Recently the writer was engaged in conversation with some young people belonging to a particular sect that canvases on doorsteps. As questions were raised that they were unable to answer, the comment was made by myself, "Although you cannot give a reason for your belief, for you have not thought it through, you are falling back on the thought "this is what we believe. Clever men at the head of our movement have thought it through, and as these men are correct, they are authorities, and we believe them." But let us remember that other denominations have their own 'authorities' who disagree with your 'authorities.' Which authorities then, will you choose to believe?"
The foregoing situation is an unsatisfactory basis for belief. There is no end to the varying and nebulous opinions of theologians, based as they often are on the opinions of other authorities. Scholars assume that truth derives its credentials from those who are scholars. But that is not the case. Jesus said "Thy Word is truth." This is the truth supreme, for what God says is true: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." He above all others must be believed.
As a first matter we might ask, what is faith ? We describe various religions as 'faiths,' for the followers are united by a common faith. Some religions require that at a certain age or understanding, the individual should recite a form of words to demonstrate that they indeed have faith. One such recital begins with the words "I believe with perfect faith . . ." Other religions require that a person adheres to a creed, such as 'The Apostles Creed' or "The Nicean Creed." All religions give great importance to faith, and some even order that those who are not displaying their common faith should be shunned or excluded from fellowship. In all cases, the followers are united by a common belief, so these are called 'faiths.'
What then, is the meaning of this word, central to all religions, great and small ?
'Faith,' as it appears in our Bibles, is a translation of the Greek word pistis, and this word simply means BELIEF. Faith is belief, no more and no less, and the same word can be translated as both 'faith' and 'belief.' When we speak of faith we can substitute the word belief, and likewise for belief we can substitute the word faith. But in English, although we can say "I believe," it is not grammatically correct to say "I faith," for there is no verb form of 'faith,' hence both words are used as appropriate. "The faith" means "the belief" and vice versa. An understanding of this will clear many seeming obstacles to understanding the subject in God's word.
If we now consider religions as beliefs, rather than faiths, we are understanding the meaning of faith. A religion is a belief. If instead of saying "The faith of the Mennonites/ Adventists/ Presbyterians/ Methodists etc." we refer to "The belief" of these religious bodies, we are coming to an understanding of what holds them together -they have a common belief.
In Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 10, the content of faith is defined.
"The declaration of faith which we are heralding, that, if ever you should be avowing with your mouth the declaration that Jesus is Lord, and should be believing in your heart that God rouses Him from among the dead, you shall be saved."
"How, then, should they be invoking One in Whom they do not believe? Yet how should they be believing One of Whom they do not hear? Yet how should they be hearing apart from one heralding ? Yet how should they be heralding if ever they should not be commissioned (sent)? According as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those bringing an evangel of good ! But not all obey the evangel, for Isaiah is saying,
"Lord, who believes our tidings ?"
Consequently, faith is out of tidings, yet the tidings through a declaration of Christ."
In this passage is a figure of speech —a figure of rhetoric —based on sound logic. Paul reasons from one point to the next, and builds an unanswerable case for the only certain basis of faith. We learn that "—faith is out of tidings, yet tidings through a declaration of God."
Faith therefore requires that God has spoken, and that we have believed him. This is the conclusion of the argument in the scriptures quoted. It follows that we must have knowledge of God's word before we can have faith.
This is confirmed in scripture. In the very last letter written by the apostle Paul, 2nd Timothy, we find much reference to the scriptures –the written word of God. After numerous references to scripture, he says in chapter 3:15 ". . .You are acquainted with the sacred scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." So knowledge of the scriptures –of God's word –leads to saving faith in Christ Jesus. Though Timothy did not have all the scriptures, for they were not all written when he first became acquainted with Paul, he was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures, and they also testified of Christ. For example, the Lord Jesus said to the Jews, "Search the scriptures . . . for these are they which testify of Me." Salvation was in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) because they testified of Christ.
Scripture abounds with examples of faith. In Hebrews 11 the writer gives a long list of God's saints who displayed faith, which requires that God had spoken and they had believed Him. They fall into two classes: first those who displayed faith in God's righteousness, yet died in faith, not having received the promises, and second those who were inheritors of the promises God gave to Abraham.
In the last chapter of his second letter to Timothy, Paul makes another admonition. And note how sober is the language. His words recall the words spoken by Moses, when Israel were about to enter the land of promise. Attention to God's law would have preserved Israel securely within the land of promise, with plentiful food and a just society. In view of the importance of this, Moses, now at the end of his days, called upon heaven and earth to witness his solemn warning to Israel (Deut.30:19). Paul, also aware that the time of his dissolution was imminent, admonishes Timothy in the sight of God and Christ Jesus:–
"Herald the word! Stand by it!"
Here is faith in operation. There can be no greater example of faith in the written word than the content of this scripture. No clearer demonstration that the scriptures are believed is possible than to "stand by the word." In past centuries many stood by the word and paid with their lives for their faithfulness. They were faithful unto death, and had they not believed the word, they would not have given up their lives for it. How different is that from today, when even professional, salaried theologians, who ought to defend God's word, exert themselves to find reasons why God's word should not be believed. How true are the words of the Lord Jesus– "If, then, the light that is in you is darkness, how dense is the darkness !
When we believe God's word, we are exercising faith. God has said it. We believe it. That is the end of any controversy. We stand by the inspired word of God.
What alternative is there to knowledge of God's word ? Only ignorance. And ignorance of His word results in ignorance of God —ignorance of His evangel of grace —ignorance of His love and righteousness —ignorance of His purpose to reconcile all to Himself. Consider carefully -if our faith is not based on knowledge of God's word, then what is its foundation -on whose words is our faith founded? If it is founded on any man's words, then we must ask, why should we believe him? And why should we believe him rather than any other teacher ? Many teachers have claimed to speak for God, claimed that what they taught was indeed from God, and therefore should be believed.
As our knowledge of God's word increases, so our faith increase. The declarations of God are for faith. Let us "Stand by the Word."