Faith and Reason: What is the Biblical Concept of faith?

Faith and Reason: What is the Biblical Concept of Faith?

So, what is meant when someone says that faith and reason are opposed to each other? I think that ordinarily one has in mind the concept of faith as “blind faith,” a sort of stepping out into the dark, that of shutting off one’s brain – the exact opposite of reason. But the Biblical concept of faith does not lend itself so easily to such dichotomies. To begin with, faith, Biblically speaking, is not merely belief, or trust, or leaping into the dark of the unknown. Well then, what is it?

The best route for describing faith in such a short article may be to just throw it out there and then try to explain as much as possible. Here it is: Faith is a life lived, not an idea thought.

Faith is not a mental assent to a list of divine propositions, propositions that cannot be “proven” through empirical study. Though it includes a Creed and a doctrine and a written text, it is not simply an exercise of the mind. If it were more people would be baptized in libraries than in churches; if it were then the ancient Gnostics had it right long ago (and the apostles were wrong to resist them). Of course, there are different meanings and contexts for faith within the pages of the Bible. But the faith that engenders being “known” by God (Matt 7:23) – being “born from above” (Jn 3:3) – is the faith this article is concerned with.

This kind of faith involves the whole being of a person – heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30). It is not only mind, not only strength, but a synthesis of the whole person.

Hearing faith linked with any sort of outward expression is often met with shouts of “Salvation by works, salvation by works,” from ‘Broadway’ Christians. They are those who believe that the gate is broad and the way easy which leads to everlasting life. So easy in fact that it is only a hand raise and a prayer away (performed with ‘heads bowed and eyes closed’ of course, so that nobody is embarrassed while coming to the Lord).

But what was the actual message Jesus taught concerning salvation-type faith? A wonderful place to start is in the seventh chapter of Matthew. It is a lineup of some of the best known passages of Scripture condensed in 10 verses. If one begins at verse 14 and ends at verse 24, a fuller understanding of Biblical faith may be gained than possibly years of waiting for it in a church pew (depending on the church pew, of course).

Who enters the kingdom of God? Those who pass through the narrow gate and the “hard” way. How can you recognize authentic children of God? Study their “fruit” (their life). Who does Christ know? Those who “do” the will of His Father. Whose life will God liken to a house built on the rock? Those who “hear” and “do” His sayings.

Of course, there is always an interpretation of scripture which will seem to teach that belief alone is the pivotal issue for faith. But I contend that in every such instance the Biblical authors do not have in mind the separation of believing from doing (or put another way: believing from being) In all such instances they press their readers to involve their ‘whole person.’ Paul insists that, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom 8:9). But having the Spirit, according to Paul, is never divorced from one’s life “lived.” In Galatians 5 he said, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…But the fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,…kindness, goodness,” etc (v.18, 22). The Spirit reveals His presence through the fruits of one’s life. If the fruits of God’s Spirit are not found in the believer, then God’s Spirit is not there.

The matter of faith vs. works is a common one among Christians, and often involves the use of two statements that appear to be a major contradiction: James’ famous statement that “faith without works is dead” ( Ja 2:20), and Paul’s famous statement that, “you have been saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8,9). These indeed seem to contradict. However, a close reading of the scripture denies any such contradiction if one understands that faith involves one’s whole being. James says “show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works” (Ja 2:18). James believed in a faith that involved the whole person. Paul says nearly the identical thing when he challenges the believers at Corinth to “Examine” and “test” themselves to see if they were in the faith. A definite sign of “disqualification” was a life void of the influence of Christ (2 Cor 13:5).

In summary, any attempt to divorce faith from one’s active life is to nullify the Biblical concept of faith, and (no surprise) causes one to see contradiction in Holy Writ. Still more, it can convince one that living the gospel is of no consequence in one’s relationship with God, that it is only important to “think” Christian thoughts. And in the issue of faith vs. reason, a faith that is divorced from one’s existential reality leaves the concept of faith as nothing more than self imposed blindness in the face of brute facts. In short, there is a faith which one can impose on oneself – something like, trust in the unseen. And there is a faith that comes only by a supernatural infusion of God’s Spirit with that of a believer. The latter form is that which marks Biblical, salvation-type faith.


9 thoughts on “Faith and Reason: What is the Biblical Concept of faith?

  1. Perhaps Christians today would benefit from reading fewer devotionals and more lives of the saints.

  2. I like that. “Faith is a live lived, not an idea thought.”

    This is very similar to my view of religion – vs – relationship. Religion gives you a list of do’s and don’ts, laws and rules. But with relationship you don’t need that list, because when you love Someone you are going to do your best to show it through your words and actions.

  3. So, I just wondered about something concerning what you wrote [I read all three articles and i am very impressed].

    There is one act of faith I don’t see as often, or as broadly, as…say, doing a mission trip or helping an elderly neighbor, etc.

    I saw a lot of really “good people” when I went to church. I wasn’t one of them, hence church is very painful for me. I saw good people, acting on their faith.

    What I didn’t see was people at the end of their own ability to manage their lives…people who were surrendered–not in the sophisticated sense, but surrendered in the “I’ve been beat. I can no longer pretend to be able to run things anymore. Help me, please” sense.

    Why is it so hard for some people to be good, while with others it seems to come naturally?

