A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure

The motto here at the Credo House is, “Helping people to believe more accurately and more deeply today than they did yesterday.” I love this motto. It expresses what I aspire to be and how I want to be used.

However, belief is a very complex animal. I think that most of us find this to be the case later in our walk with God. As life’s challenges surface, we begin to open our spiritual chest looking for answers to our wayward thoughts and feelings and find that we are unsure of exactly where the problem lies. The belief that came so easily before starts slipping away. Often it does not necessarily slip away, but changes and nuances itself—kind of like a metamorphosis. Either way, we find that belief is not as black and white as we once thought.

While there is a complexity to belief, there is also a simplicity to it as well. Belief in Christ is so simple that Jesus himself said a child can exercise it (Mark 10:15). There is a “matter-of-factness” that the Bible presents when it comes to belief. Sometimes it seems that one either has it or they don’t.

Getting caught up in its complexities can cause us to throw our hands up in the air and say “What is it worth? I will just wait to see how it all turns out in the end.” But this would amount to making a preliminary decision which the Bible does not support.  In fact, it would be the very antynomy of what it means to believe as a Christian. While faith can be very complex, there are some biblical foundations that are laid that stabilize our understanding and keep us from becoming too discouraged.

In this series, I am going to use this chart that I call the “Belief-O-Meter” to attempt to explain what faith is all about. For many of you, this will serve only to confuse you. I understand this and am willing to take this risk of confusing you for the sake of future stability. For others, I hope that this will ground your thinking and help you to evaluate where in the anatomy of belief your problems might lie.

The Belief-O-Meter

As you can see, the meter is set to O. This means that faith is not present at all. The further the dial goes (like with a speedometer in a car), the greater the faith. Once someone hits the red, for lack of a better phrase, their faith is “on fire.”

The first thing that I want you to notice is that belief is not black and white. If someone is at a 10, while this is low, they still have faith. It is only when the dial is at a zero that faith is not present. Some of us find ourselves with very little faith crying out to God, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Our hopes are to have our faith as high as it can go, but, in the words of my favorite philosopher Bono, some days are better than others.

We are going to add three “sub-meters” to the Belief-O-Meter that I hope will help in our understanding of both the complexities and simplicity of biblical faith.

Content

The first is called the “Content Meter.” It is a vital component of your faith meter. This assumes that knowledge is necessary for our faith. In other words, there is no such thing as faith without content (we will talk more about that later).

The Reformers referred to this as notitia.

This knowledge consists of propositions, basic historical claims, stories, and ideas. For example, Christians believe that God created the world out of nothing, loves all people, is involved in history, sent Christ, the God-man, to die for our sins. We also believe that a person’s faith in Christ puts them in a right (“saving”) relationship with God. Finally, among other things, we believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word.

As much as I hate to say it, content itself is not really black and white either. Believing that the Bible is God’s word does not insure that people are going to interpret it in the same way. Involved in the content meter is an assumption of correct understanding. Without this, people may believe, but their belief is based on misinformation, misunderstanding, and/or misinterpretation. This is why it is so important that we not only have the right content, but that we are interpreting the content correctly. Without this, as I will argue later, there is no possibility of biblical faith.

Conviction

Now we have added another meter. This is the “conviction meter.” It expresses the level of intellectual assent that one has about the content. It asks the question, “Do you actually believe these things?” As with content, there is no such thing as faith without conviction.

The Reformers called this assensus.

The conviction of one’s faith depends on how much they have actually wrestled with the content. This assumes that the faith is not “blind.” It involves trustworthy resources, rational thinking, and intellectual exploration of opposing ideas. One may have knowledge that Christ rose from the grave, but there is a point where this knowledge turns into a conviction that the proposition is actually true. A complete absence of conviction would also evidence that one’s beliefs are not real.

This may seem self-evident, but, as I hope to demonstrate soon, it is not always the case. Sometimes people will have “faith” that is greatly lacking in true conviction.

Consent

Finally we add the “Consent Meter” to the mix. I must admit that word “consent” is first based on my desire to alliterate for didactic purposes more than my desire for accuracy. But I think it will work if you will follow me.

The Reformers referred to this as fiducia.

The idea of consent has to do with the action that our conviction must produce to be true faith. I think there are two other good words (that don’t start with “c”) that can be used to express this element just as well: trust and rest. While the other two aspects of faith were both informative and rational, this one involves an act of the will. This is where we decide or concede to rest our faith in the object of our conviction.

