Would you allow a teenager to perform brain surgery on you? Would you get in a stranger’s van while in a dark alley in New York? Do you send money to Nigerians who promise you commission if you give them your credit card information over email? Why not? You’re a Christian, right? Don’t you have faith?
I know what you’re thinking. Sure I have faith, but I’m not stupid. My faith is not...blind. That’s the way the culture understands the term, though. “The faithful” or “those who have faith” is code-speak for people who believe things that are contrary to reason. You use faith to muscle up belief in something that lacks evidence (or when the evidence is against it).
Atheism’s hero, Richard Dawkins, defines it the same way. He writes, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”*
Strangely, that’s also how many believers understand faith. It’s tantamount to hope, confidence, or wishful thinking. Faith and reason are opposite, it’s thought. The more reasons you have, the less room there is for faith.
But this definition is foreign to the Bible. The Greek word for faith, pistis, is derived from the verb pisteuo, which means “to convince by argument.” Hebrews 11:1 explains that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations replace “conviction” with “evidence.” Faith, then, is being convinced that the things we can’t see (e.g. God, heaven, the resurrection, etc.) are real.
The word “faith” is so often misunderstood that I avoid using it in most conversations. I use a different word in its place: trust. This better characterizes the Bible’s use of faith, but is free of the misleading baggage.
Biblical faith, then, is not blind, but functions the same way as trust. You don’t blindly trust people. They have to earn it. You put your trust in people you have good reason to trust.
Biblical faith is also not contrary to reason. It’s consistent with reason. You put your trust (faith) in what you have good reason to believe is true.
That’s not only my assessment. It’s God’s understanding as well. He routinely reminds the Israelites why they can trust Him (put their faith in Him). God is the One who delivered them from slavery. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). This is repeated over and over and over (Exod. 13:3, 13:14, 33:1, Lev. 25:38, Deut. 5:6, 6:12, etc.). That’s why the Jews can trust—put their faith in—God.
Jesus also operated with this understanding of faith. John wrote 21 chapters about Jesus in his Gospel, much of it records supernatural works. Why? He explains, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). In other words, you can trust Christ because His miraculous works are a testament to His claims and credibility.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is when a paralytic is lowered through the roof of a house (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Realizing the Pharisees believe only God can forgive sins, Jesus asks, “Which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, ’Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ’Get up, take your mat and walk’?” That’s a rhetorical question. It’s obviously easier to tell a man his sins are forgiven because no one can disprove your claim. It’s a supernatural act hidden from human eyes. Jesus continues: “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So, he tells the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”
Notice Jesus’ point. In order to prove He has the ability to do something in the unseen, spiritual realm (forgive sins), he performs a miracle in the visible, physical realm (make a paralytic walk). He doesn’t expect people to believe Him just because He says so. Rather, Jesus gives people a powerful reason to trust (put their faith in) His claim to forgive sins.
Faith, though, is not merely static trust. It also leads to action. It’s a willingness to act because you’re convinced of the truth. You trust the airline pilot, so you get on the plane. You trust your doctor, so you go under the knife. You trust your bank, so you put your money there. Your trust leads to action.
In the same way, faith in God is also trust that leads to action. That’s why James said faith without works (action) is dead (James 2:17). Our faith in God should result in behavior that demonstrates our trust in Him. Hebrews 11 goes to great lengths to describe the faith of those who trusted God. Their faith led to incredible action. Noah trusted God, and so he built the ark (Heb. 11:7). Abraham trusted God, so he offered Isaac as a sacrifice (Heb. 11:13). Moses trusted God, and so he led his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea (Heb. 11:24-29). Faith is not just an attitude of trust. It entails action.
The good news about faith is that God honors even the smallest amount. When I fly around the country, I see both seasoned travelers and first-time fliers. The businessmen are relaxed, almost bored, at the thought of flying 500 mph at nearly 40,000 feet above the earth. The grandma on her first flight, however, grips her armrest like her life depends on it. Although the seasoned traveler has more trust (faith) in the airplane, both passengers safely arrive at the destination and at the same time. Their outcome is the same, regardless of how large or little their faith in flying.
In the same way, Christians have different levels of faith. Some trust Him a little, while others trust Him a lot. God doesn’t discriminate, though. He accepts everyone who puts their trust in Him, regardless of the amount.
That’s why apologetics (defending the faith) is so vital. It helps people see why they can trust Jesus: He’s trustworthy. Apologetics isn’t an end in itself. It’s a means to an end. It’s the tool that either eliminates objections to faith or establishes reasons for people to put their trust—their faith—in Christ.
* Richard Dawkins, Lecture from ’The Nullifidian’ (Dec 94), http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/89, current as of 2/15/14