I’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.
Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.
Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”
How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.
Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.
God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.
Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.
So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.
But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”
In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.
Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.
So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.
Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.
And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.
As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.
But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.
But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.
So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.
The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.