February / March - 2020 Vol. 108
hand with key to door
Living an Active Life of Christian Faith and
Overcoming Hazards to Faith

by Steve Clark
The following article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. It was developed as a teaching resource for Christian covenant communities and prayer groups in the charismatic renewal movement. - ed.

The Importance of Faith

"By grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). The apostles proclaimed this good news: all people can enter into a new relationship with God by believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Faith is the key, Jesus is the door, and salvation is the room to be entered. Christians throughout the ages have rightly viewed faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the foundation of Christian life. However, many Christians today lack a complete understanding of faith.

Most Christians know that faith is important at the beginning of one's Christian life: through faith, a person establishes an initial relationship with Christ. However, people often overlook the role faith plays in every part of the Christian life.

Faith is not only the key to salvation; it is also the way people receive all of God's gifts: healing, guidance, answers to prayer, tongues, all the "riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). Faith is the key, Jesus is the door, but the house Christians enter has many rooms. Salvation is only one of these rooms.

Since faith is the key to God's innumerable riches, it is also vital throughout our Christian lives, not just at the beginning. Whether a person has been a Christian for two months or fifty years, faith stands at the heart of his relationship with God. Faith is indeed the key to the kingdom of God.

Mature Christian faith should be part of our response to the first and greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul. Our faith in God should be marked by trust. A young son's love for his father is filled with faith and confidence, devoid of all mistrust, suspicion, or fear. How much more should the children of God love their Father by putting faith in him and his promises.

The Meaning of Faith

A Definition
Like love, faith is a fundamental Christian quality which Christians frequently misunderstand. Many people are frustrated in having faith because they hold inadequate or distorted conceptions of its nature.

True Christian faith is a reliance upon God which allows him to fulfill his purposes within and through his people. What are these purposes? God wants to form his people so that their characters reflect his own loving kindness and faithfulness. He wants to make his people his instruments so that he can touch and speak to others through them. God also wants to teach his people to pray in such a way that he can guide circumstances which are beyond their control. Faith releases this threefold action of God. Faith clears the road on which God is moving and offers him free access to the lives of his people.

This view of faith discourages some Christians because they perceive faith as another task they must accomplish in order to obtain God's favor. Many Christians see faith as a hurdle standing between them and God, a harsh prerequisite or obligation they must fulfill. Such an image of faith is false; it misreads and defeats God's purposes. To God, faith is not a harsh test for his people, but a way for them to rest fully in his goodness and strength. When Christians exercise faith, they abandon themselves into the hands of a loving God, acknowledging God's greatness andtheir own smallness, God's ability and their own limitation. Faith is a gift from God, freedom from the bondage of self-will. Faith is not a task, a hurdle, or an obligation.

The Basis of Faith
Many Christians are unclear about the basis for faith. Some think faith has little basis. They view faith as a blind leap, an arbitrary act of will. While faith involves both risk and will, Christians do not leap blindly into faith. Instead, a Christian's faith is his or her response to God's revelation of his own nature and plan. God reveals himself in the Scriptures, human history, personal experience, and the experience of others.

Since God's nature is consistent and his word is faithful, we can count on him to act in the future as he has acted in the past. Like the woman healed of a hemorrhage by touching the fringe of Jesus' garment (Mark 5:25-34), we believe because we know who God is. This woman had seen the wonders Jesus had performed, heard his teachings, known his goodness, and witnessed his power. For her, stretching out a hand and expecting to be healed was not a blind leap. On the contrary, it was a supremely rational act based on her knowledge of Jesus' nature, desires, and purposes.

Christians can know God's nature, desires, and purposes in at least three ways. The first way is through God's universally binding promises. The Scriptures contain many such promises with clearly stated conditions. We read that God gives the Holy Spirit to all those who ask him (Luke 11:13); God forgives the sins of those who confess their sins (1 John 1:9); God gives eternal life to those who believe in Jesus (John 3:16). If a person believes in Jesus, he or she need not beg Cod for eternal life. He or she can stand upon God's universally binding promise. All people who fulfill the stated conditions have a solid base for exercising faith in the promise.

