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Follow Up #1: What is Faith?

The series on why I’m not a Roman Catholic despite the temptation to return to the Church was extremely brief.  I oversimplified many issues, and I wanted to take a quick moment to hash out the ones that deserve further examination.  Let’s start with what my wise brother-in-law pointed out in a comment to part #1, which is that a lot of what I said hinges on defining faith.

Authentic biblical faith has two prongs to it.  The first is right belief, or “orthodoxy.” [1]  Generally speaking, to call yourself a Christian you would have to adhere to the following minimalist set of beliefs:

  • Existence of God as a Trinity
  • Preeminence of Christ over his creation
  • Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
  • Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
  • Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
  • Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead

And the rest varies quite wildly, even the mechanics of the above vary somewhat (even if the generic belief is still the same).

You need more, because the devil believes that stuff too.  The second prong is right practice, or “orthopraxy.” [2]  Pure religion is to help others and stay separate from the rest of the world.

Again, it’s great if you save the world, either by donating money to causes, championing nonprofits, or rolling up your sleeves and building an orphanage.  The rich young ruler told Jesus he kept all the commands from childhood, and he wanted to know what else he lacked.  Jesus also told his disciples during the Sermon on the Mount that people who did a lot of great things will cry out for Jesus and he will tell them to depart into hell.  Doing good isn’t enough, either.

You need to bring the two prongs together.  Faith is neither one nor the other, but both together.  Salvation occurs solely by grace, but we respond to that grace in faith.  It’s not just believing.  It’s not just acting on a belief.  Mere belief and mere action are both condemned in Scripture.  Both belief and action are required; one separate from the other isn’t going to cut it.

Saving faith always and necessarily produces works, but the works alone will never create a saving faith.  Works apart from faith are merely some rote ceremony, performed without thought for the one whom the works are supposed to glorify.  Faith apart from the works is similarly dead.  What good is a belief until you act on it, after all?

J.P. Holding explains this in more detail here.

Therefore, a true saving faith is going to manifest itself in the life of the believer in a conspicuous way, through that believer’s works.  We see this in the changed lives of those who surrender to Christ. [3]

NOTES

  1. Christians have a variety of beliefs, and what should be categorized as orthodox (beyond what I’ve listed), apostasy, or heresy is beyond my scope here.
  2. Christians have a wide variety of practices.  In general, I’m only considering the spirit of  “true religion” passage in James 1:27; basically, helping those in need and staying set apart from the world so that the culture notices that you’re different.
  3. It is beyond the scope of this post to consider how we would know the difference between counterfeit faith in idols and authentic Christianity.  For example, I’m not considering why prayer and meditation appear to produce the same results, nor how Scientology could save a drug addict from his addiction as effectively as Christianity.  Suffice to say, I don’t consider that a valid argument against the truth claims of Christianity.
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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 21, 2011, in Apologetics, Roman Catholicism, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. It is my experience that our faith defends us: we do not defend our faith. God protects His work product, and He is ruthless in protecting Himself from any who would seek to usurp His position as the First, the Last and the Only God there is. This premise assumes of course that God exists, we are made for God’s pleasure, and God is actively engaged in creating us to be the best possible beings given our genetic predisposition and the physical, mental and emotional circumstances encountered. The thoughts of God (through the action of the Holy Spirit) answer our doubt and fear with the knowledge that His strength is actively resolving our problems for His benefit (not our own) and with experience, we come to believe in God’s veracity and allow God to have His way without argument. Thus the realization of God’s desires are obtained by His own action and this becomes our faith, the basis for our actions. Further, it is my belief that God spun the physical universe into existence as part of His plan to enhance His own existence and well being. By strengthening us, He enables us to better understand our part in His plan, and act according to His desires and for His benefit. Religion is perhaps a starting place, but it is not the destination. We need to know enough to stand within the flow of the Holy Spirit, and allow It to construct the matrix within which our beliefs, those given to us by It, are fulfilled. Thus, True Reality, reality from God’s perspective, is brought into focus, and we learn how to satisfy God’s needs without insisting that our needs must come before His. All other concepts of reality are an illusion constructed by the human mind to justify what it sees with what it believes it should see. God works according to His version of reality, not our own, and this explains why many of our prayers seem to go unanswered. All this after 58 years as a Christian, the last 33 seeing the product of His handiwork for his advantage, and not my own for my own advantage. This summarizes the new paradigm of rebirth (born again theory) in action.

