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Faith is...

Faith is not like the simplistic illustrations we sometimes hear in sermons. It is not like sitting in a chair ("it's like sitting in a chair" some say, "you can believe it will hold you, but nothing happens till you sit down in it"). It is not like getting on an airplane ("faith is like flying - you may believe the jet can safely transport you, but nothing happens till you board the plane"). Those are cheesy illustrations that I used to hear a lot. Give me a break. Since when does sitting in a chair transform your life? Parking your rear in a chair is not a life-changing experience! Such illustrations cheapen faith. Thank God my church doesn't use such cheap illustrations.

In an apologetics discussion in a Bible study at an evangelical church years ago, I even heard faith being equated to intellectual belief, to mere acceptance of propositional claims of a religious nature, no different than accepting other intellectual facts. Such claims cheapen biblical faith.

We use 'faith' in different senses, namely, in terms of salvational faith, and daily faith of our spiritual walk and growth with God. The latter, the daily experiential faith, has to do with complete trust in God - emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. Complete reliance and dependence on him - again, being emotionally, spiritually, and mentally dependent on him.

Salvational faith (or saving or salvific) is similar, but bigger. It's more like this:

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Faith is like walking to the end of a bungee jumping tower - a permanent structure for bungee jumping - for your first-ever bungee jump. You walk to the end of the ramp, 45 meters above ground. As you look around, you're at eye level with the trees and hills, and looking down makes your stomach churn. The bungee operator connects the bungee cord to your harness. You stand at the edge. You look straight ahead at the scenery. You look down. You gulp. Your stomach feels queasy. The operator tells you to step off whenever you're ready. But do you? Do you trust that the bungee tower is safe enough? That the operator knows what he's doing? Most of all, do you trust the harness around your body, and the cord that your life depends on?

The right bungee cord is important. There are different cords for people of different weight categories. If you jump off, you will plummet and quickly reach maximum speed. At about five or ten meters above ground, your bungee should recoil, swiftly pulling you up. Then you'll bounce up and down a few times, and after you stop, as you hang in mid-air a few meters above the ground, someone on the ground will pull you down and unhook you.

But if you have the wrong kind of cord, things could be unpleasant. Even fatal. Too weak a cord, and you'll become a bouncy human pancake after hitting 45 meters below. Too strong a cord will also lead to an unpleasant experience. You have to be able to trust that you've been given the right cord and a good harness, that the tower structure is safe, that the operators are expert enough to guarantee your safety, and that no strong wind will come up and dash you into the tower structure as you're bouncing up and down. The whole thing requires complete trust, putting your life into someone else's hands. This isn't just parking your rear in a chair or in a plane seat. This is entrusting your very life to the bungee operators and equipment. Others may choose a riskier, temporary bungee set-up from a crane or bridge. Sometimes they die that way - because it's a cheap, temporary set-up from less skilled operators. You have to know you've got the right set-up, equipment, and operators. Otherwise, you take unnecessary risk.

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Jesus equated faith with following him to become his disciple. That means, in the language of his day, becoming a traveling apprentice of an itinerant rabbi, giving up everything to follow him - your home, family, comforts, sense of security, everything. You travel all the time with him to learn from him, his teaching and his lifestyle, and in turn learn to teach and minister to others.

The Old Testament talked about faith often in terms of covenant language and covenant theology - entering into a covenant relationship with God. You give up everything, you give him your life, and he owns you. And as in the OT, St. James talks about practical faith - "show me the money!" Biblical faith yields real results.

St. Paul developed the idea in more theological terms, of our faith saving us, by applying the cross of Christ to us, to cover and eliminate our sins, and to redeem us from death and judgment. So often evangelicals latch onto the Pauline doctrine of faith, but in the process, losing sight of the larger context of what faith is. Paul talked about legal and theological aspects of faith.

Our English word 'creed' comes from the Latin verb credo, the origin of which provides a good understanding of how the ancient words for 'faith' were understood in biblical times and the early church. The verb credo for "believe" comes from the Old Latin cor + do (infinitive dare 'to give', do 'I give'), meaning literally 'to give [one's] heart. Faith literally means giving your heart to something or someone. That's what biblical faith is. You give your heart and all of your being to God. Complete commitment. Not just belief in the modern sense, but total commitment. That aspect is often lacking from modern discussions of faith (and likewise, is missing from modern secular discussions of 'love').

Faith means commitment. It means giving God all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (or 'passion' or 'intensity' is also how the Hebrew word in Deut. 6 can be translated). It means God wants all of you.

It means giving up everything to enter into a covenant with God, entirely on his terms, not yours. It means giving up everything to commit your whole life to Christ. It means believing and trusting God with your whole being - emotion, mind, intellect - so that you can enter into the covenant relationship with God, and thereby accept and receive the forgiveness, rebirth, atonement, and propitiation of the cross of Christ.

That of course primarily describes saving faith. But it also applies to daily practical, experiential faith. Trusting God in your daily relationship with him means not only believing what he says, who he is, or what he will do. It means continuing to give up everything as you continue to follow him as his disciple. It means continuing to be fully committed to him and to giving him everything, giving yourself fully to him, as well as trusting him fully for everything.

That's what faith really is.

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