Monday, May 18, 2009

5/18 -Faith

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Calvin: [Faith is] “A firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely-given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (III.2.7)

There are three parts to this definition of faith by Calvin.
1) Faith was not an implicit and blind trust in the church. Faith was not based on ignorance, but knowledge. So it is important to know something as a part of faith. Faith is not separate from content or the object of faith. If I am stepping out on the ice in faith, then I must have some idea that it is ice and not cold water. I must have some idea that the ice is thick enough to hold me. If I say I believe in God, then I must have some idea of who God is that I believe in.
2) It is based on the revealed promises in scripture. It is not that we figure out what faith is or who God is on our own, but God reveals Himself to us. This itself is a gift. Calvin was distrustful of human knowledge apart from God. Idolatry is making God into the image we want Him to be. Calvin seeks to know the God revealed to us. Jesus is God revealed to us. But Calvin would also say that Jesus believed the scriptures of the Old Testament (and the New Testament is an immediate and trustworthy witness to Jesus) and it is important to listen to what the Bible says of God.
3) Faith is sealed by the Holy Spirit. For Calvin the Holy Spirit makes God real to us. The Spirit illuminates the scriptures making the old words new. The Spirit takes common water and makes it a spiritually cleansing instrument in baptism. The Spirit takes common bread and wine and makes them spiritually significant for us. The Holy Spirit is the final word for giving the believer assurance that they are God’s and heaven bound.

There is an element of blindness in faith. We see but through a mirror dimly here. Faith is not sight nor is it knowledge. Kierkegaard spoke of the blind leap of faith. But it is a leap of faith in that it is based on two things- the promises of scripture and the Holy Spirit’s assurance in our hearts. Today many do not believe the promises of scripture. Without a belief that the scriptures are somehow God’s revealed Word to us, our faith is just a leap in the dark based on nothing. This blind faith is a shallow, empty, meaningless faith. My guess is even those “Christian theologians” who say they don’t believe scripture still do so parasitically (or there wouldn't be an image of Jesus to distort). That is, they believe because of their past tradition and they can’t get away or explain why they believe the Christian faith they have. Faith has to involve trust, and trust shows itself in the way we live.
Luther gave the illustration of a someone wanting to go on a journey overseas. A person may need to go, but if they don’t trust the ship, they will not get on it. There must be trust in the ship. This shows not just by saying they believe in it, but by getting on it.
The other ship illustration would be that of the ship sailing into the horizon. This is often used at funerals, but it is still a good illustration of faith. When the ship is leaving our sight we say, "There she goes- she's gone." She is not really gone, just gone from our sight. But on the other side of the horizon some are saying, "Here she comes." Faith based on knowledge tells us the ship is not gone forever simply because she is gone from our sight.

Prayer: Lord give us the gift of faith. Help our unbelief to be transformed into belief. Let our knowledge and trust in you grow this day. Amen.

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