Friday, November 7, 2014

What is Faith?

It is essential for a Christian to understand the true nature of faith as it is through faith that we are united with God. But what does faith mean?  Does it mean we that read the Creed and willfully accept what it says?  Or is it about something more than this?

Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church wrote a beautiful book titled Life of Faith. Reading this book a few years back I was moved to think about faith in a much deeper way.  I want to share with you some of his teaching and my learnings from them.

I used to say, "I have faith, I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God." But then I would have trouble with many passages in the Bible, miracles and the numerous stories of those of faith we also find there. Jesus says, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain "Move from here to there, and it will move." (Matt 17:20) As I understand it, faith of a mustard seed means that even the smallest amount of true faith can "move mountains."  I knew I did not have this kind of faith. I interpret the phrase to "move mountains" means that there is no limit to the powers that God can work through a person if one has faith. So faith must be something greater than believing, something much more than mentally affirming a belief in the Creed.

Jesus tells us that faith involves more than just having reverence for Him. He says, Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt7:21)  He also says faith means more than calling on His name. He says, Many will say to me that in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt 7:22-23) From this we can say that the faith required is about knowing Him and trusting in Him to following His teaching.

Faith is beyond belief. It must be about a life based on a living relationship with God, one where you trust in Him totally, and do what He instructs you to do. Scripture gives us the example of Abraham who was tested by God asking him to take his son to be sacrificed. Abraham trusted totally in God, knowing that in such a sacrifice only good would come from it for him and his son. He was obedient based on a full faith. He had total trust in God.

Faith can be examined based on what we do, how well we follow what He has taught.  Evangelist John records, He who  says, "Know Him," and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1John 2:3-4). But we know that this means more than following a set of rules like the Ten Commandments.

How about the Apostles? How did they demonstrate their faith in God? When Jesus called James and John, sons of Zebedee they immediately left their boat and their father and followed Him. (Matt 4:22) They believed and had trust in Him so they harbored no fear of leaving their livelihood and even their father to follow Him. We also have the unending examples of the martyrs of the Church who willingly gave their lives without fear knowing they would be cared for by Jesus in the heavenly realm. 

For me these were sobering thoughts as I pondered this little book. My faith was not on par with these stories and teachings. It was a faith more based on the tradition of my family and a mental belief, a simple affirmation. But did I trust my whole body, heart and soul to Christ? No, I had too much pride in my own self will. I still trusted mainly on my own intellect and will. I found I was still too much like Adam.

If we have faith, we cannot fear death, because this means we do not trust in what is to come beyond death. Apostle Paul says about faith, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)  So what are these things hoped for? This is a life after death where we have hope in a life with the angels and the saints and to see the Lord in Paradise. We have hope in being resurrected and taking on a new spiritual body free of suffering and decay. We must have a faith that gives us total confidence in these realities even though we have not seen or experienced them.

I realized that faith is something that involves a trust in realities beyond any understanding of things of this world. It requires a trust in what is beyond our sensual knowledge and beyond any mental concept we can imagine. It involves a surrender to Spirit, to the Triune God. It is more than methodically being a good person who identifies a set of rules from Scripture and tries to do them. Of course, if we do have the kind of faith that Scripture talks about, we will live the virtues with the help of God's grace without much effort. We will be united with Him and out of the love of this intimate relationship we will do what he directs us, knowing that if we follow Him we will find rewards in the life to come. This is what I found faith to mean. A total trust in and a surrender to His will.

The truth is that with faith in the power of God, we are confident that He will be with us forever. With faith we become willing servants of His will. With faith, even if we stumble or fall, we know He will be with us to help us recover. With faith His unlimited power is there for us whenever we need it. Saint Paul says, To this end I also labor, striving according to His working in me mightily (Col !:29) and also, To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. (Eph 3:20) He further says, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

It by this full faith, faith beyond belief, that we are able to go beyond the level our senses and intellect and trust in Jesus Christ as True God of True God, Begotten not created, of one essence of the Father, through Whom all things are made. Our destiny is to be united with Him in heaven with eternal life, but only if we have the kind of faith described in the Scriptures. We must go beyond mere belief.

The important question is how to gain this kind of faith.  Later.

Reference: Life of Faith by Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church

2 comments:

  1. Hello Father, I have been following and subscribing to your blog posts for nearly a year now and I have greatly benefited and enjoyed your contemplations, which I find insightful. I love how you always make reference to the Bible, tradition, and our church fathers' teachings. I just wanted to let you know that you this has been a blessing to me and may God continue to bless this service and your life. Please keep spreading the word and sharing Jesus's love and the orthodox way of life.

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    1. Thank you. It's always encouraging to receive feedback. God willing I will try to post something each week as this is helpful for me to keep my mind focused on God. It's good to know that it's useful to others as well.

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