the more one is persuaded about the truth of something, the greater his conviction to accept and honour that truth. A person’s persuasions about the spiritual world form his faith.
Faith is not something that just appears; it must be derived from some source. Children develop faith, or not, in their parents to protect and provide for them depending on their experiences. They tend to idolize their parents and take on their convictions/persuasions as their own; it is from their parents that a child’s faith journey takes root. Because of the nature of the relationship of a child to a parent Jesus said that you must have the faith of a child- in this case Christ is to the object of one’s faith. Faith in a parent’s convictions may not last, however. As children mature they begin to see the world in a broader perspective and note the weaknesses in their parents and set their own.
However it is done, the starting point to spiritual faith in God comes with the recognition that God exists. Although the truth of God’s existence is very clear to the believer, it should not be accepted that children accept His reality as fact. They may continue to voice faith in His presence while harbouring doubt in their minds. When full conviction of God’s reality exists, the new believer must learn of his nature and of his expectations. These also form his spiritual faith. It is not unusual even for adults to harbour great doubt about God’s nature and yet play along with the understandings of others-comfort can be found in the uniform persuasions of many. Those who truly have faith will demonstrate it through commitment to honouring God in all aspects of their being- especially in their practices. The writer of Hebrews has made it clear that belief is revealed through obedience. “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (3:18-19) True faith is revealed more in the believer’s behaviours that in his pronouncements.
Spiritual faith is personal and must be built if it is to have any value and strength. Jehovah led the Israelites out of Egypt and took them on a circuitous route to build and to test their faith. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:17, NIV) The LORD was aware of the faith reality of the Israelites and introduced circumstances to improve it. As the Egyptian army chased them, he led them into a very vulnerable situation, then through Moses commanded them to turn, face their pursuers, and to watch. Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV) From this experience they came to learn some things about their God and, at least for the moment, their faith grew.
Building faith in God is not easy and those who would like the pleasant, easy Christian experience will never enjoy strong faith nor the comfort that comes through it. The believer must first recognize his own inability to resolve issues and learn to rely fully upon God. It is human nature for people to want to maintain control of their lives, but faith-building requires the opposite-weakness, humility, and dependence upon the graciousness of God. As God proves His faithfulness, the believer’s faith increases.
Peter stated that trials build faith. “Now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV) The faith-building process can be painful.
The affluence of North America has eroded faith in God. An abundance of personal resources –talent, finances, education, and family support — is highly valued. Often once these resources are assured the development of faith is engaged. The greater the believer’s resources, however, the more difficult it is for him to become vulnerable so that his faith can be strengthened. Unfortunately, those in the body who do not have talents, wealth, education, or a strong family are often less valued even though these are the children that are most apt to honour the Lord through the exercise of humility and dependence-faith in Him. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31, NIV)
James wrote: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4, NIV) Faith is built on the evidences and appreciation of God’s love and the manifestation of His work in one’s life. It is built on weakness and an appreciation of one’s helplessness.