For far too long, this has been my definition of faith: “Believing the right things about God and Jesus Christ.” My faith, when-push-comes-to-shove, was reduced to, “I affirm that Jesus lived and died and was resurrected. At least I know the facts of doctrine.” And the more enmeshed in evangelical Christianity I got, even pastoring a couple churches, the more faith became defined as believing correct doctrine.
In order to evangelize, I felt that I primarily had to explain to people the facts that they needed to know. Even though we would never explicitly say so, evangelism was an invitation to think like Christians think, not an invitation into a relationship with God.
Apologetics in this context was all about defending the faith of correct beliefs: a philosophical argument for the principles and propositional statements that my “faith” was based upon, rather than an incarnational display of the relationship that I have with God.
And in order to join the churches I had pastored, I felt I had to teach the doctrinal statement of the church—since, in order to “belong” you had to “believe,” I had to make sure they believed all the doctrines of my church.
But in this subtle slide into defining faith as belief in propositions, I began to lose the real essence of faith.
So, “What is Faith?” This is the positive side of Leonard Sweet’s book, Out of the Question...Into the Mystery, whereas “What is Sin?” (an earlier blog post here at vanguardchurch) is the negative. Is faith the belief in propositions? Is it being able to believe the right biblical doctrine?
One of Sweet's biggest points in his book is this:
“The Bible does not cast faith as a spiritual footpath to heaven or an inner stirring that we try to rev up when the chips are down. Neither does Scripture describe faith as a cognitive capacity that God activates to effect our justification. Rather, faith is consistently defined by Scripture, at base, as a set of trust relationships—with God, with neighbor, with the world, with creation.” (p. 14)
“The word believe is an ancient compounding of the verb be and the noun life. To ‘believe’ is to ‘be live’—to live your being, to trust your ‘being’ to ‘life’ . The root meaning of believe as ‘credo’ did not originally mean nodding in intellectual assent; it meant ‘to give my heart to’ or ‘to hold dear’ or ‘to love’…In almost every place where the Torah talks about someone ‘believing’ God, you can insert the word trust or be living…The English phrase ‘right relationship’ captures more accurately the biblical meaning of the phrase ‘right belief’…If one understands ‘belief’ as intellectual asset, even the devil is a ‘believer.’” (p. 27)
“Biblical faith is not about living a moral life. That’s religion. Biblical faith is not about living the ‘good life.’ That’s capitalism. Biblical faith is about living the GodLife. An abundant life with the living God is living in a GodLife relationship. Obedience, in the biblical sense, is not ‘doing what you are told.’ Obedience is living relationally, even ‘indivisibly,’ with the Holy One so that we honor, uphold, receive, and follow all that God is and all that God is calling us to become. Biblical obedience means living in the light of who God is as much as in submission to what he says. That’s obedience in relationship” (p. 59)
So, to paraphrase, faith is not an adherence to a set of beliefs; faith is a trusting relationship with God. The ministry of Jesus Christ is the ministry of reconciliation—the restoration of the relationship.
And then it follows, since this is what faith is, that sin must be defined as the breaking of relationship.