The word “faith” is used in many ways today. It is important to understand correctly what faith is, because the Bible is very clear that faith is a requirement for salvation (Eph 2:8; Heb 11:6). The faith which is necessary for salvation is, specifically, faith in God, in His Son, and in the Christian gospel. But the New Testament also uses the term “faith” in a broader sense, such as when Jesus admonished Peter for having little faith (Matt 14:31). Faith has two components: belief (intellectual) and trust (volitional). Faith is never a leap in the dark. It is rational trust.
It is common for people today to speak of misguided or false faith—that is, a belief/trust in the wrong thing. But the Bible presents faith as a virtue. Faith is listed among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Faith is listed among the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:9 (cf. 1 Cor 13:2). Faith is everywhere spoken of positively in the New Testament.
The classical virtues are often defined as a mean between two extremes, and faith may be defined as a mean between gullibility and skepticism. Faith, like love and joy, is always a virtue if exercised according to the proper sense of the term. There is therefore no such thing as misguided or false faith, properly speaking. One may have misplaced trust or false beliefs, but the English word “faith” traditionally was used solely to describe a virtue. Faith is always right, if it is true faith (cf. 2 Thess 3:2). Today, non-Christian religions are commonly called other “faiths,” but properly speaking they are other religions or cults. Their truth-claims are lies, and their followers are gullible, deceived, and depraved. They have no claim to the virtue of faith.
How does one avoid both gullibility and skepticism, and only place his faith in what is true and right? How does one know whether to be trusting or skeptical? The answer has to do with character and holiness. Every truth-claim that one is presented with is made by some person or group of people. If the person is honest, moral, upright, and holy in every respect, we ought to be inclined to believe the claims he makes. However, if the person has some character flaw, we ought to be skeptical or disbelieving, no matter how convincing he may sound. In the end, there is only One whom we may trust absolutely, and that is the One who is absolutely holy—namely, the triune God. What God says is to be believed without question, because it is impossible for God to lie or deceive or to be mistaken (Num 23:19; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). The Bible presents a moral standard that is higher, holier, truer, more pure, and more just than any human standard ever devised. The character of God’s people is qualitatively different than the character of unbelievers. This shows that the Bible is God’s Word, and that God is absolutely holy and trustworthy. What godly men say, we are to be inclined to believe, though we must compare what they say to what God has said as the ultimate standard. This is an important principle, which therefore bears repeating: faith is to be exercised in proportion to the character of the one making the claim, with all claims to be measured against the claims made by the triune God, who is the only perfectly trustworthy One. So how do you know whether to believe someone? You know on the basis of his character.
An illustration: in a court of law, if two witnesses tell different stories, the court examines the character of the witnesses. If one witness has a bad reputation and poor character, and the other witness has a good reputation and high character, the witness with the better character is trusted. When it comes to spiritual matters, the contrast could not be any clearer. God is holy, and the fruit of the Spirit is entirely good. Satan is evil, and he and his followers are entirely bad. So when Satan contradicts what God says, what should you do? Should you say, “Well, that sounds plausible—now I’m confused”? No way! Believe the Witness whose character is perfect, for He can be trusted to tell the truth.
In my next post, I will look more specifically at the rationality of faith–that is, the relationship between faith and reason.