Growing Faith

Jesus encouraged us to have this kind of faith when He told us not to worry about tomorrow but to rely on the provisions of our heavenly Father. Growing faith is different in some ways from saving faith. First of all, it has no implications for our salvation. It comes under the heading of living the Christian life once we are born again. Thus it presupposes that we are already in a relationship with Christ. A second point of contrast to saving faith is that in growing faith we can speak of degrees of faith. I can indeed grow in faith in terms of my daily trust in God. Over a lifetime of living in Christ, hopefully I come to trust Him more and more.

But growing faith also has something important in common with saving faith—both rely on God. Once again, the point is to learn not to occupy ourselves with our concerns, worries, and efforts but to turn them all over to Christ.

Many people, in their zeal for these first two kinds of faith, draw a wrong conclusion. They say that, because faith in both of these senses means to abandon ourselves to God, this faith is blind. Such a statement implies that we ought not to use our minds in any questioning or reasoning way; trust in God implies lack of critical thinking about God.

A little reflection on this attitude shows it to be unacceptable. We cannot trust someone or something we know nothing about. We need to know that the object of our trust is trustworthy. This concern does not mean that we want to compromise the nature of faith, but faith needs to be real, and this involves basing it on a reality, not a fantasy. In the Book of Hebrews, we read that those who want to come to God, must first of all believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). In short, before we can come to have faith in Christ, we need to know that faith in Christ is meaningful.

Knowing Faith

Thus we come to the third type of faith, which I am calling “knowing faith,” often called “belief,” because it has to do with accepting certain statements as true. This faith refers to the way in which we may come to accept certain intellectual truths without which a trusting faith would be impossible. It is not possible to respond to the gospel without knowing the gospel; it is not possible to trust in Christ without knowing what Christ is all about. Thus even though we can only be redeemed through “saving faith,” such saving faith presupposes some essential items of knowledge. James tells us that the devils believe that God is one, but tremble, for they cannot be saved by such knowledge (Jas. 2:19). Neither are we saved by knowledge, but genuine trusting faith presupposes some knowledge.

There are several different ways we may aquire the knowledge on which we can base a decision. Let us lump them together into two categories: faith and reason, where “faith” stands for the “knowing faith” under consideration. The medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas has provided us with a helpful analysis of faith and reason in this context, and the following discussion will rely to a certain extent on his description.

People usually learn about the facts of their faith from some form of authority. These sources might include parents, clergy, teachers, or the Bible. Because we are taught to respect these authorities, we accept what they teach us about God. No one can be expected to examine all of his or her beliefs before committing to them as true. Many people do not have the capacity, time, or interest to undertake a thorough evaluation of a doctrine and its alternatives. For that matter, if the world had to wait for the “experts”—theologians and philosophers—to come to agreement on beliefs before accepting any of them, nobody could believe anything. So God has seen to it that some people are commissioned to represent His truth as He has revealed it in His Word, the Bible. Such is the obligation of all parents to their children and all others who occupy a teaching or preaching capacity in the church. We see then that it is both possible and proper for all articles of belief to be accepted on the basis of faith, that is, out of respect to the authority that teaches them.

However, the path of knowing faith does not preclude a second path based on reason. When I was a child, my father told me that water consisted of oxygen and hydrogen. I believed him, for I respected his authority. However, that faith in him did not prevent me from taking a course in chemistry in college in which I carried out an experiment of producing water by combining oxygen and hydrogen. I still accept the same belief as true, but on different grounds—I first knew it by faith, now I know it by reason. The same logic may apply to our knowledge about God.

Many truths are accessible to us only on the basis of faith in God’s revelation, including the facts concerning the plan of salvation. Nevertheless, there are also truths that we can know on the basis of reason as well as by faith. These truths might include such items as the existence and unity of God. There is nothing in the nature of knowing faith to preclude our accepting some truths on the basis of reason.

When we talk about finding a grounding for our faith, we mean that we ground some beliefs on reason—beliefs we had earlier accepted on the basis of knowing faith. Does this sound insidious to you? If it does, it might be because you still are missing the distinctions on faith I made above. Reason can never replace saving faith or growing faith. It cannot simply supplant knowing faith, but it can provide a second avenue towards the same items of belief that are usually accepted on the basis of authority alone.

Corduan, Winfried. 1997. No Doubt About It: The Case for Christianity. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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