The last few days I've had a number of breakthroughs in the book I've been writing, ideas that have brought a greater coherence to the story as a whole. Yet, the inspirations, so to speak, have led to more questions. One of the issues that have cropped up deals with what, exactly, constitutes faith. In particular, what is faith in Jesus Christ? The Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith, yet do I completely understand what saving faith truly is? Certainly, true faith must include accurate content, for one can have 'faith' in many things, such as other deities, one's own ability, or a head of lettuce, yet none of those things will actually save. If a person has faith in a blade of grass to hold him up while he clings precariously to a cliff, that faith likely won't be effective. The blade of grass, no matter how strongly one believes it can save, won't actually keep the person from falling. So, the object of one's faith is important.
Yet, clearly, the content of one's belief need not be entirely correct. If salvation depended on perfectly accurate beliefs none of us would be saved. For, it seems obvious to me that not a single one of us knows God as He truly is, but only knows Him in part. The Word says as much, saying (I don't remember where exactly) we only know him now in part.
Therefore, our beliefs about Him and knowledge of Him must be partially incorrect (or, at least, incomplete). What, then, is the essence of correct faith? Surely it must include belief in Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God. Yet, mere belief (conscioius acknowledgement) in Jesus' identity cannot be adequate, for in James there is that verse about how demons believe that, too, and tremble. That letter intimates that faith is intertwined with action. Deeds don't save a person, though, so what exactly did the Holy Spirit mean when he led James to write that chapter in his letter?
Moreover, the two greatest commandments revolve around love. Are these commandments separate from salvation, or does love play a part in faith, through which we are saved? Perhaps. Jesus Himself linked love to obedience in John 14, so if faith itself is linked to action (obedience) then love must somehow be involved in it. Certainly, demons don't love God, so no matter what their 'belief' it's obvisouly not a saving belief. Love must play a part in true faith, then, for faith implies trust. Trust doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with love, but trust in the case of following God involves obeying commands that can be quite detrimental to us. Only trust that springs from love for God, I believe, can enable us to do all the things God asks of us.
Faith, I must conclude, is intimately intertwined with love. Faith that is not grounded in love and does not express itself in love is not true faith at all, I contend (and I believe the Bible contends). The purpose of faith, which enables us access to the very power that raised Christ from the dead, is love. Love is more important than faith, without which all our actions are but clanging gongs. I'm not sure any of this constitutes a clear definition of faith and I'm also not certain that such a simple definition can be formulated, but I do believe that faith must involve loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, as well as the obedience that he desires (see John 14) as the result of our love. No matter how correct a person's beliefs about God, without those two aspects-love and the obedience that comes from that love-belief isn't 'faith.'
Yet, in all this pondering about the nature of faith, one must still keep in mind the fact that it is not our faith that saves, but God alone. For that person hanging precariously from a cliff, all the faith in the world that a friend standing at the top of the cliff would pull you out of danger if the friend was not there (or didn't actually pull you up if he was there). Also, in the case of God, that faith comes not through our own effort or merit but as a gift from God. It is he who enables our faith, who makes possible our faith in Him. Our faith is an instrument through which God saves, not the actual source of salvation.
Yet, it is our part, so to speak, in salvation. It's like a man hanging from a cliff who couldn't be saved unless he reaches out his arm to the friend who wants to lift him up to safety. The analogy may not be completely adequate, but it suffices for the moment, I believe, except that the man on the cliff may not have reach up fully, but only in part (perhaps a very small part) The friend on top will reach down as far as necessary should there be any movement toward him. What actually enables that person to reach out is something that I do not have space to discuss here, yet that part must be there for the saving to occur.