How Do You Define Faith?

Define Faith

Today I was asked, “How do you define faith?”

I’m not sure you can. Isn’t it a little like trying to define God? Whatever you say about God is either wrong or woefully insufficient. Which is why, even when the New Testament writer says, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) he is both right and wrong, or limiting, at one and the same time.

Don’t think so?
Think again…

Define Faith
Define Faith

The Greek New Testament knows three words for “love,” as in eros or erotic love, adelphos or brotherly love, and agape or the love of God.

In the English language, however, we do not have but one word for “love,” which further complicates things when it comes to defining it. But even the more precise Greek isnt enough. So, every New Testament writer who speaks of God’s love goes on to try and describe it.

Define Faith: But Faith Cannot be Defined!

The same limiting nature of language would apply to the word “faith.” You cannot define faith. Those who do quickly turn “faith” as trust into “faith” as truth-statements…

Which then become “beliefs”…
That then become “creeds”…
That then become “doctrines”…
That then become tests for “orthodoxy”…
That then become standards for determining who is “right” and who is “wrong”…
That then becomes who is “in” (one of us?) and who is “out” (one of “them”?)…

Or, the description of much of “Christianity” as many people have experienced it today, and for about the last few hundred years…
And, many more are leaving…and, in unprecedented numbers, in recent years.

Thom Rainer of LifeWay makes a woeful prediction, when recently he reflected on the widespread departure from the church resulting in unprecedented church closures. “I would not be surprised to see the number of closures reach eight to ten thousand.

Something must change…
But when, where, and how?
That is the question facing the Church today.

Define Faith: I Would Do So This Way…

Meanwhile, there are people who are seeking to live by faith and many of these beyond the traditional sacred walls. It is to these and for these I write. So, when it comes to the definition of “faith?” I’m comfortable saying the following…

1. It cannot be defined but only ever described and a good descriptive term is our word “trust.”

Faith as “trust” is tough. It’s much easier to believe in Jesus than to trust in Jesus. Trust is something you must practice doing…daily, sometimes several times a day. For me, it’s the hardest damn thing I know. To let go and let God is a practiced discipline and, any serious follower of Jesus, when honest, would readily admit is next to impossible. But we do it because…that’s what faith DOES. Consequently, I strive to be consciously aware whenever I’ve taken over the control of my life, and I do so continually, so that I might intentionally let go and let God yet again.

And, how do I know when I’ve stopped trusting and started trying on my own to control what cannot be controlled – which is just about everything?

For me, I catch myself imagining the things that might happen. Or, I worry about the things that have happened. It’s usually stuff that goes on almost continually in my head and I catch myself thinking worrisome thoughts or living trapped in memories of past happenings, some I regret, others I wish to change, and many I’d give anything to erase.

But don’t beat yourself up because this is what it means to be human. We have thousands of years of evolutionary madness. Our genes are hardwired to worry. To practice letting go and trusting God…trusting the way of Jesus, which is the way of love, and sacrifice, and service…this way is the way but it is a way Jesus described as “narrow and few find it,” (Matthew 7:14) even very religious churchgoers often do not find it.

Why? Because it’s easier to “believe the Bible” than to trust God. “It’s easier not to question things and call that faith…or, to gather in groups of likeminded and affirm ‘What We Believe’ and think that’s what Jesus meant by faith.

Nope, that’s what Jesus called “the broad way that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13) and he didn’t mean “hell” by this, except for the hellish life it creates for you and for the world.

The way of faith defies logic but it is the way of God.

2. The second thing I’d say in this awkward attempt to describe what cannot be defined is that faith, for me, is the honest admission: “There isn’t much about which I can be certain in this life.”

Define Faith: Faith is the Honest Admission “I don’t know…”

The reason I clung so tightly to all my church’s beliefs and did so for years – and the reason people do the same today – is because the thought of believing something that might not be true scared the hell out of me. I found it safer, although I would have labeled it “more faithful,” to say things like, “The Bible says it…I just believe it!” even if I couldn’t explain it.

It took me a long time to admit it but, when I did, I realized I wasn’t being faithful at all by mouthing that madness. In fact, I was actually being faith-less. I was practicing “less” faith or, you might say, “safe” faith, by telling myself “I just believe it” as a way of appearing even to myself as if I was “certain” about things I really could never be absolutely certain about at all.

And, neither can you. Which is why it all comes back to faith…

Faith as trust…and, trust is tough.

This is about all I can say.
But what I’ve said is enough…

I’m certain it’ll take you (and me) a lifetime to figure it out.

I’m certain of this.
I think.

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