    Also, I struggle, with belief, period. I believe, but there is a part of me [which pesters me while I’m ‘believing’] which has listened to my agnostic friends, and pondered, “what if they are right? What if I am hoping for something that is not real?”

    What causes us to be skeptical, anyway? Is it our reason?

    I’ve pretty much given up on being good and I’m at the door of Christ, presently. I’m just horrified to knock. I’ve been “saved” [plenty of times, mind you], I’ve been “religious,” I’ve been to Bible College…

    But I am not like the others. I just can’t “be good.” I’m as drunk with self as an alcoholic is with his liquor!

    Anyway, I just wanted you to know your series really makes one think. I also wanted to know your thoughts on these things.

    Are we all as much in need of rescue as me? if so, why does everyone at church “seem” so much more spiritual and wholesome and “good?”


  4. Hey Kate,

    Wow, the honesty with which you write is breathtaking. I’ll try to answer as best I can your direct questions.

    “Why is it so hard for some people to be good, while with others it seems to come naturally?”

    According to Christ there is only One who is good. It is hard – impossible – for any of us to be good in the ultimate sense, the only sense that matters since it is of eternal significance. If you mean something like, “why is it easy for one person to avoid alcohol while the other can’t resist it no matter what she does?” then I feel you’re pain. It is hard to see some who have a natural disposition to avoid those things that trip me up. However, that they avoid a particular sin and I don’t is altogether beside the point. Jesus came to call the sick and the dying to Himself. If you’re struggling to be “good” then you’re the type that Christ calls (this of course puts us all in the same category).

    “What causes us to be skeptical, anyway? Is it our reason?”

    I like what Thomas Merton (sort of a Catholic mystic author) said, I paraphrase: “faith is the result of a journey begun and entangled with doubt and struggle.” Skepticism is not something that I would attempt to destroy, but rather harness into my slave. Skepticism keeps me always asking the how’s and why’s which is important for a well rounded faith. As Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There is healthy skepticism and unhealthy skepticism, I should point out. The healthy kind is the kind that is honest in its pursuit of truth. Too often pop-agnosticism and atheism is reduced to simply winning an argument with those “stupid religious right-wingers,” or whatever. One needs to care about “winning” the truth and not winning arguments to be a healthy skeptic.

    “Are we all as much in need of rescue as me? if so, why does everyone at church “seem” so much more spiritual and wholesome and “good?””

    To the first part: yes. To the second, its not about who gets first place in the “spiritual” contest. We’re all in last place unless we come to Christ. I always try to see everyone the way God sees them: fallen and corrupt, yet bearers of my Lord’s image and therefore worthy of every bit of my love and compasion. If Christ loved you so much that He died for you then I am at war with Him if I don’t also make you first place in my heart and mind. You must not see some as God’s “special” kids and others as His redheaded step child. Let Him decide who is right with Him and who isn’t. As Scripture says: comparing yourselves with one another is not wise.

    Great to “meet” you Kate. Hope to talk with you again. God bless.

  5. Very true Brittaney. I would only add that the “do’s and don’ts” of religion express God’s ethical demand on believers as a whole, whereas the love relationship God has with a particular believer relates to God’s “absolute” demand on that particular believer.

    Taking the example of marriage: sexual fidelity is a basic ethical demand of marriage on both husband and wife. However, one can be sexually honorable in their marriage without loving their spouse. Love relates to the actual person(s) involved in the relationship, and is not possible to group in some universal category – its different for everyone.

    God calls us to both – the ethical demand and the absolute demand.

    The tricky part comes when the ethical demand and the absolute demand come into conflict, like when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son (absolute demand) even though murder is not condoned by God (ethical demand). But I’ll leave it at that or this post will be a novel.

    Thanks for the comment Brittaney!

  6. my grandma once told me it doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong…it only matters what s right.Very good response to Kate question. Sometimes we see people that look like they have no problems being good but sometimes that just means they are dealing with things inside. We all have work to do which might take time but it that process of being coming that smooth polished stone all starts with that faith in Christ. I always like to think of Faith as a verb. Something we constantly need to be working and growing. Anyhow thanks again i enjoyed.

  7. Haha, now there is an ethically driven grandma. Sounds like she got her education from experience:) That WWII generation went through some incredible tests of fortitude. They dealt with things like mass destruction, economic meltdown, and death on every side. Today we have to deal with iphones that can’t scan the internet fast enough.

    Faith is a verb. I like that.

    Cheers, Danny

  8. Hey, I love all the responses to your post, and I am humbled by your detailed response to my post to it:)

    I think I have anxiety issues when it comes to my relationship with God. I need to stop trying to be in control and just surrender my life and my will to him. That takes balls. It is easy to say, “I surrender my will and my life to you, God.” It is an altogether other “adventure” when I actually do this!

    God doesn’t do things as I would, nor is he ever as urgent and hurrisome as I am prone to being. He is intolerably patient and slow in his grants and permissions. And He is soooo thorough…

    Hands down, though… I’ve got to say. The life of faith is full of adventure and contributes to the feeling of being very, very ALIVE…that’s for sure.

    When I balk at faith, my life seems so “thin and tinny,” to quote CS Lewis.

    I love you guys thinking—and Eric, I’ll keep reading if you keep posting:)


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