Faith. What is it? How is it realized?

This passage gives us a definition of faith. It is a particularly abstract definition, as it had to be, given the nature of what is being defined. Faith. What is it? How is it realized? What are its effects on the believer? These are all powerful, difficult and very important questions for us to contemplate as Christian believers.

Paul begins to define faith by saying that it involves something called “certainty.” He uses two synonyms here, “sure,” and “certain.” The dictionary defines these two words quite similarly. To be sure, or certain, is to be “1. free from doubt as to the reliability, character, action, etc. of something. 2. confident, 3. convinced, 4. assured beyond question.” These definitions can, of course, be applied to our confidence in things, or in other human beings, but this does not go far enough to explain what Paul means by the word “faith.” For Paul, faith is something that is both personal and transcendent. It is a personal adherence to God, and a free assent to the truths that God has revealed. This differs dramatically from our faith in a human person, or in human ideas. There is an embarrassment of evidence to show that putting our whole faith in human beings, or in human philosophies alone, is both futile and dangerous to ourselves and to our fellow human beings. One need only think of the history of the 20th century to see that, but the evidence is rife throughout human history. But to put our faith in God and the truths he has revealed is not only right, but it is just, in the purest sense of that word. Only God’s truth can be perfectly right and just in all things, for only God’s word is the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Faith, like that which Paul is talking about here, is possible only through grace and the aid of the Holy Spirit within us. But, it is also true that believing is an authentically human act. It is a choice. It is an act of the free will. It is based on knowledge, but also on trust. The act of faith is not contrary to either human reason or human freedom. Faith in God does not destroy human reason, or human freedom, or human dignity. Indeed, it increases all of these things that God himself has given us. We are creatures of noble intelligence, made free in the image and likeness of God. To know the will of God is to come to know the wisdom of love. To submit freely to the wisdom of love and to freely live that wisdom in our public lives increases our human dignity. Indeed, it is the source of our respect for the intelligence, the freedom, and the human dignity of all those we know and encounter in our daily lives. We Christians can be “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” precisely because it has been revealed to us. Our hope for a relationship with God, for his mercy, his love, and his forgiveness, was made manifest in Christ Jesus. Our hoped for salvation has been delivered to us through Christ as well. We can say even more surely than the psalmist, that, “Even though [we] walk through the darkest valley, [we] will fear no evil, for [God is] with us.” (Psalm 23)

Faith, then, is the product of a relationship. It is the result of both a free gift from God and a free human assent to that gift. Without this relationship, faith cannot be certain. Our desire to know God is fueled by God’s divine gifts of faith and reason. To “seek” understanding, by its very nature, is an act of human freedom. As Paul tells us Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses lived by this faith and died in it. They did not personally come to “see” the eternal salvation from sin and death that had been promised, rather, they “saw it and greeted it from afar.” (Hebrews 11:13) But we who call ourselves Christians, have seen what was promised in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, we too must live in faith, just as the ancients did. For, like them, we still seek our “homeland,” that is, our heavenly one. We still live in the dark valley. We are still challenged by the temptations of this “Vanity Fair.” As believers we must continue to come to know the word and the wisdom of God more and more through our prayer, our study of the scriptures and our Sabbath worship. And, as an expression of our human freedom, we must continue to develop the habit of choosing, more and more often, to do the will of God, which is always good, always just, and always loving toward ourselves, our neighbors, and God.

Lord, we pray that you will give us the grace of humility so that we may continue to grow in our faith. Make us champions of your truth, your mercy, and your love in all that we think, say, and do. For, in faith, we seek to finally dwell with you in your heavenly home. In Jesus’ name we pray.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.