What does it mean to be a Christian? How do I become a Christian? Is this something that I do, following a predetermined pattern, or is this something beyond my efforts alone?
In the next five weeks, I would like to introduce five essentials for becoming and being a Christian. These are from a 19th century evangelist, Walter Scott, who brought many people on the American frontier to Christ. Scott did this by boiling the many elements of the Christian faith to five. I plan to use his system as he did, relating each of the five to the fingers of a human hand, therefore the “Five Fingers of Salvation.” The first of these is Faith.”
- Can we trust the news media or is it all “fake news”?
- Should we trust the roadways if we are sharing them with “self-driving cars” and “driverless trucks”?
- Who can we trust with our personal information online when we find out it is bought and sold like a commodity, or that credit bureaus or banks suffer “data breaches?”
What is faith, though? More importantly: is there anything commonly shared in faith? If the church is a community of faith, does that mean we all believe the same thing?
There is a word cluster in English that represents what we are talking about when we consider biblical faith: Faith, Believe, Belief, Trust, Confidence, perhaps Commitment. How do we apply these, however? How do we enact them in our lives?
Allow me to break this down a little. I think there are three ways Christians have traditionally understood faith:
1. Acceptance by evidence that certain things are true. We therefore believe these things are true. Example: my car is blue. If you were here with me, you could go to the parking lot and check this for yourself. This “evidentiary faith” is the basis for what Christians call “apologetics.”
Yet we seemed to have moved beyond this in many ways. Science, even the concept of objective truth, is under attack today. We have moved to what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness,” where we are willing to accept something because it “feels true.”
We have long recognized that evidence-based faith has its limits. There is a well-known story of the strident British atheist of the early 20th Century, Bertrand Russell, in which he was asked what he would say to God if he found himself standing before God after he died. Russell answered: “I should reproach him for not giving us enough evidence.” Not enough evidence, God! If faith is entirely logical and evidentiary, who decides what is a necessary pile of evidence in order to demand belief?
2. Confidence that the future will conform to what is promised. I can believe that certain expected things will happen before I experience them. Example: the sun will come up tomorrow. This faith in a promise does not always hold true, however (see video). “Try it, you’ll like it” offers a promise that may not come to pass. We should understand that the key to our confidence in the future rests on our confidence in the person who gives us the promise. This is this is the essence of biblical faith, of Christian faith. And it moves us to the third option.
3. Trust in a person. As Christians we are sometimes asked what we believe. We might list many things:
- God created the heavens and the earth
- The Bible is the Word of God and without errors
- God is revealed to us in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
But there is another way of expressing this:
- There is a God, a personal living God.
- This personal God is willing to have a relationship with me.
- God cares for me and loves me
I believe in God: I am trusting him with my future.
Belief that God exists may be the starting point and the controlling factor, to be sure. But Christian faith, saving faith, is to be found in our trust in a person.
- We are not saved by believing there is one God.
- We are not saved by being a member of a certain church.
- We are not saved by believing the Bible.
Christian faith is personal, but not turned inwardly to say we believe in ourselves. Christian faith is faith in a personal God. Christian faith is trust in God’s Son for salvation and no one else.
We can understand this by looking at Psalm 78, a rehearsal of Israel’s failure to trust God during the Exodus from Egypt:
Because they had no faith in God,
and did not trust his saving power.
They did not believe that God could save them. They did not trust in his saving power.
Everything in the Christian life depends on faith, on trusting Christ. Everything we do as Christians flows from our faith. Our Christian commitment is to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one we have trusted as our Savior, the person we believe will save us. This is a great commitment, a risky move. We are placing our future in someone else’s hands, but, as Kierkegaard said, “No risk, no faith.” When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are trusting him with our lives. We are saying, I believe you can save me, and I am going to follow you. You will be my Lord. I cannot save myself. Only you can save me.”
Luther said that,
“the only faith which makes a Christian is that which cast itself on God for life or death.”
May we have that faith.
Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University
Note: I am preaching this series at the Acts 2 Church in Gretna, NE. We did the first on on April 29. You are welcome to come for the last four. For more info, follow this link.