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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]