Believing “by faith”

Girl praying

In christianity, faith is a virtue. Many christians believe in Jesus because they have been taught to believe by people they trust. Is this good or bad?

Some people say, faith is the opposite of reason. So does this mean believing in Jesus is unreasonable? Why do we have faith anyway?

And how do these questions fit in with our current theme of helping disciples to stand against attack?

Faith in what?

Faith is a fairly meaningless word until we know what or who a person is having faith in. A person who had faith in everyone would probably be taken advantage of, and that faith would be a bad thing.

But christian faith is faith in the character of God, and of Jesus. It is this faith that is a virtue, because Jesus and God are eminently trustworthy. But how do we know that they are worthy of faith, much more than anyone else?

The Jesus of the gospels

Clearly our trust in Jesus comes from reading or hearing about him in the gospels: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). Luke wrote so that his readers “may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4), and John’s gospel was “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Faith is not blind, but based on facts.

There are facts and arguments that can be presented to clarify that Jesus was indeed divine (see Jesus – son of God?) but many people don’t need this to be ‘proven’. They simply read about Jesus, see something about him that commands respect and love, believe in him and call on him for salvation. Others can read the same words, and see nothing. Why is this?

The Holy Spirit and faith

People’s motivations, experiences and expectations vary, and this may partly explain why some believe and some don’t. But the Bible is clear that the Spirit plays a big part in our understanding and believing, and giving faith as a gift – see John 16:7-11, Ephesians 2:8. So we believe God is quite capable, through his Spirit, of convincing someone whose heart is open that Jesus is indeed “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)

But this can create a dilemma. If, when challenged about their faith, a christian replies that they “just know” that Jesus can be trusted, they may be greeted with derision by sceptics. And this derision, backed up by arguments about people who “just knew” but were wrong, may shake a christian’s faith. It may be the truth that they “just know”, but it may not be helpful. And it is not the whole truth.

Explaining faith

No matter how strongly a person’s Spirit-given faith, it is not the only reason they believe, as I’ve outlined above. They will have had the life, death and resurrection of Jesus explained to them, and it is these facts that are the concrete basis of their faith. (There may be rare exceptions to this, when people not brought up in a christian culture have visions of Jesus without knowing the gospels, but I’m not addressing these exceptions here.)

Therefore I believe that disciples need to be able to explain both the subjective factors that led to their belief (which may be somewhat mundane, though very real, but which may on occasions include healing, a vision or communication from Jesus or help in resolving some of life’s problems), or which continually support their belief (their ongoing relationship with God), and the more objective facts of the life of Jesus and how we can have confidence in their general historical reliability – see Reasons to believe 1 – Jesus.

In this way we show that our faith is not blind, but is based on what we can reasonably believe are historical facts.

This may sound obvious, but I have seen many christians on the internet who make statements about believing in faith without sharing why they were confident they could put their faith in Jesus. Some even make a virtue of having faith without reason. If such christians try to argue the matter, they may find themselves argued into a corner and left questioning why they believe.

Let us rejoice in the faith the Holy Spirit gives to new believers, but let us ensure that they are also well instructed in the historical facts and why we can have confidence in them. This will help them stand against attack and be better able to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15).

Read the whole series

This post is part of a series on Training disciples to stand. Check out all the topics here.

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