What does it mean to live by faith?
First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about in this post. There are two basic definitions of “faith” within the Christian church:
- “the faith” – the body of teachings
- faith: trust in God based in Jesus Christ
I’m writing about #2
Trust in God is not based on speculation. It is a consequence of a conclusion based on scripture and experience that we see God most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth.
In his Gospel account, John refers to the second person of the Trinity as the “Word.” This is a Greek word, logos, that indicates the word, thing, or matter of something else. It’s not surprising that the language gets a little convoluted when trying to talk about the nature of God since we don’t understand even the nature of the physical universe, life, or even our own selves.
Regardless, John asserts that the word — the essence of who God is — became flesh and blood in Jesus Christ:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14 (ESV)
John tells us that it is Jesus that makes God known to us:
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. — John 1:18 (ESV)
Note well that Jesus was full of “grace and truth” not “judgment and condemnation.” If you don’t think it’s good news that Jesus shows us what God is really like, you either a) have never looked into what Jesus was like or b) you don’t like Jesus.
Let’s think about what a life of faith looks like by thinking about what a life of faith is not. This is a valuable way to approach the topic of “faith” because several of the things I will mention are pathways to guilt or spiritual burden for people.
I would like people to feel set free from the weight of thinking they are not faithful when, in reality, they are simply human.
Here are 5 things that do not necessarily indicate a lack of faith:
1. The Opposite of Faith Is Not Necessarily Questioning or Doubt
Jesus didn’t jump down people’s throats for having honest questions. He engaged them.
Once he told a man named Nicodemus that he needed to be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus had, I think, a perfectly reasonable question:
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” — John 3:4 (ESV)
Jesus’ response was to continue the conversation with Nicodemus, not berate him down for lack of faith or tell him “you just gotta believe.”
Often, when we have questions and doubts, we are not questioning God but our understanding of God and how God works in and through us. Our understanding of God and God’s ways will never be complete. We can expect question and doubt!
2. The Opposite of Faith Is Not Necessarily Works
This is going to require a bit longer to tease out, so stay with me. It’s very important.
First, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are right with God simply by trusting in his mercy rather than by being a good enough person or working hard enough at doing the right thing.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. — Romans 3:28 (ESV)
This is how the notion may have arisen that the opposite of faith is works. This is true in a certain sense: if you are thinking about how to get right with God, then working your way toward God is the opposite of trusting God in faith.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. — Galatians 2:16 (ESV)
When Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia who were starting to think about good works in the wrong way, he calls them back to the point at which they experienced peace with God:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? — Galatians 3:2 (ESV)
Paul later tells those same readers that supposedly “religious” works don’t count for anything. But then he drops a little hint that though we are not right with God by what we do, what we choose to do is important:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. — Galatians 5:6 (ESV)
The foundation of faith is God’s love, shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But the grace and truth that Jesus brings are meant to affect us. As the grace and truth of Jesus have their way with us, they will affect the way we treat other people and act within our communities.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, — Hebrews 6:1 (ESV)
James tackles this distinction by simply saying that our good works are the natural outflow of our faith.
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; — James 2:22 (ESV)
One cannot legitimately claim to trust someone but not do what the person he trusts tells him to do. That’s not really faith:
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. — James 2:26 (ESV)
So, if your faith is not compelling you to act in love, you might want to reflect upon what you really believe about God, Jesus and yourself.
3. The Opposite of Faith Is Not Necessarily Certainty
In one sense, faith is like certainty. It is a conviction about what a person believes to be true.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
But faith necessarily includes a lack of certainty. Faith fully admits that there is much we don’t know.
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” — 1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV)
You can end up in a pretty bad place personally if you think you should have certainty about things we clearly don’t and can’t know about.
4. The Opposite of Faith Is Not Necessarily Reason
Reason operates within the framework of knowledge and observation We acknowledge that within the Christian frame of reference, we expect some thoughts to be beyond our reason. It would be unreasonable to think that all thoughts about God would be reasonable. 🙂
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. — 1 Corinthians 13:11–12 (ESV)
But that does not excuse us from using our reason to the best of our ability to live out our faith. Evidently, some in Rome had come to the conclusion that they should not celebrate special holidays while others believed that holidays are important. Paul doesn’t give a definitive answer. He simply tells them that each needs to think about it seriously and come to reasonable conclusions:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. — Romans 14:5 (ESV)
5. The Opposite of Faith Is Not Necessarily Fear
Jesus connected fear to lack of faith:
He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” — Mark 4:40 (ESV)
He regularly encouraged his followers not to fear because their lives were completely in the hands of the Father:
Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. — Luke 12:7 (ESV)
But fear is a normal human emotion. While it may not be exactly like the fear we experience, even Jesus experienced some sort of dread at his impending crucifixion when he asked the Father to take that from him if possible.
The bigger point — and here I think we are getting to understanding “faith” a little bit — is that Jesus did not shy away from the Father’s call on his life. Even if he felt fear, he faced into the fear because of his trust in the Father rather than turning away and running from the situation. Faith doesn’t eliminate fear, but it does give us the courage to face our fears.
So, while it’s a little bit of a dodge to define a word with that word, I’m going to have to say that at the basic level:
The opposite of faith is distrust.
The Christian’s trust in God is not blind. It is based in the belief that God’s nature is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christian faith is based in the belief that rather than being full of rules and judgment, God is full of grace and truth.
For the Christian, the opposite of faith could show up in:
- The unwillingness to publicly acknowledge the faith you hold privately might be a sign that you aren’t really trusting God as revealed in Jesus Christ. I offer this as a point of self-reflection not condemnation and judgment. Christians are called to be merciful to those who doubt (Jude 1:22). But it would not be kind to you to avoid a difficult truth that you may need to face before you can enter into a more joyful and peace-filled Christian life.
- This word, of course, simply means lack of faithfulness. We typically use “infidelity” in the context of marriage, that someone is “playing the field,” rather than sticking with his spouse. Likewise, you may need to reflect on what you believe if you find yourself looking to Jesus and others instead of Christ alone for your identity, security, purpose and meaning. Psalm 62:1-2 tells us, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
- Again, I am not offering this Bible verse for judgment, but for reflection. I ran across it a while ago and it stuck with me: Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” I’m thinking that “cowardly” in this sense refers to fearing the opinions of and consequences meted out by people more than God. This is worth thinking about.
So, to live by faith is to live trusting in God, loyal to Jesus Christ. It begins with relating t0 God based on mercy and love rather than works. And it finds its completion in Jesus’ followers doing their best to reflect Jesus in their thoughts, words, and actions.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:31–32 (ESV)
Points to Ponder
- For which of the “not necessarily the opposite of faith” points do you needlessly judge yourself?
- Which of the “not necessarily the opposite of faith” points might indicate an area of faith growth for you?
- What is one habit you can add or remove from your life that might encourage greater faith?
CLICK HERE to download a PDF with six days of short Bible readings and thoughts for reflection on the idea of living by faith.
Grace and peace to you!