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Questions and Answers: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
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Ernest: Good morning, Polly!
Polly: Good morning, Ernest! How are things?
Ernest: Going all right, I guess. Ever since I became a believer in Jesus, I’ve been looking at everything rather differently. It’s great, of course, but also . . . a little overwhelming sometimes, if you know what I mean.
Pol: Well, I’m not sure. If you mean that you don’t always feel just as wholeheartedly enthusiastic as you did right after you came to faith— that’s perfectly normal. C.S, Lewis stated: “[T]he point at which faith comes in … I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief … Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”1
Ern: Yes, that makes sense … I understand that, but I was really talking about something else. You see, a lot of my believing friends, who are trying to help me now that I’m a new believer … well, I appreciate it a lot, but I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. Some people seem to be advising me to do one thing, others another.
Pol: Or they’re just expressing the same thing in different ways. What exactly is it you’re puzzling over?
Ern: Your talking about faith brought it up for me—some of my friends have been giving me advice about Christian behavior. I realize that that’s important, but I don’t quite understand why. If faith in Jesus is what saves us, then where does what we do fit in? I thought it all came down to knowing that He had died for us and loves us and saves us.
Pol: Right. But … how do you know that?
Ern: Through faith, right?
Pol: Definitely. But “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). You have to act in order to receive the gift of faith from God. You have to know Who He is, and what He wants you to do. Reading the Bible and prayer is the foundation of gaining this knowledge, which is listed among the virtues in 1 Peter 1:5: “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge.” So you see that it all ties in together: faith and knowledge and Christian behavior. As C.S. Lewis explained, you can’t stick with the “view I call Christianity-and-water — the view that simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right”2 — a sort of vague faith in something you don’t understand. You have to apply yourself diligently — work hard — to get to really know God and His plans for you, and then you have to go out and act on them in faith. Knowing is connected with doing. You wouldn’t think much of a scientist who did all kinds of medical research and didn’t then apply that knowledge he’d gained in medical practice.
Ern: No, I guess I wouldn’t at that. But how do I know what God wants me to do? What if He doesn’t want me to do anything? I don’t feel anything telling me He does.
Pol: Turn to Matthew 28:29-30. That message is for every Christian believer: “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” You see, that’s where the doing part comes in. It’s twofold, really. First of all, Jesus has commanded us to observe certain ways of thinking and acting, because we are followers of Him now and not of the world, and secondly, we need to demonstrate a difference in our behavior if we are to draw the rest of the world to want to come to know Him as their Savior, too.
Ern: But shouldn’t that just come naturally? I mean, if we believe and trust in Jesus, won’t we want to behave as He would want us to?
Pol: Of course we want to, but wanting doesn’t get anyone very far if they don’t do something about it! Faith in Jesus isn’t wishing on a star. “Even so, faith, if it does not have works, is dead, being alone. A man may say, ‘You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (James 2:17-18). Knowledge of God teaches us what kind of behavior will best demonstrate our faith relationship with Him. To use a human analogy, if you want to show that you trust and love your sister, you would first have to know her quite well — know the sort of things that she deserves to be trusted in — and then act on it, by giving her the right to help you or to take the responsibility for something that you know she can be trusted with. Faith in and knowledge of God works the same way, just on a bigger scale: we know by faith that He can be trusted with everything, that we can always depend on Him to help us and give us the right direction in every circumstance and decision of our lives, and then we act on that faith and knowledge by obeying His directions and accepting His help toward living a holy life — just like you accept your sister’s help and advice with your mathematics homework!
Ern: But don’t I need to do something?
Pol: In a way, yes. C.S. Lewis explained: “[H]anding everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him … Not doing these thing in order to be saved, but because He has saved you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”3
Ern: And that gleam of Heaven comes from knowing God? Knowing and learning more about what He is like and has planned for us?
Pol: Yes. And then acting on it. And that’s what your friends have all been trying to tell you. Lewis observed: “In the attempt to express it different churches say different things. But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you that you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you to do good actions. At any rate that is as far as I can go.”4
Ask your children: What do you think about Polly’s answers to Ernest’s questions? Do you have any other questions of your own that this dialogue has brought up for you? Challenge them to think up more responses they could give, if someone asked them a question like Ernest’s.
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 50th Anniversary ed. (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002), p. 140.
2 Ibid. p. 40.
3 Ibid. pp. 147-148.
4 Ibid. p. 149.