Our current sermon series at Faith Church is in the New Testament Book of James. A big concern of this letter, written by the half-brother of Jesus, is the nature of true faith; he wants to make sure Christians don’t have “divided faith” or “dead faith” but true faith. In light of that focus on faith, this week’s blog post is a guest post by my Faith Church colleague Andy Schultz that addresses the meaning of faith and also how we cultivate and pass along this faith to others.
What is faith? This is an important question to ask because the definition of faith will determine how we grow spiritually as individuals and help others in their faith formation. We read in Hebrews that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) as “what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). There is an element of trust in faith. We have to trust, in some cases blindly, that what is written in Scripture is true. Is it possible that we falsely believe that by simply closing our eyes and participating in Christian activity we will develop this faith? What if faith isn’t blind at all?
In his book Faith Formation in a Secular Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), Andrew Root points out that the definition of faith has been adapted over the centuries and specifically, recent decades, to essentially become a statistic. Root says, “We’ve allowed sociologists . . . to constitute the shape and temperature of faith itself–as if faith has no transcendent quality” (148). As a result, faith has become a statistic for religious participation: church membership and adhering to a baseline set of beliefs about God, Jesus, and salvation through Christ. Without a life-changing experience to shape your belief, this version of faith becomes simply an exercise in willingness to participate.
But consider this: a transformational moment happened for the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. A heavenly light suddenly blinds Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Christians, which is an encounter with Jesus. Eventually he regains sight, and the man who once sought to kill those that professed Christ now “proclaims Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20). What a spectacular conversion!
In Paul’s story there are two key elements that make it amazing: death to the old self and new life in Christ. Where does our faith come from? Something has to die in us to experience that new birth, and death is often our former selves. We were wrapped in our own sin, but now we step into a new life in Christ. There is faith that God is the author of an amazing story – which is your story to tell to glorify the name of Jesus!
Root claims that faith formation must include telling these stories of death and life. He clarifies, “faith is the real presence of Jesus coming to our person as minister” (207-208). It is experiencing Jesus through others that we can participate in a transcendent encounter within the horizontal nature of our society. We can adopt a “humble desire to make sense of the profoundly full experiences of being ministered to and ministering to others” (210). In doing so, we share our death and life experiences with others so that they may also encounter a transcendent God, through Christ Jesus, breaking up the pattern of sin and experiencing new life. That’s a faith formation that gives direction.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The reward is new life, and it is a story worth sharing over and over again.
Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.