Friday, April 19, 2019

What is Faith?

Recently I read a circular message sent to those of us who work at a particular government agency from the person in charge of a higher office. As you can imagine, there were a lot of platitudes about the work that we do, about how important it is and how grateful this individual was for us and our dedication to the mission. But there was one particular section that really caught my eye. And it was in the middle of a section of the message where he spoke about his own personal experiences and values. 

One of the things to which he attributed his success, was his faith. Now you will probably read that line and ask yourself "that sounds good, what's the problem"? Well, there's nothing problematic about someone ascribing his success, whatever he may believe that success is, to his faith. As we all know, the place that faith holds in the public conscience is becoming smaller and smaller. The problem is not that he believes his faith is, at least partly, the reason for his well-being, but what he thinks faith is all about. Read this line and see what you make of it:

"Faith in the sense of my belief in a higher power, as well as myself. It comes down to that no matter the task (sic), and failing which is okay, my faith in self and God will carry me through the day. Faith is a personal and individual thing for everyone, but mostly about self-awareness and a choice to believe in something—anything—as long as you make it part of your day."

Where to begin? Notice the generic "belief in a higher power" that begins the quote. This has been a staple of organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other such groups who, because they don't want to offend or exclude anyone, do not specify just who that higher power is. Since our society has become so squeamish about anything that even hints at God, the all-purpose term fits the bill just fine. After all, we don't want to exclude the Wicca, the Muslim, the Jew, the atheist, blah, blah, blah.

Not only does he have faith in a "higher power" but he also has faith in himself. Now what exactly that means I have no idea. What does it mean to have faith in yourself? Perhaps it means the usual blather about how "you can do anything you set your mind to." Nothing is as fallacious as to believe that having faith in yourself somehow magically affords you some added power to accomplish tasks. That is the hallmark of the Word of Faith movement that teaches that your words have power and that, if you speak positive words, they'll bring about your wishes (Joel Osteen anyone?). The Bible tells us that our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). They will deceive us every time. They will tell us that we're just fine while all along leading us to the pit. No, having faith in yourself the way the world will have it will eventually cause you to wreck your life.

Notice that he eventually gets to his faith in God, but then immediately goes on to explain that faith is a personal and individual thing. In a sense, he is correct. We do not have collective faith in the sense that my father's faith somehow spills over unto me and automatically makes me accepted before God. We’re not like the old song said that the family of an altar boy was glad about the fact that he was religious because by God “connecting one, he would connect ten.” But what he means is clear based on what follows as he indicates that we need to believe in "something—anything" as long as it becomes some sort of daily habit. Huh? I guess that in this individual's view believing in a rock is just as good as believing in the true God. As long as you faithfully believe in that rock, you'll be alright.

The lesson here is that the people of the world, and even those who profess to be followers of Christ (and I hasten to add, I don't know this person and don't know whether he's a true believer), sometimes allow "spirituality" to become their guiding light. Thus, believing in "something, anything" especially if it’s something mystical and metaphysical, is the key to health and happiness. The devil does not always come at you with guns blazing. He often comes at you with a counterfeit faith that looks like the real thing, but underneath is totally rotten. All the better to lead you to destruction. Christ is the only one that can give sight to the blind. On Him and Him alone, the True Rock, we need to put our trust. Only then will we have abundant life (John 10:10-11).


  1. Faith in the modern world is often as abstract, or generic, or shallow as that which it attaches itself to. For instance, faith in a "higher power" is, essentially, no faith at all...because the object of this "faith" lacks definition and particularity. An essentially non-descript, generic acknowledgement is hardly faith - it is a sort of mere faithless assent. As for faith in ones self - if one means some variety of self-assurance, fine. But if one attaches any hint of even remotely implicit redemptive or salvific quality by "faith in self" - it is vain and useless.

    1. The biggest problem with the "faith in yourself" meme is that you have to have faith in someone who truly can deliver on that trust. The truth of the matter is that we can't, not all the time and not even most of the time. We're going to fail, miserably so, much more often than we succeed. And when it comes to spiritual matters, we have absolutely no control over that realm. To think that we can someone influence what takes place in the spiritual realm simply by force of will, is the Arminian great error!

  2. Phil. 3:3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

    Reread your post and this verse came to mind while reading - concerning those who have confidence in themselves, such as you note in the following quote.

    "Faith in the sense of my belief in a higher power, as well as myself."

  3. You no doubt heard the saying that the man who defends himself in a criminal case has a fool for a client. Well, to paraphrase, the man who thinks that he can have faith in himself, has a fool for a himself!!