    • While I agree in spirit with much of what you’re saying here, can you clarify two points for me?

      If we do not defend our faith, then is my ministry of apologetics not necessary in your eyes? My stated goal is, of course, defending the faith.

      Am I further not a necessary minister of the Word since the Holy Spirit answers all doubts?

      Or, do you mean that the Holy Spirit would work through me to answer doubts? Because that I can agree with, and pray that that is what is happening when believers read my humble blog.

  2. >> “Saving faith always and necessarily produces works, but the works alone will never create a saving faith.”
    This tells me that works come from saving faith.

    >> “What good is a belief until you act on it, after all?”
    This tells me that saving faith comes from works.

    If the first conclusion is true, then it means that your works are a measure of your faith, but not a requirement of your salvation.

    If the latter is true then you are not saved until your first work.

    Remember Genesis 15:6. Abram’s belief was accounted to him as righteousness. In other words, he was saved. The works came later.

    Consider that God’s righteousness is justice. Our righteousness is just God accounting righteoueness to us, and only on account of our belief (Genesis 15:6) and zealousness for him (Psalm 106:30-31)… God is just; we are just-ified. We are not justified by works, but by faith apart from works, even while our faith will lead to works.

    • Consider the Semitic Totality Concept — belief and works were seen as a unified whole to the Hebrews. Meaning that there is no problem with what I’ve said here, and separating faith from works is the real problem. One I’m railing hard against, a trap you’re falling into by separating them to pick me apart.

      • I only pick you apart when I fear you might be departing from scripture. That is why I quoted the only two verses in scripture (that I can find) describing the conditions under which God accounts righteousness to us. There is “saving” zealousness and “saving” belief. I an unaware of “saving” works. Jesus said we’d be known by our fruit. He could have said saved, but He did not.

        Okay. What if someone truly repents of their sins in their heart, and are immediately transformed and filled by the Holy Spirit, and then immediately they get hit by a bus. Are they saved? If you say yes, because their faith was genuine, and such a heart would have yielded fruit with time, then I have no problem with you conflating faith with works, but would caution that you risk being misunderstood.

      • I would like to believe that a sincere repentance means heaven, and I will leave that for God to judge.

        My model of faith = belief + action isn’t perfect, but you are doing what our opponents often do. I see a similar tactic in the pro-life/pro-choice debate:

        “You think abortion should be outlawed? What if the woman was walking down the road, and some dude grabbed her at knife point and raped her, and she got pregnant? What, then, huh? What about tubal pregnancy? Man, you’re morally repugnant for opposing a woman’s right to choose!”

        Same thing you just did here. You are taking what would be a legitimate exception to the rule and throwing it in my face to say that the rule sucks.

        Or, to use a less emotional example, let’s say that Corporation X has a strict, no-exceptions-granted no call/no show policy. If you don’t contact them within an hour of the start of your shift, then you lose your job — end of story.

        Then, let’s say Bob misses his shift and doesn’t call until the next day. When he gets a hold of his boss, he tells his boss that his mother died about an hour before yesterday’s shift. It was sudden; Mom was always healthy as a horse. He was so grief stricken that he never thought to call.

        Now, I’m sure he’ll keep his job. Are you saying that Corporation X should rewrite the rule? Or should the powers that be, who hold jurisdiction in such cases, understand that s**t happens and exercise their sovereign authority to grant an exception, even if the rules say “no exceptions?”

