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.