What Does it Mean to “Believe"? Here are 5 Aspects of Christian Faith
That’s how one of the most important creeds of Christ’s Church begins. And it’s no surprise that it does. Because as Michael Bird explains in his new book What Christians Ought to Believe, not only is “the Christian life a story of faith: of coming to faith, of keeping the faith, and of finishing the faith.” (43) Life itself is a life of faith:
Faith, believe, trust and hope—whatever you like—these emerge from a deeply human experience full of dualities; experiences of life and loss, fidelity and failures, joy and grief, as well as trust and betrayal…The reality is that faith is an inalienable feature of human existence. (44)
What this opening salvo of our cornerstone creed is inviting those who recite it to do is “to recognize their need to know, to trust, and to belong to something beyond themselves," because "our most basic need, one hardwired into our humanity, is to know God.” (44)
So before launching into the specific affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed, Bird explores the meaning of faith by outlining five aspects of Christian faith.
Faith as Fact
The Apostles’ Creed's invitation to “believe” isn’t a shotgun affair. This creed calls us to faith in something specific: “the faith,” which is a vessel for facts.
“This faith consists of the assertions in the Creed about God, Jesus, and salvation. This ‘faith’ is a noun, it is the sum of ‘faith facts’ that tell us something about God’s person and work.” (45) Of course, this work of God consists of what he has specifically done in Jesus, the gospel.
Bird says, “the second-century church father Irenaeus got it right when he described the gospel ‘handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.’” (45)
Faith as Trust
Faith isn’t only a noun, a set of facts; it’s also a verb. “The biblical picture of faith is no stale affirmation of stationary facts. Rather, belief is something that is living, active, dynamic, personal, and even risky.” (46)
Hebrews 11:1 encapsulates this picture: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As Bird explains, “Faith is a firm conviction that what we hope for will one day happen.” (46)
He goes on, “Ultimately faith is our trusting response to God’s faithfulness.” (46) And we’re beckoned to persevere in such trust through active obedience.
Faith and Obedience
Bird believes understanding the relationship between faith and obedience is vital:
If we collapse faith into obedience, the result would not be faith but fealty and fear, a belief that we must obey certain rules and live a certain way in order to earn God’s love…Alternatively, if we cordon off faith and obedience too far, then faith becomes dislocated from faithfulness, and we run the risk that faith is nothing more than an abstract compilation of religious ideas that do not shape how we actually live. (49)
If one aspect of faith is trusting, another is staying faithful to what we’ve trusted.
Faith and Doubt
It makes sense that faith would be connected to fact, trust, and obedience. But what about to doubt? Bird says yes, insisting that doubt can be faith's aide. “Doubt can be a sign of spiritual struggle, a means of growing into maturity, and a pathway into a stronger more resilient faith.” (53)
“It is comforting to remember that God’s faithfulness to us is greater and far more powerful than our doubts. God is there to help us in our doubt and to journey with us…” (54)
Faith and Mystery
Finally, faith means delighting in the unknown. Bird explains that, while “Christians believe that God’s mysterious purposes have been made known to them in the unveiling of Jesus Christ,” and “we know how the story is going to end: a new heaven and a new earth,” it’s also true that “there are so many uncertainties and unknowns.” (54) He lists several such uncertainties:
- What does tomorrow hold for me?
- What is my part in God’s design?
- What trials will we face?
- How will God bring us through it all?
In the face of such uncertainties, “Faith means following Jesus into the mystery of God.” (54)
"The Apostles’ Creed calls us to a rich and vibrant faith in the God who it describes…This faith, as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, is no list of stale facts. It tells a story about God, about Jesus, about us, and about the world to come.” (55)
Journey with Bird through this story to ensure this faith is what “shapes us and molds us into the God-lovers, the Christ-followers, and the Spirit-possessors that God chose us to be.” (55)
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