For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith … (Romans 1:16)
“I don’t have faith.” Justin said. We’d had many long conversations about faith vs. science, faith vs. doubt, and Christian faith vs. other faith traditions. I began to wonder if our conversations were missing the point.
“Justin,” I said, “You seem to think faith is some kind of character trait that allows people to shut off their rationality and jump into a mental abyss of some kind.” He smiled. “What else could it be?”
Ever since the rise of existentialism, a nineteenth century philosophical movement wrestling with the heightened rationalism of the enlightenment, faith has been understood in this way. Religious, moral, aesthetical categories can’t be ‘proved’ scientifically so the only way to access them (human beings seem to need these things to survive) is to jump outside of our rational cage…to faith.
What else could it be?
Paul uses the word faith (pistis) in the first chapter of Romans four times. Gentiles are called to “the obedience of faith” (v5). Paul rejoices that the faith of the Roman Christians is proclaimed “throughout the world.”(v8). He sees faith as a source of mutual encouragement (12) and as a sign of salvation (16). What can we learn from this?
1. Belief & Behavior – For Paul faith connotes belief in the gospel as well as action consistent with that belief. If Jesus is the messiah of Israel and lord of the world, then we are summoned not just to believe something, but also to reorder our inner life, relationships, and cultural participation in accordance with this truth.
What would it look like to weave together belief and behavior in communities on campus? What impact might it have if our communities were to practice life on campus as though Jesus was king?
2. Public Truth – Paul’s announcement of Jesus as Lord could only mean that Caesar wasn’t. Paul wasn’t announcing a private spirituality that good Roman citizens could try on to improve their lives. Paul was announcing the good news that Jesus, not Caesar, was ultimately in charge.
This rules out the popular (enlightenment) idea that faith is a private thing that should have no bearing on public life. What would it look like for our communities to practice sharing the good news of Jesus as public truth?
3. Gospel, not Faith – Conversations about faith miss the point. As followers of Jesus we do not point at ourselves but at the God revealed in Jesus. It is possible for women and men to look at Jesus’ life, claims, death, and resurrection and conclude that he isn’t messiah or lord. This was true in Paul’s world, and it is true in ours. On the other hand Jesus is globally relevant. His life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension have changed the world and continue to change it. There is plenty of evidence to justify belief and trust.
What would it look like for us to start, build, and multiply communities where the global relevance of Jesus can be seen and experienced?
Question: What’s one experience you’ve had of exercising faith, even when you didn’t “feel” faith-filled. Share your experience in the comments to encourage others.