LEARNING ABOUT FAITH FROM WHAT IT IS NOT:
How we define faith greatly impacts how we live our lives and relate to God. Yet few people I have met can give any kind of thurough definition of the word. If you want evidence of this just Google “Street Epistemology” and watch people who are chruch members and even Seminary students really struggle to answer aithiest questions on faith. Usually when asked people say it is a kind of power or tool for producing belief. By Christians it is often set up like this: reason is an activity of the mind, the mind is fallen so it must produce fallen results. This is why God gave us faith, it’s like a direct belief producing tool that goes around those other belief producing methods and surpasses them.
While this definition sounds noble I don’t think it’s Biblical and a quick way to show this is by some of the faith is not statements in 1 Corinthians 15.
1 Corinthians was written as a letter from Paul to the church in Corinth in response to some news Paul had received about the church from some local believers (See 1 Cor 1:11). Part of this report seems to have included that there were members of the Corinthian church who were denying Jesus’ resurrection. Paul responds to this part of the report in chapter 15.
We can learn a lot from the ancient Creed found from verses 3-8 of this chapter. The flow and rhythmic pattern of this section has led multiple scholars including secular ones like Bart Earman and Gerd Luderman to conclude this is a very early statement that Christians likely memorized and used as a regular teaching tool. This ancient teaching tool can be traced to within 5-10 years of Jesus’s actual death, making it invaluable evidence of early Christian belief! This Creed contains a concise statement of some of the prophetic predictions about Jesus and a listing of many of the eyewitnesses who saw the Risen Jesus themselves, part of which were 500 brothers many of which were alive and could be asked about the event. This makes it an incredible statement of the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus.
What good does this do in our investigation of faith though you may ask. Well, when we examine what Paul says about it we learn how important evidence is to the proclamation of the early Christian message. Paul says “I delivered this things to you as of first importance”. This means to Paul the creed and its evidence as the most important piece of a proper explanation of the truth of Christianity. Paul follows this Creed with some interesting what faith is not statements that should give us insight about what faith is.
1. Empty Faith
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.
1 Corinthians 15:14
Paul states in verse 4 that if Jesus has not actually raised from the dead the faith of him and the Corinthians is empty and hollow. In other words you can have all of the strong feelings about it you want, if we don’t know that the Resurrection happened then all this faith talk is meaningless!
2. Useless Faith
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.
1 Corinthians 15:17
Second Paul declares that a “faith” that is based in an event that has not actually happened is useless. It is a fiction not worth believing in and Paul goes on to say we are people to be pitied if that is the case. There is no point to living for Jesus and pursuing righteousness to please Him if the whole thing is actually false.
To summarize, there are three things we can learn from Paul here are:
1. Faith ought to have evidence as it’s starting point.
2. Faith that is not verifiably based on truth is empty and worth little thought.
3. Faith that is not verifiable is worthless, it would be better to live without faith then to have a kind of faith that is based on the nothing more than our faith feelings.
What about faith being believing what we do not see?
for we live by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.
One objection to the above evidence based view of faith is, aren’t there clear scriptural references that state faith is opposed to seeing/knowing via the evidence?
This objection has a simple answer, one we can especially see given Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 often called a list of the hero’s of faith. It describes Abraham leaving his home by faith, Moses going back to Egypt by faith. The faith of these heroes is not a faith in God’s existence which then caused them to believe that they should do something. No instead it is because they believed two things by evidence that they moved on to have faith. 1. That God existed 2. That He could do what He said (Hebrews 11:6). What was this evidence? God spoke to Abraham and Moses directly in addition to them having observed “the heavens declaring the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:18-20). Their faith was a confidence in those two things enduring through difficult circumstances not seeing the next step completely yet knowing via evidence God had promised them He would in fact take care of them.
That is faith, trusting in God via good evidence in spite the difficult circumstances. Faith is and enduring thing, something that we use a rail to hold onto amist life’s storm saying again and again “I KNOW God is faithful” .