While some may think “consent” would be better placed as a synonym for “conviction,” I do believe it fits here very nicely, especially for the Christian faith. We are called upon to “turn to” God in faith. This normally will mean that we are turning away from something else. It is a surrender of the will. We are to have a concession of our lives over to God. To concede our lives means that we are no longer self-reliant or self-secure, but are resting or trusting in God. Pride is the opposite of consent. One can have all the right knowledge and even possesses a strong conviction that it is true, but never yield or concede their lives over to God.

Perfect Faith

This is a picture of perfect faith. Let me rephrase that: This is a picture of perfect faith that nobody has. Ideally, we would all like to have all of meters at max, but none of us do. Nor should we expect to have perfect faith in this life. All of us have some wrong content, different levels of conviction, and areas of our lives that we have not surrendered over to God. We have a fancy name for the process of getting all of these meters to rise: sanctification.

Most importantly, though, for now, I want you to notice how the three meters are connected to the big one. When they all rise, the big meter (which, I remind you, represents the whole of your faith) will rise accordingly.

Next I will illustrate how our faith rises and falls with each meter.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.

Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    15 replies to "The Anatomy of Belief (1)"

    • Greg

      The parable of the tachometer…NICE

    • C Michael Patton

      Wow. One comment. Looks like this post really stirred the pot. 😉

    • MShep2

      Michael, do you really think that anyone is giving up Turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and “Black Friday” shopping to study this blog?!! 😉 Really, you must wait till Monday for some response. Priorities, priorities. 😀

    • bethyada

      Reasonable levels on content and conviction, need to push up the consent.

    • Danquo

      I’m not a fan of fiducia=consent either.

      I think they should be switched… Thesaurus.com points out that synonym of assent is consent and synonym of trust/faith is conviction (also credence if that’s more likable).

      So assensus = consent and fiducia = conviction makes more sense to me. But hey, it’s YOUR chart so whatever floats your boat…

      One thing to also note is that not only do we all have different levels of these three aspects of faith, but they can be reduced or increased by various events in our lives.

      I’d also say there might be a use for an underlying “comfort/content” meter that denotes how comfortable we are with our level of faith. Some people are very comfortable being at 25/25/25 whereas others are not and must have a 50/66/75 level or something.

      Or is the very idea of the numbers in the dials corresponding to how comfortable one is with that aspect of their faith?

    • Danquo

      Oh, and where exactly can I find this meter in my brain so I can get it checked out? 🙂

      I assume, in the eternal state, we will have perfect faith?

      What were Adam’s meters like? Paul’s? Satan’s? Lots of interesting questions…

    • Skeptic Heretic

      I think you’ve defined belief somewhat narrowly. It appears that what you’re really defining is Protestant Belief , and probably the conservative side of that particular coin. So, in regard to that, you’ve only touched on one small part of the Christian faith – that is, you have tried to equate Christian Belief = Protestant Belief. There are lots of issues with that.

      For example:

      This knowledge consists of propositions, basic historical claims, stories, and ideas. For example, Christians believe that God created the world out of nothing, loves all people, is involved in history, sent Christ, the God-man, to die for our sins. We also believe that a person’s faith in Christ puts them in a right (“saving”) relationship with God. Finally, among other things, we believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word.

      I know Christians who do not believe all these things. Narrow, very narrow.

    • Rich Wilbur

      I find this and your other posts to be inspiring and filled with lots of great content. Plus I like what you have written here about faith and its three components and using the Belief-O-Meter. I can teach this and use it to equip our folks here in Hawaii. Awesome job Michael! And yes, I would gladly give up my turkey dinner and even Christmas dinner to feast on a buffet of biblical content. Go for it and never stop it from coming!

    • John From Down Under

      @ SH (post #7)

      I know Christians who do not believe all these things. Narrow, very narrow.

      Gee, I wonder if someone who professes Christian faith does not AT LEAST believe that:

      – God created the world out of nothing
      – God loves all people
      – God is involved in history
      – God sent Christ, the God-man, to die for our sins
      – a person’s faith in Christ puts them in a right relationship with God
      – the Bible is God’s inspired word.

      Does that even qualify for virtual Christianity? What has this person converted to? That ‘faith’ is nothing more than a state of mind.

      It’s like saying a car that doesn’t have pistons, alternator, spark plugs or battery, can still be called a car!

    • Skeptic Heretic

      @John (post #9)

      Well, I admit I came across a bit strongly on that. I think I was in a bad mood.

      However, I’m not sure I’m tracking regarding your point?

      A car even without those things is still a car. It may not be very serviceable for the purpose for which it was built, but can still be useful. For example, as a shelter in time of a storm, or home for animals, and probably a host of other uses.

      I know Christians who are taught that God doesn’t love all people, therefore they don’t believe that (holding their teachers in high regard). Admittedly, this is a weak example.

