Bible Spirituality

What Does It Mean To Believe?

I recently put an article up about faith, discussing the first few verses in the book of James. What is the faith the Bible requires? You may not agree with my conclusions, but in a Christian context it is surely an important question. It’s kinda long so here are some excerpts:

the easy assumption is that “believe and not doubt” means either

1. “have strong feelings of confidence or certainty”, or
2. “be intellectually certain of something, know the truth of some particular statement.”

1. If “believe” means “have strong feelings of hope or confidence” then the vast majority of us do not believe all the time …

2. If “believe” means to be intellectually certain about, then there are many areas in all our lives about which we want to pray but we do not “believe” in this way …

But the primary meaning of “believe” (“faith” “trust” etc.) in the Bible is NOT either of those above two meanings.


3. … In fact, the Biblical idea of faith in God or believing in God is about one’s heart. It is not about assent to a creed, or feeling good about things, but a matter of the commitment of one’s heart.

The setting of one’s heart does involve emotions, certainly, but does not depend on emotion. It respects and uses intellect and reason, but it can go beyond what intellect can evaluate or approve. I think having one’s heart set on God – God’s good will, God’s being smarter than we are, God’s excellent moral insight – is what James is talking about here.

If you expect God to give you the wisdom you need – if you expect God to help you discern when and how you must persevere – then you need to have bought, down in your own heart, into God’s character and God’s competence in the long run to manage things very well.

What it’s not:
* That doesn’t mean you fully understand it.
* It doesn’t mean you always feel “up” about it.
* It doesn’t mean that you pretend everything is going to be easy or even marginally pleasant.
* It doesn’t mean you know how to go about progressing in God’s plans for you or for the human race.
* You don’t have to know how it all comes together.
* You don’t have to be succeeding wonderfully in living Christ’s life in this world.
* And you sure don’t have to be trying to shove it down anybody else’s throat!

But you do need to be committed to the idea that God’s take on things is worth your own total involvement, that God’s values are worth pursuing, God’s power is worth trusting, God’s insights into human life are worth trying to understand and live by. …

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  • If we have no responsibility, there is no relationship. We all know and practice that we have freedom / responsibility, and we all know real inter-personal relationships are possible, and their “substance” is largely choices we make day by day. If you are not choosing to have good relationships, you don’t have them. So also with the relationships God created us to have with him.

    Wesley’s phrase is excellent: “prevenient grace” – grace that comes beforehand.

    Does it “depend” on God, as Paul writes? Of course, before and all through. But our responses are real, not just a puppet show. They have profound meaning and effects. That is the grace of creation, of significance, of redemption and of hope.

  • You say to believe is “a matter of the commitent of one’s heart.” Is this something that can be accomplished by mere human endeavor? Is it a decision? Does one “decide” to believe? Does this not require motivation? What is the source of the motivation? You say God? You are probably right. Then it is all of God. Right?