A second way a Christian can know God's desires is through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Since God lives within the Christian, the Christian should expect some direct personal communication from him. Such communication can either be in the form of clear words impressed in the mind, or in an inner sense of conviction that God is saying something. (Audible messages and actual visions are rare, but should not be ruled out.) The Spirit might lead a person to talk to a certain stranger on a bus, or to pray that a headache be healed, or to send a Christian book to a friend. Christians should respond in faith to such promptings of the Holy Spirit. All Christians make mistakes in following the leadings of the Spirit, but this does not lessen the importance of responding in faith to what God directly reveals.

A third basis for faith is an understanding of God's nature. Scripture and personal experience reveal God's mercy and compassion for people. Often Christians confront situations which are not covered by universally binding promises and involve no direct leading of the Spirit. Yet it still seems that God in his loving kindness would want to act. For example, Scripture contains no universally binding promise that God will heal every disease, and Christians will not always receive leadings from the Spirit to pray for healing of every illness they encounter. Nonetheless, Christians can still ask for healing, basing their faith on the revealed mercy of their Father. Many healings, conversions, and other acts of God are realized through the faith of Christians who rivet their confidence on the mercy of God, and not on definite promises or leadings.

Expectant Faith
We can understand faith more fully if we distinguish among three kinds of faith: believing faith, trusting faith, and expecting faith.

Believing faith means to accept the basic doctrinal truths of Christianity. Such faith is essential—but it is not sufficient. "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2:19).

Trusting faith is the belief that God is good, that he loves his people, and will care for them always. A person with trusting faith not only assents to a creed; he or she also entrusts their life into God's hands. Such faith is also essential—but there is more that God desires. God wants his people to believe, to trust, and to expect. Expectant faith reaches out to Jesus and expects him to act in specific situations.

Expectant faith differs from the other kinds of faith in its active, dynamic nature. Many Christians have an abundant supply of believing and trusting faith, yet still fail to ask for much that God would gladly give. This is because believing and trusting faith tend to be passive. They stress a yielding to the will of God and a willingness to endure difficult circumstances. However, without the active response of expectant faith, the Christian may mistakenly accept adverse circumstances as the will of God when God might want to change them.

For example, many Christians accept physical illness, financial distress, and other difficulties as inevitable events in the course of God's purifying plan. God does indeed use hardships and trials to discipline his children. But he also uses difficulties as a way of testing and building faith. "So, your car has stalled on the way to the prayer meeting. Do you believe that I love you enough to start it again?" "You feel like you are catching the flu. Do you believe that I can keep you well?" Jesus taught his disciples to pray forcefully, even for minor needs:
Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him? (Matthew 7:7-11)
To look to Jesus for specific help, to reach out and touch the fringe of his garment, to call to him and anticipate an answer—this is expectant faith.

An Active Response and a Constant Outlook
The dynamic nature of expectant faith illuminates an important truth: faith is an active, external response, not an internal emotion. This is the biblical meaning of the term "faith." Many terms from Scripture—such as love, peace, and faith—originally identified richly complex actions and relationships containing an emotional element. Today these words are primarily associated with their emotional components. Thus people customarily confuse Christian love with emotional attraction to someone. Similarly, most people think of "faith" as an internal surge of belief or certainty. However, if tied to emotion, faith becomes a sputtering and inconstant flame. A Christian who views faith this way will find it impossible to live in continuous faith. In truth, faith is not solely or even primarily an emotion. It is rather a way of thinking, speaking, and acting which contains an emotional element.

Faith is an external response. You have faith if you act in faith, just as you have love if you act in love. However, faith is not only a set of specific actions; it is also an outlook which should characterize one's entire Christian life. A Christian filled with faith will rejoice in all circumstances, hope in God's providential control of human events, and avoid attitudes of anxiety, fear, negativism, hostility, or discouragement. Thus, faith consists of both a series of actions and a general outlook.

Growing in Faith

Faith is formed by God; Christians cannot grow in faith by their own efforts. Nevertheless, Christians can contribute to their growth in faith by confronting some important hazards and by following some helpful steps. An individual person cannot build their own faith, but God cannot build it without the person's cooperation.

Hazards to Faith
Fear. The first hazard to exercising faith is fear. When a person has an opportunity to exercise expectant faith, the voice of fear often whispers, "What if God does not do this thing? That will probably crush your mustard seed of faith." Or, "Do you actually think that your little faith is going to make any difference? This situation calls for a Christian with real faith." These attacks of fear exploit our sense of human weakness.

