Everything depends on faith.
If faith means confidence and trust, then walking, singing, kicking a football, driving a car all depend on faith, faith in our own abilities. Business and commerce depend upon it – people have to be taken on good faith until it be found otherwise. Interpersonal relationships would be impossible without trust or faith.
When it comes to the overall motivating force for our lives, the question we all need to face up to is not, shall I have faith, but in what or whom do I place my trust.
Faith v. Belief
To appreciate what is meant by faith in God we need to distinguish it from belief. The two words are often used interchangeably, and there is a close relationship between them. But there is a difference. Belief is something that you hold in your head; faith involves the emotions and the will as well as the intellect. It is a commitment, confidence, an act of trust. Faith includes an element of belief but it goes beyond that.
In the Bible, Abraham is taken as the great example of faith. It is his faith that is emphasized, not his beliefs. He went beyond believing in God; he lived by faith in God. He trusted God and showed that by what he did.
Faith Only Becomes Real in Action
Faith is never real until it translates into daily life. Abraham would not have been the great example of faith if he had not packed up all his goods and moved out into unknown territory in response to God’s call. Clearly the Gospel calls us to place our faith in Jesus the Christ. But that is not just something done in an evangelistic meeting, or even in the quietness of one’s own room. It is done in the hurly-burly of everyday life. No matter what you believe about Jesus, what is really important is how your commitment and confidence in him play out in the events of everyday life, especially when he seems to be going the wrong way as far as popular opinion goes.
The people around Jesus during his life expected a powerful and glorious Messiah, but Jesus was not swept along by that popular belief, he warned them that God’s anointed one must rather undergo great suffering and be rejected. That was not what his disciples wanted to hear. They wanted a comfortable, self-satisfying Christ. But that’s not what Jesus offered. In fact he warned those who felt drawn to him that placing their faith in him meant denying themselves and taking up their cross. Faith in Jesus will sometimes involve paddling against the stream, being the odd one out.
Don’t Confuse Belief with Faith
Belief is expressed in beliefs, words, propositions, and statements; in dogma and doctrine; in catechism and creeds. Harvey Cox, in his 2009 book, The Future of Faith, says that all religions are today, in the 21st century, realizing, as did the Christians in the earliest centuries of the Christian era, the relative importance of faith over belief. He says that, in the course of history, faith in God’s reign of justice and peace curdled into a top-heavy edifice defined by obligatory beliefs enforced by hierarchy. Faith never died out, but the official pronouncements placed the emphasis on right beliefs. This had the effect of excommunicating people whose opinions differed from the official line. Faith unites, whereas beliefs tend to divide.
We can hold different opinions on such subjects as the virgin birth or the empty tomb, but still share a common faith in God as reflected in Jesus, and we need to allow for this diversity within the Christian church.
Salvation by Faith
Salvation by faith is a key theme in the Christian church, particularly within Protestantism. More correctly, it is salvation by the grace of God received through faith. But here we have seen the devastating results of confusing faith with belief. Faith, as confidence in, reliance upon, trust in, Christ, has all too often been supplanted by the need to believe certain prescribed doctrines, for example to give assent to a particular explanation as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. We are not saved by what we believe: we experience salvation as we live by faith in God depicted for us in Jesus and witnessed to by the creeds and statements of the church.