        Thought so. I trust God to judge such cases.

      • Cory, I hope this isn’t too long. I hope you read the whole thing…

        I’m sorry my tactic appeared so similar to those examples you replied with. I gave you an extreme example only to see if you had an extreme belief, to see if you believed that works were absolutely essentially under all conceivable circumstances to go to Heaven. I thought no, but needed to see it. You agreed that the exception I described is indeed an exception.

        Now forgive my (friendly) word-parsing, as I continue to seek clarity in your position…

        >> I would like to believe that a sincere repentance means heaven, and I will leave that for God to judge.

        You say you would “like” to believe that sincere repentance means heaven. I do believe it, because of Luke 23:43, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

        I agree that the situation is exceptional, but it clearly happens. Now, I realize you may have just been using soft words — “I would like to believe” — as a literary tool, but then you also said this…

        >> My model of faith = belief + action isn’t perfect

        Actually, it’s almost perfect. Here is what I believe, based on scripture…

        Righteousness = belief (Genesis 15:6) + obedience (Deut. 6:25)

        – God accounts righteousness to us for believing Him
        – Our obedience is the manifestation of that righteousness

        Notice that both our beliefe and our obedience are on account of the same heart. This makes our belief and obedience simultantously separate, yet intertwined. Some Christians focus on the “separate”, others on the “intertwined”. In my opinion, a balanced theology acknowledges both.

        I have found in my studies that the New Testament has the same concept of righteousness as the Old, but uses slightly different words. Instead of belief, Paul writes of faith; instead of obedience, James writes of works. So, the following equation is equivalent to the one I gave above…

        righteousness = faith + works
        – because –
        faith = belief
        works = obedience

        So you see, the way you describe faith is how I describe righteousness, yet we may appear to disagree because my formulation of faith does not have action, while yours does.

        This shows why you cannot say your formula is perfect… if it was from scripture, it would be perfect. As it stands, you have cited disgust (that I share) in what some of our supposed Christian brethren do with their so-called faith. That said, my formula for righteousness is not mine. It is from scripture (I cited the verses above), and every verse on righteousness is consistent with it, because scripture is self-consistent

        James 2 describes it perfectly…
        20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

        On first glance, vv. 20-21 appears to be your point to me. But, then he writes v. 22, acknowledging that faith and works are separate but work together. AFTER Abraham was credited with righteousness (i.e., was saved), his works completed his faith. The reason faith (i.e., believing God) was enough for Abraham to be considered righteous was because God knew that the heart with which Abraham believed would lead to obedience (when he sacrificed Isaac). And if he died before his actions? Remember the thief on the cross, meaning it was never the action itself, but the heart.

      • The cunning wonder of God’s creation is acknowledged in the Bible, but only now can we understand the power and attention to detail God uses to create the universe. Science should actually improve a believers wonder of God’s abilities. To an unbeliever, God is not seen in all this because God is not known by them. Their work product nevertheless inspires wonder to a believer by virtue of the believer’s faith in who God is.

        If we are indeed born again, in this case meaning only: we are brought into the absolute knowledge that God exists, He communicates His intentions, and creates us according to His idea of who we are; then, faith becomes more like an acknowledgment of God’s ability to create us as the best possible entity given the materials at hand and circumstances under which He must labor. At that point we must also realize we are already “in heaven” (the kingdom of heaven is in your midst, at hand, and we already set in heavenly places-three separate scriptures). For a believer, heaven is not what comes after death, but already is within us (to God all live, and by faith we are given eternal life). Remember, we are both flesh and spirit now, but all spirit later. Only that which is God’s effects the spirit since He is creating us as living spiritual entities. We are just being brought into the knowledge of who we really are (spirit) and how we fit into God’s concept of what life really is.

        The Book of Life contains only God’s acts since all life comes from Him. All of our own acts are not written there, and can thus be considered as damned to outer darkness; or, as Jesus put it, I never knew you, depart from me you workers of iniquity (our works and words). Simply put, we are judged by His version of reality, not our own. Therefore, shall the paragraph in the Book of Life dedicated to us as written by Him for us be long or short?

