“The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17
“Abraham believed and it was counted to Him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3
“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Hebrews 1:6
“For by grace are you saved through faith…” Ephesians 2:8
If faith is so critical to our relationship with God, we have to ask, “what is it?” Is faith a process? Is it something we are given, or something we do? What is it’s relationship to works? And, can we miss the mark thinking we have faith when we may not?
As I have contemplated the idea of faith, I think faith includes at least these 3 components: understanding, assent and response.
1. Faith begins with understanding. Different levels of understanding are needed for different people, but understanding is vital. Abraham didn’t understand Christ, but he did understand God’s call on his life. As the gospel was presented in the New Testament, understanding the gospel itself was vital. To respond in faith, a person needs to understand something of Jesus and His work on the cross and the nature of His resurrection. The gospel message has many metaphors for the reality it creates. So the meaning of the gospel may be explained in many different ways. But the elements of the gospel: holiness, sin, the cross, the resurrection and new life have to be communicated and understood.
2. Faith demands assent. At some point an individual needs to agree with the understanding they’ve received. I might call this the beginning of “belief.” This agreement is necessary if one is going to have faith. In this I agree that the claims of Christ are true. I agree with the testimony of Scripture that the work of Christ is effective. I agree with the testimony of the church, that the call of Christ on my life is reasonable.
3. Faith also requires response. This is reflected in the call of Christ to “follow Me.” This is not a legalistic response of earning God’s favor. The response is an act of the will. It is the act of surrender, not performance. Repentance and obedience are both part of a faith-response.
If we are talking to someone about faith and they object. We may want to delve into why they haven’t moved to faith.
1. Some people have understanding issues. They just don’t know what the message and hope of Christ is. They don’t know the biblical story of sin and redemption. They need to be exposed to and informed of the truth.
2. Some people have assent issues. They know the story, but they haven’t yet affirmed it’s veracity. They may not be sure it’s true. Or, they may not yet be convinced that the gospel matters. In this case, if they are open, we can work at connecting them with others who have wrestled with the same issues.
3. Some people simply have response issues. They know the facts. And they believe them, but they haven’t yielded for one reason or another. For some, it is because of fear. “I’m afraid of what God will want from me.” is something that has been expressed to me several times. For some, it is the desire to hold onto control of their own lives.
We can also use these categories to assess the growth of our own faith. Growing faith means growing in our understanding, in our assent and in our response. If you consider the next step of faith you should have, what is your issue? Is there something you don’t understand? Is there something you haven’t yet agreed with? Is there something you haven’t yielded?