These fears usually stem from personal insecurity, fear of failure, and an over-intense approach to faith. To overcome them, the Christian should relax, rest in the Lord, remember God's promises, trust his word, and venture forth with a willingness to make mistakes. Growing in faith is like learning to walk: if you are unwilling to fall, you will always crawl.

Christians who are just starting to grow in faith should begin by praying for small things. Begin by praying away a headache, and leave praying for healing of serious illnesses for later. Christians should be eager to exercise their faith. They should view their failures as opportunities to learn about how to exercise faith more effectively.

Emotions. Worrying about feelings of faith also frequently blocks the free exercise of faith. Many people try to work up intense feelings of faith for each prayer request, believing subconsciously or consciously that God will not work unless they have the right feelings of faith. Such people have more faith in their own feelings of faith than faith in the Lord. When Christians pray or act in faith, they should direct their attention totally to God. Feelings of faith are helpful, but God's power does not depend on them. The realization that faith is not an emotion should free the Christian from bondage to his or her own feelings of doubt and allow the person to stand firmly on the rock of God's word.

Self-doubt. Many people who lack faith in themselves also lack faith in God. Often a personal problem of insecurity and self-doubt will masquerade as a serious sin of unbelief. A Christian plagued by this problem is also open to satanic attacks of self-condemnation. When a person's difficulties with faith are caused by self-doubt, he should be especially careful to disregard these distorted guilt-feelings. Knowing that the problem is primarily with self-confidence allows the individual to see the problem clearly and to trust more fully in the Lord.

Satan. A final hazard to faith is spiritual warfare. Many difficulties in exercising faith are natural, but others are caused by satanic opposition. Indeed, evil spirits can aggravate even the natural problems. An awareness of the realities of spiritual warfare aids a Christian in resisting thoughts of doubt or fear which spiritual forces hostile to God plant in his mind. As these lies come to the surface, Christians can rebuke them with God's authority and replace them with the truth.

Positive Steps Toward Faith

An Environment of Faith.
A Christian can grow in faith if he or she associates with those people who will foster growth in faith. Social environments exert a powerful influence on our attitudes, actions, and the course of our lives. If a person spends most of his or her time with sports enthusiasts or music lovers, the individual will tend to share their passions. Similarly, one's faith will be weak if he or she is surrounded by people who expect little from God. On the other hand, one's faith will grow if he or she lives among faith-filled companions. Therefore, anyone who wants to grow in faith should identify the Christians around them who are living lives of faith, meet with them regularly, and begin to develop supportive personal relationships with them.

Reading. Christians can build their faith by reading books and other media which communicate a faith-filled Christian world-view. Of particular value are books, articles, and other Christian media, such as videos and online resources, which describe God's work in the lives of faithful Christian men and women. Such books and Christian media testify to the truth of Scripture by showing how God's word has been lived out in the lives of his people. They are especially helpful for those who are new in the Christian life. Christian reading material can build faith just as surely as exposure to the secular media can undermine it.

God's Word. A particularly important means of growing in faith is through hearing God's word. In the tenth chapter of Romans Paul writes "so faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Christians hear God's word through Scripture, teaching, prophecy, books, personal exhortation, and direct words from the Lord. Often the simplest truths inspire the deepest faith: God loves us, his Holy Spirit lives within us, he has promised to care for our every need. God gives his word to strengthen us, reassure us, and to build our faith. Thus Christians should be diligent to hear, absorb, contemplate, and love God's word, for it builds faith and nourishes our spirits.

Personal Prayer. Christians will grow strong in faith as they are faithful to personal prayer. God has adopted his people as sons and daughters; he delights in answering their prayers (Matthew 7:7-11). Yet many Christians pray as though they were begging money from a cruel and miserly stranger. Confidence should pervade all Christian prayer. As God's children pray with assurance, a new faith is born within them and their petitions release the power of God.

Prayer for Faith. A final step in growing in faith is also the most direct: ask God to increase your faith. The Christian should offer this prayer confidently, expecting God to answer it. God wants his people to believe boldly in his love and his promises; he will not refuse to answer a prayer which so resembles his own desires.

This article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

> See articles by Steve Clark in Living Bulwark

Steve Clark has been a founding leader, author, and teacher for the Catholic charismatic renewal since its inception in 1967. Steve is past president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of charismatic covenant communities worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical international missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.

Steve Clark has authored a number of books, including
Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will, Building Christian Communities, Man and Woman in Christ, The Old Testament in Light of the New.

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