Faith, Trust and Magic Dust: Part 1
Do you need 100% certainty to have faith in God?
Fairy tales often claim that all you have to do is believe and you can make anything come true. Unfortunately, that’s how some people understand the Christian view of faith. All you need is faith, apart from any evidence. But is that what the Bible says about faith?
The Biblical view of faith
Christians have typically understood faith to include two kinds of belief—belief in and belief that. We’ll see this more clearly as we look at the various ways in which the writers of the New Testament use the word “faith”.
1. Faith = trust
The basic meaning of faith is “trust”. In his letter to the Romans, Paul described Abraham’s faith as unwavering. Abraham’s faith was in a person. He was “fully persuaded” that God could and would do what he promised (Romans 4:20-21). He trusted God, knowing he is powerful enough to fulfill his promises and that his character is trustworthy to do what he says he will do.
2. Faith = assurance (despite not having 100% certainty)
The Bible also uses the word “faith” to mean assurance, conviction, or certainty that something is true, even though we can’t see it (Hebrews 11:1). But someone might object, "Doesn’t that mean you have faith without any evidence?". Not necessarily. Here’s why.
Suppose that I go to bed with the assurance that tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and there’ll be a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Now, I don’t know the future, but I can have confidence that tomorrow morning there will be a brewed pot of coffee in my kitchen! How? There are several reasons for thinking so:
- My coffee pot has not yet failed me
- I trust my wife who faithfully sets the coffee pot each night
- Every time she sets the coffee pot, it brews the coffee right at 5:00 am in the morning
Now, granted, I can’t have 100% certainty that I’ll have a brewed cup of coffee - for all I know, the electricity might go out due to an unsuspected storm. But - this is the important point - I don't need 100% certainty to be assured something is true. Just as I have good reasons to think that tomorrow morning I’ll have a freshly brewed cup of coffee, a person might have good reasons to think that God will fulfill his promises, even though he or she hasn’t yet seen them fulfilled. Those reasons are largely based on the evidence of what God has done in the past (we'll take a closer look at that in the next article).
3. Faith = a set of beliefs
The Bible also uses the word “faith” in at least two other ways. Jude, Jesus’ half-brother, calls on Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3). By “faith” Jude meant a set of beliefs or doctrines to which Christians hold. We might think of “faith” here as the central beliefs of Christian teaching.
4. Faith = proof
Lastly, in his speech to the people of Athens, Paul argued that the resurrection is the “proof” that Jesus will one day judge all men (Acts 17:31). Do you know what word Paul uses? Yep, the Greek word for “proof” is the exact same word used for “faith” in the Greek language (the language used to write the New Testament).
Belief in / Belief that
Having looked at the different ways in which the New Testament writers use the word "faith", we can now see more clearly the distinction, mentioned earlier, between belief in and belief that.
- Belief that has to do with the content of Christian faith e.g. believing that God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God. This is a sort of academic belief that these facts are true but it doesn't necessarily change your life.
- True faith also requires belief in, which is a personal trust and commitment to God. Your belief in Jesus means that you don't just acknowledge the facts about him, you follow him with your life. Both elements are necessary for the Biblical understanding of faith.
In the next article, we'll take a closer look at what the Bible has to say about "evidence".