        The works spoken of by Paul are more than an earthly description, but a description of our belief (faith) that the works done through us are by His power and not our own; otherwise, these earthly works are ours, not God’s, thus making our faith a sham. God will only acknowledge what He has ordained or ordered, not what the earthly or fleshly person does: so that is the scale upon which we are judged. All else is powerless and will not endure to effect our spiritual lives no matter how long we debate who does what.

        So, is it by God’s power or by our own? Do we the work or is the work God’s? Do we acknowledge that God is the creator and finisher of our faith, or do we claim the work as done by our hand only, thus saving ourselves through our own labors (study and/or works)? These are the questions that must be asked by each believer. Be satisfied with the answers; else, reevaluate who you consider yourself to be.

      • I suggest you recheck the scriptures…

        >> “If we are indeed born again… then, faith becomes more like an acknowledgment of God’s ability to create us as the best possible entity given the materials at hand and circumstances under which He must labor. ”
        Perhaps you’re talking about regeneration? That’s God’s response to us, not our motivation to believe. In Genesis 15:6, Abraham was saved (James 2) when he believed God would show him the promised land. That’s different than your statement.

        >> “At that point we must also realize we are already “in heaven”…”
        1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The context of this chapter makes it clear that Paul is referring to resurrection. IOW, we’re not in Heaven. We all die, and we all will be resurrected, “…some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2b)

        >> “For a believer, heaven is not what comes after death, but already is within us ”
        John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.” IOW, Heaven comes after death.

        >> “The Book of Life contains only God’s acts since all life comes from Him. ”
        Daniel 12:1b-2a, “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. ” Daniel said nothing about God’s acts.

        >> “Do we acknowledge that God is the creator and finisher of our faith”
        >> “faith becomes more like an acknowledgment of God’s ability to create us as the best possible entity given the materials at hand and circumstances under which He must labor. ”
        You are basically asking whether we acknowledge God’s creation/finishing of our acknowledgement of God’s ability to give us such acknowledgement. Really?

  3. I think your position on what constitutes an orthodox Christian is very accurate. I however see works in a slightly different way. My view is that by God’s grace, His desires are accomplished through me. I do not look around for something good to do because it is demanded or expected of me; or that I have become so holy that by my new nature I want to do something or other. My view is that God knows what He wants done, and through His preparation, I “just happen” to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. Rather than “counting coup”, and claiming any particular deed as mine, I recognize that I only do what is needed, and God is the instigator and empower of the act. So to show my faith by my works has a slightly different or nuanced meaning. The “ledger of life” setting outside the “gates of heaven” will only show how God used me to accomplish His will, and how thankful I was for God allowing me to participate in His plan. God proves His reality and nature to me so that I understand what is happening. I thus live in the True Reality created by God, and by its light, better see who He creates me to be.

  4. Exactly, the Holy Spirit acts through the believer to answer the believer’s doubts AND direct the believer toward His (God’s) faith, that which actually does the work of salvation. After all, how can we call God our Lord if we do not allow Him the joy of protecting us as His work product? The very purpose of our existence is to be part of God’s plan to replicate Himself in diverse and multiple forms (we conform to Christ and in essence give Christ a nuanced form, namely our new, redeemed man, so God is replicating Himself in us by creating us to His specifications).

    We often forget that we have an opportunity to actually give God joy as much as God gives us an opportunity for joy. God speaks a command as part of His act of creating what He wants us to be; we hear the command, and are thankful to God for the thought or blessing; God hears our thanks, and feels satisfied that His plan is working; and, we feel God’s satisfaction. From Him to us, from us to Him, from Him to us (a trinity with God as the beginning and ending). This is the road to Bliss. It is like we join hands, and together walk down the road, but it is God who knows where we are going.

