By Anne Backer
Faith. A word tossed around so frequently in the Christian world that it loses its significance over time. Faith is both complex and simple, and so the meaning can also be lost on us. If you have been a Christian for a long time, it’s easy to gloss over the word in Scripture. It’s one you’ve seen a thousand times before, and your brain doesn’t pause anymore to revel in its meaning. Or, if you are a new Christian, it’s a word you’ve started hearing in sermons and city group discussions. You keep spotting it in the New Testament, and you wonder how important it is to understand.
Martin Luther considered faith important enough to warrant an entire reformation movement. Biblical authors tackled the issue of faith repeatedly in the books of Romans, Hebrews, and James to help Christians gain clarity. The concept of sola fide, or faith alone, is pivotal for a Christian to understand; therefore, let’s hit pause on our busy day and examine what faith is in the context of Christianity and why it matters.
What Is Faith?
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I asked my seven-year-old what he thinks is the definition of faith and after a pause, he reported: “believing.” Faith is both simple and complex. The simplicity of faith is that it is believing, just that. But biblical faith is not a flimsy hope in something that may or may not happen. Hebrews uses the words ‘assurance’ and ‘conviction’ in its definition of faith. In other words, biblical faith is being certain of God’s promises.
I can have faith in my son’s ability to cook dinner for our family tonight. Being seven, he will try with all his heart to throw a meal together, and I know that he has good intentions. I have faith in his intentions, but not necessarily the end result.
You can have faith that your boyfriend or girlfriend will not hurt or betray you. They may give you reasons to believe this, including their character and past, but you don’t have an assurance. Humans let each other down continually. Faith in God is a different kind of faith than what we experience with people on earth, because God has never and will never let you down.
Faith is simple in that it is belief, but it is a belief grounded in certainty and conviction. And who better to believe with full assurance than a God who always delivers on His promises?
Why Faith Matters
One core doctrine, or belief, of Christianity is that we are saved by faith. Faith in Jesus Christ, sent as a sacrifice by God, rescues us from eternal separation from God. Salvation by faith is the best news ever delivered. It means we don’t have to earn it by perfection, good works, or some other means. Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it simply: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Let’s take a look at the Old Testament. Both Paul and James point us toward Abraham. Abraham’s story in the book of Genesis tells that God gave some pretty lofty and unimaginable promises to him. Instead of scoffing, balking, or questioning, Abraham chose faith. “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). What a beautiful verse. Abraham’s faith alone made him righteous in God’s sight. It wasn’t Abraham’s acts of obedience that followed, but his initial belief in what God promised. Faith matters because it is what makes us righteous in His sight.
This concerns present-day Christians as well, as Paul writes in Romans 4:23: “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who was raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Pastor and author David Platt defines justification as the “gracious act of God by which he declares a sinner righteous solely through faith in Jesus Christ. Unearned. Unmerited. Incredible.” If justification is unclear to you, picture yourself in a courtroom, convicted with a lengthy list of wrongs over your lifetime. The psalmist David understood the gravity of our sin when he wrote, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). How do you stand before a holy God? By what you have done or what Christ has done? Our righteous deeds all fall short, and lucky for us, they aren’t needed. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that justifies us.
Paul sums up his argument of attaining righteousness by faith alone versus keeping the law in Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” By faith we receive justification. Justification is how we can stand before a holy God and not be condemned. By faith, we are saved.
The greatness of sola fide, faith alone, is that it always points back to the Creator, Himself. God designed it this way so that all glory be given to Him. I cannot buy my way into heaven or a right standing with God. I cannot sign up for enough church duties or functions to earn my way. I cannot attain perfection so that I am pardoned by God. It is a gift from a loving, faithful God.
God designed it to be by faith alone: this simple, yet certain, faith that from the beginning, God had a rescue plan for humanity and it comes through Jesus Christ. By grace you are saved through faith.
The work is done (Christ’s death on the cross), it is only left to us to believe, or not believe.
Faith saves. Faith justifies. Faith gives glory to God. Yes, faith matters.
Two Kinds of Faith
Let’s take this one step further and dive into the complexity of faith. We know that faith can be simple. We believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. But faith, at the same time, can be tricky.
We are saved by faith alone. It is the pinnacle of what Paul fervently argued in his letters of the New Testament. It is what Martin Luther wanted pastors to “beat it into their [Christians] heads constantly.” But the kind of faith that justifies and saves us is living faith, opposed to dead faith, which according to Scripture, even the demons have (James 2:19). Even the demons believe; it is an intellectual faith that confirms there is a God. But is it saving faith? Obviously not.
Living faith is active, growing, and producing. We see this in our own lives --the more we trust and believe in God’s promises to us, the stronger our relationship with God is. Living faith bears spiritual fruit: as our faith in God matures, we become changed people who display kindness, goodness, compassion, peace, patience, and thankfulness. Living faith also spurs us to do good works for God. None of these things initiate the faith that saves us but are a result of it.
Dead faith, however, is simply a knowledge of faith, but is incapable of producing any fruit or good work. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” James 2:26. It is not sincere. Dead faith is what James warns Christians about when he speaks of faith alone not being enough. The works, or actions, he speaks of are the evidence of our faith. There should be evidence of our faith, because remember, living faith is active. These things don’t “earn” us salvation. God is mightily clear in Scripture that is it by our faith alone that we are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 states: “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Sola Fide, or faith alone, is the foundation of our justification through Jesus Christ, and living faith is not only confessing with your mouth but is also believing with your heart. Your love and faith in God will prompt change in you, will propel you to serve Him, will cause you to trust in Him and obey His commands. But these good things are always preceded by faith.
So what type of faith is in your heart? You know if your faith is living or active by your actions. Does your life look different because of your faith in Jesus? Or does it look the same as if Jesus wasn’t in your life?