"Uniting Christian & Jewish Clergy from Around the World"
The most difficult word, in Christian vocabulary, to understand is faith. Many try to define it or conceptualize it and yet the explanation of faith to a non-believer is often unclear. Perhaps our Christian experience leads to some of the difficulty; perhaps not really understanding the concept hinders us. Is faith an intellectual assent? Or is it a passive condition brought about by affiliation with a church and/or a church ritual?
Our insight into this topic may be helped by looking at the Scripture as found in the Gospel of John. For it is here that faith stares us in the face and says seize the wonderment brought about by the re-birth.
In John we find that faith, a noun, is not found in that form. The Gospel is very clear that faith is a verb and must be seen as action, continuing action on the part of the follower of Christ. “But to all who received him, who are believing in his name, he gave power to become children of God being born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.” Jn.1:12-13. The verses of John are filled with the stipulation that the child of God must be engaged in actively believing and letting this believing govern their life.
The process of salvation is spelled out in actions. There is the recognition of being a sinner who displeases God and faces judgment. Then we find the action of true repentance, turning from sin and beginning to live for God. We then receive the person of the Living Christ who begins the journey through life with us.
James writes that we show our faith by our works. Sometimes we forget very important lesson. It does not mean that we become religious fanatics but rather that each moment of our daily life is punctuated by the beliefs that we have in Jesus Christ. True religion is to feed the hungry, comfort the sick and mourning, share the encouragement and hope that is in Jesus Christ. (So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Ja. 2:17) James uses the example of Abraham who by faith left his home for a place he had never seen; led Isaac to the mountaintop where he prepared to sacrifice the lad; pleaded for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and believed the promises that were given to him. James sums it up by writing, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” Ja. 2:26
Paul is equally specific when he writes, “For it is not hearers of the word who are righteous before God, but doers of the law who will be justified.” Rom 2:13 Jesus also sends the message in saying, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt 5:21
It is unfortunate that Christendom has reduced the message of the Gospel into a sterile piety that teaches holiness through rite and ritual without the demands for action that he Gospel requires. The Ten Commandments are based upon doing that which is pleasing to God. The “Thou shalt not’s” are really calls to stir the true believer to action in following the positive action of “Thou shalt”. Scripture does not allow for less than action as the result of believing.
Faith is then the act of believing. In believing we develop the confidence of knowing God’s unique plan for our salvation; becoming followers of Jesus Christ; bringing the message of this salvation by word and deed into a world that is moving in a direction away from the map of God’s Love; and serving the interests of humankind.
It is through our believing that we shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven. You cannot enter without moving forward towards the gate and through it.