    It is very interesting that God must often get our attention by allowing a little suffering to awaken us from the spiritual slumber that the present world system creates when it entices us into believing that it (the world system) is True Reality (reality from God’s perspective) rather than merely a construct of the human mind. We must remember that Jesus is not a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Buddhist or Muslim; He is not even a Christian; He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Either it is God’s will or it is not; either it is the Truth from God’s perspective or it is not. Choose and act accordingly (not be lukewarm). This is the faith to which we must strive. There is but one God, and His name is what He wants it to be.

  5. Apologies for the length of this answer and please bear with me as I explain my position as clearly as possible.

    All the following is based on the belief that a person is “saved”, or more properly, that one now believes that God is, and sees that it is more practical and beneficial to all concerned to allow God to create them as the best possible being rather than continue to blunder along with their own plan to make of themselves what they thought was best, implementation of which plan has lead them to despair. (I am keeping religious doctrine and dogma out of this for simplicity sake). Joy that we are part of His plan and He can find a way to communicate His desires to us directly can then ensue if we are willing to focus on the new paradigm of Christ and allow the power of Christ to overcome the old system of thought and being we once performed. It is true that at first we must crawl along and let others feed us the word as they know it. Then we pull up and wobble trying to interface with the Holy Spirit ourselves while still being fed by other believers. Then there comes a time where we stand and interface directly and eventually our faith in His strength is strong enough to rely on His expertise to show us directly the meaning of who He is and what is reality from His standpoint. Our knowledge and faith increases as we mature. It is one thing to be introduced to Christ, and another to really know Him as a strong advocate and friend. I now speak to you as one who walks with our common Friend, the one who eagerly and happily pours His water and slakes our thirst and laughs with delight at seeing the satisfaction this “Holy” water gives us. I now speak to one who is a man of faith.

    It was not my intent to pick you apart, on the contrary, it is my intent to show that everyone has a slightly different view of the same thing (one facet on a multifaceted gem). I see unity of purpose: God and I as a team with Him in the lead. Perhaps I was clumsy in my attempts to show that the notion that “I will show you my faith by my works” was a statement to show how God’s Faith operates in the FAITHFUL to produce the works He wants, thus making those acts, deeds or works good. Doing good for good’s sake is good, but it is even better if we know that the act was instigated by God revealing what would make Him happy at that moment, and all we did was follow His instructions, thereby showing our faith by our works, and making God happy at the same time. I do not want to be one of those who declare what I did in His name just to be told that He never knew me. I am only as good at what I do as He determines it. That position puts our existence in God’s hands and not our own.

    Now here’s the rub that always causes me pause. Remember that God said man could eat of any tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and what did we do? ( ; crunch, crunch). Once we became the arbiter of what was good and what was evil, we in essence became our own god. There is a theory which I do not believe the scriptures support that says that man has freewill to decide what is good and what is evil (what is true and good and what is untrue and bad). Perhaps the old man who still munches on the apple of the knowledge of good and evil still has choice. Once we surrender our will to God, we have no personal choice. We can not decide to obey or deny God’s will as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Our very existence depends upon obedience to become the creature He makes of us. To deny His choice is to know death. “Trust and obey” is scriptural; “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him” is scriptural; but, freewill not so much. My position is for the man who walks securely with their Strength at their side. This is a position that only can be taken by one secure with their channel of communication with God. God will not tolerate anyone or anything to usurp His position as the first, last and only God. He will dissolve (erase) anything (thought) that dares to do so, and having seen Him do this upon many occasions for me and to me (He is no respecter of person), I know He is prepared to do so for any who are His. Remember that it was God’s thought that set in motion the creation, and it is in our thoughts (in words and in ideas) that He rules us.

    I apologize for using so many words and going so far afield with my answer, but I wanted to assure you that you are on the right path. You just happen to be at a different mile post than I, but the road is still His, and our destination the same.

  1. Pingback: Faithful Friday: Separation « Changeversations

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