Thursday, January 07, 2010

Question #6: What is Faith?

Question #6 is:
What is faith?

Or, more specifically, what concepts does faith necessarily include or imply? Does faith simply mean to place your trust in someone or something with no other component added, or does it necessarily include and imply obedience? It's an interesting question and the results of asking it are just as interesting.

Latter-Day Saints: (Mormon)
In LDS doctrine, faith equals knowledge plus obedience. The two go together. If you don't obey, you don't have faith. But also notice that, again, there appears to be some allowance for sin, which can only mean a failure to obey. Consider this quote from the LDS web site:
Although you may still sin, you show your love for Him by striving to keep His commandments and avoiding sin.

Notice that the goalposts have moved… Faith is knowledge plus obedience. But in this quote we see that merely striving to obey is apparently good enough. But how can this be if faith equals knowledge plus obedience? Perhaps they really mean that faith equals knowledge plus striving for obedience. Consider one other quote from the LDS web site:
However, Jesus did not eliminate your personal responsibility. You must show that you accept Christ and that you have faith in Him by keeping His commandments and obeying the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.

According to this quote, I must demonstrate my faith in Christ by keeping His commandments. But if I occasionally sin, and they say that I might, then I am not keeping His commandments.

That's an interesting quandary, I think.

The Watchtower: (Jehovah's Witnesses)
The Watchtower teaches that faith must include obedience. Consider this quote from my interview from a local witness:
Obedience is necessary because it demonstrates that our faith is genuine. -Local Jehovah's Witness

Well, this is very similar to the LDS description… you must show that you have faith by obeying and keeping His commandments. But in my interview with a local Jehovah's Witness, I was told that it's possible to get off-track spiritually. Well, how is it possible to get off-track spiritually if you always obey? In other words, the Watchtower acknowledges that everyone slips a bit here and there, fails to obey. And once again we're back into the same quandary as with LDS. Their definition of faith shouldn't allow for any disobedience at all. They say faith necessarily includes obedience, that our obedience is necessary in order to demonstrate that our faith is real, or to validate our faith. This means that if you disobey at all, you're revealing that your faith is not genuine.

Lordship Salvation:
It's interesting that we find exactly the same idea in Lordship teaching. Lordship teachers believe that obedience is a necessary component of faith.
Faith is synonymous with obedience. -Marc Mueller

Faith includes obedience -John Stott

Scripture often equates faith with obedience. -John MacArthur

And here's one more interesting quote from MacArthur:
Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. -John MacArthur

Under this understanding, we have all the same problems that we have in the cults' teaching! How strange is that?

Free Grace:
Under Free Grace, faith is nothing more than the act of trusting someone or something. Faith has no power in itself, it is entirely dependent on the object and whether or not the object of your faith is actually capable of delivering that which you expect or trust. Obedience is not a necessary component of faith.

I cannot think of any good reason to conflate obedience with faith… in fact, doing so creates serious logical difficulties. Faith, or "trust" simply means reliance on some object. Any object. Could be a person, could be a thing. If I'm a skydiver, I trust my parachute. If trust implies obedience, then in what way do I "obey" my parachute? Has the parachute given me commands? Okay, you might say, but that's pertaining to an inanimate object… what about a person?

Well, that's easy, seems to me. Just think of a young child who relies on his parents for food and shelter. Does that mean the child always obeys his parents? After having disobeyed, does the child immediately start trying to provide his own meals and his own shelter? No… he still appears at the dinner table, relying on his parents (whom he has disobeyed) for his nourishment. Obedience, therefore, is totally independent of trust or faith.

In addition to that, as we've seen, there is a serious logical problem with including obedience as a necessary component of faith: Any lack of obedience, however small, must be interpreted as a lack of faith. Therefore, if you disobey at all, you do not have faith in Christ and therefore you're not saved. If obedience is part and parcel of faith, then nobody will go to Heaven because all of us disobey and this reveal our lack of faith.

For the sixth time, we've seen that Free Grace offers an answer that is not only totally unique from the the other three answers (all of which are essentially the same) but it also is logically consistent and fits what we know about reality… that is, that everybody fails to obey… quite regularly, in fact. And if faith includes obedience then nobody can be saved.

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