What is faith ? (R.C. Sproul)
This article is taken from the book La Course de la Foi by R.C. Sproul
The Apostles symbol begins with the words “I believe ”. What does it mean to “believe in something”? A concept that is closely related to this statement is that of faith. What does it mean to “have faith”? Faith is so vital to Christianity that Christianity is sometimes referred to as “the Christian faith”. To understand Christianity, one must understand what it means to "believe" or "to have faith". Faith is often viewed as the opposite of reason or sensory perception, that is, the opposite of things one can taste, see, touch, smell and hear. In other words, faith is often contrasted with other ways of understanding things. Many people believe that faith is contrary to reason or to sense perception, so in order to have true faith one must put aside reason or sense perception. However, that is not what the Bible teaches. On the contrary, the Bible is the basis of knowledge, therefore also that of reason and sensory perception. Faith is built on this foundation, but it also takes us far beyond its limits.
One of the earliest Christian denominations of faith is found in the Bible. It is very simple. It is about the statement "Jesus is Lord". It is possible to pronounce these words without understanding them. This statement can be repeated without understanding the concept behind the word "Lord", the meaning of the verb "is" and the implication of the name "Jesus". If you say words without understanding them, you are not really asserting what the words mean; we do not make a real profession of faith. Also, to believe in the gospel, to have faith in Jesus, one must first have at least some degree of understanding of the gospel message.
Christianity is also a book-based faith or religion containing doctrine and teaching designed for our level of understanding. Having a written document as the foundation of the Christian life does not make sense if faith is something that bypasses reason. Written documents aim to convince people; they urge them to use their reason to assess the value of the messages they contain. Thus, faith, according to the Bible, is not "blind faith." You don't buy into it with your eyes closed. In fact, the Bible invites us to open our eyes to reality; she calls us to come out of the darkness to come to the light.
However, reason alone will never allow anyone to believe in the gospel; the same is true of sensory perception. Doesn't Scripture say that " faith is a firm assurance of things hoped for, a demonstration of things not seen " (Heb 11:11)? Faith therefore involves things that cannot be seen, heard or touched. No one has ever seen God, and you cannot see the sky. On the other hand, we can see the work of God in creation.
Christianity is what is called a "revealed religion". Christians believe in a God who reveals himself through nature, but also in a God who has spoken. When we speak of faith as 'assurance of things that we do not see , we are talking about believing God and believing what he has revealed in the Bible . This is not about irrational or unscientific faith. Christian belief is based on historical events that actually took place, events that can be verified by scientific and sensory means.
Thus, when we recite a confession of faith, when we say "I believe", we attest that we agree with the claims of Christianity and the Bible. It is not blind faith, but a living and real faith. The real enemies of faith, in the biblical sense of the term, are not reason and experience, but gullibility and superstition.
It is important to stress the central role of faith in Christianity. It was around this question that the Protestant reform took place in the 16th century. Martin Luther and others have argued that it is by faith, and faith alone, that one is justified or recognized as righteous before God.
This raises a few questions. What is the faith that justifies? The New Testament book of James says that faith without works is dead; she can't save anyone. As Luther said, the kind of saving faith is living faith. So we need to have a living faith for it to be a saving faith. But what does this kind of faith consist of?
The leaders of the Reformation taught that there are at least three recognizable elements in biblical faith. The first is the content of what we believe. You cannot believe just anything, even if you are sincere. For a belief to be saved, it must have biblical content.
In the New Testament, the basic content of saving faith is given: Christ is the Son of God; he is the Savior; he died for our sins; he rose from the dead. This is what the apostles preached, and they invited the people to believe it. Before anyone can believe this content, they must first know and understand it.
The second part of saving faith is intellectual assent. It means accepting something as being true. If I say to you, “Don't you think the sky is blue? I'm just asking if you believe my statement to be true. If you answer me "yes", you accept my statement intellectually. Likewise, the early Christians asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Some people said 'no'. Others said "yes". But just saying “yes” is not enough to have saving faith. After all, the Bible records that demons also recognize Jesus as the Son of God.
This is where the third part of saving faith comes in. It is about trust or personal buy-in. Not only do we know that the Bible asserts that Jesus is the Son of God, but we believe this assertion to be true and, moreover, we adhere to it. We gladly take Jesus for who he is, and we trust him with joy. From then on, we are no longer separated from Christ, we are no longer hostile to him, for we love and revere him.
When someone says "I believe," it means they are fully and willingly and fully receiving the victory and triumph of Christ. This is what a declaration of faith is! It's not just reciting a symbol because you think it's true. Faith is more than mere knowledge or intellectual assent. But she doesn't rule them out either..