      Another example then.

      – Christ the God-man – this is a trinitarian view. Not all Christians are Trinitarians.

      – To die for our sins – this is the penal substitution view of the atonement. Not all Christians hold to this view.

      – Bible is God’s inspired word – what is meant by ‘inspired’ – many Christians hold different views on this inspiration, on what it means. Also, which bible? Eastern Orthodox Christians hold a few different books to be “the bible” than do Protestants. Same for Roman Catholic Christians.

    • John From Down Under

      @ SH

      I’m glad you’re engaging! My lame analogy about the car is only trying to make a point that without those basic components it’s not REALLY a car, it only looks like one (a shell on wheels perhaps). It can’t function like a car. I could use the analogy of a beer without malt and yeast, though I’m not sure if it would help any better.

      Now, just because someone is not up to speed with the theological lingo of ‘substitutionary atonement’, that doesn’t stop them understanding and believing that Jesus died for THEIR sins. I’ve been a Christian for 23 years and it was only a few years ago I began to study and understand some of the basic theological concepts. Yet, from day dot I believed that Jesus paid for MY sins with his own blood. If you asked me what substitutionary atonement means a while ago I would have said ‘substi-what?’

      Back to the car…my wife for example knows and believes that there’s an instrument in the engine that works like a generator, but she wouldn’t know its proper name is ‘alternator’. I hope I’m making sense.

      What I’m getting at is that if a professing Christian even struggles to understand or believe that Jesus died for their sins, it is doubtful they are a Christian (yet). I would be more intellectually honest to say ‘I don’t get this, nor am I sure it’s true’ and start from scratch as an unbeliever would.

    • Skeptic Heretic

      Ok, so getting back to my original point. That this view of Christianity was narrow…

      You’ve effectively defended one of those points, so may I assume you agree with my thesis that this particular view of Christianity was narrow?

      Also, what happens if a person believes all these things that you put forward as the minimum requirements:
      – God created the world out of nothing
      – God loves all people
      – God is involved in history
      – God sent Christ, the God-man, to die for our sins
      – a person’s faith in Christ puts them in a right relationship with God
      – the Bible is God’s inspired word.

      but doesn’t follow the clear teachings of Christ? Is that person a “Christian”, or is he/she just a believer in something else that goes by the name “christian”?

    • John From Down Under

      Skeptic

      The belief-practice gap is part and parcel of the sanctification process. I am yet to meet a Christian that practices 100% of what he believes. Only Jesus lived in a 100% obedience to God, hence he was able to pay the penalty of every sinner to God as he was totally and utterly sinless.

      However, your question whether one who doesn’t follow the clear teachings of Christ is a “Christian” or otherwise, is a little tricky. Every Christian has a level of disobedience in his walk with Christ that has to be regularly addressed in repentance before God. As Luther said: simul iustus et peccator (simulatenously just and sinful)

      Not following the teachings of Christ though can be anything from going over the speed limit to living in adultery. Since therefore the spectrum is so broad, it’s hard to answer the question without further qualification.

    • repenter

      We must get back to the point of this blog to begin with – what is true Biblical faith? So, is anyone who says they believe in Jesus a Christian? Obviously not, the demons believe and tremble because they know full well who He is, but will never submit to His authority over them, even knowing it will cost them eternal damnation in hell. There are many pretenders who say they belI’ve in Jesus, but are not abiding in God. In fact, I know many professing believers in Jesus who never talk about God or even express that God is even on their spiritual radar at all. I appreciate the writers attempt to break down Biblical faith in a visual way that makes it easier to understand, at least for those who are visual learners. I believe the Bible teaches us that true faith obeys the one they are placing their trust in. In regards to the salvation of man’s eternal soul, 1st John 2:1-3 teaches us that Jesus Christ is the propitious for our sins, and if anyone says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. So, I would say that the litmus test of true faith in Jesus is obedience to His Word.

    • Reggies Kawodza

      The New King James Version of the Bible in Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for , the evidence of things not seen.”

      And the Amplified Version says: “….. ( ….. , the title deed) of the things [we] hope for , being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].”

      From all that has been said so far it appears that there are more components in faith than what the author has so far said. The CONTENT is the substance of things hoped for. Jesus Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith. We do not worry about Christian Pretenders because Christ Himself is the Judge. The evidence of things hoped for is the CONVICTION according to the Amplified Version. The faithful Christians in this life walk by this Faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), producing works of faith which is CONSENT or works of faith which please God. Demons, although they know Jesus Christ, they do not have the Substance of things hoped for or CONTENT. They have been judged already for rebelling against God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.