Faith Is Not A Virtue

Does it really help you out if you are said to believe something? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

So many times in church services I often hear that the point of Jesus doing such and such or God telling us such and such is that we will have faith. In one sense, this is true and noble, but in the sense that I suspect most people use this term, I do not think that it is noble at all. Most people think of faith as just believing in something. As I have argued, faith is really more akin to an active trust in someone.

Imagine a person who said they believed entirely that travel by airplane was safe, yet when it came a time that this person needed to make a long trip, he refused to act on that and instead chose to drive or take some other means of transportation. Picture someone who said he believed that his doctor was right on what was necessary for his health, but at the same time refused to ever act on the advice of the doctor. Would we count any of those as good positions to have?

In the same way, let’s suppose that you believe God exists. Let’s suppose you believe the Bible is the Word of God. Let’s suppose you believe Jesus has all the attributes of God. Let’s suppose that you believe Jesus rose from the dead. Does that count anything to your credit?

Nope.

It doesn’t? Look at what James tells you! James tells us that the demons believe that there is one God, and they tremble! The sad reality is that many who claim to be Christians do less about the reality of God than the demons do. Isn’t it a shame that according to Scripture, demons take the reality of God more seriously than Christians do?

Of course, all Christians should believe those truths, but that does not mean that believing those truths alone will make a difference. What good will it do you to believe in a truth that you will not act on? If anything, your situation is made worse by your believing those claims. After all, what benefit does it do you to believe in a truth and then act as if that is not really true or that it does not matter. You believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord? Okay. What good does that do if you don’t live like He’s the resurrected Lord?

When faith is seen as trust, then we are getting to what it is that we need. When Christians start not just saying that they believe something but start living like they believe something, then the differences that need to take place will occur. You believe Jesus is Lord? Then live like you’re supposed to spread the Kingdom? You believe God is the one who you should seek to know the most? Then actually consider learning more about him than your favorite TV show or sports team. You think the Bible is the greatest book of all? Then do yourself a favor and actually study it and treat it like a a piece of literature instead of treating it simplistically.

If you can get someone to believe something, then that is good. Life does not stop with just belief though. We must get people to learn to act according to belief and learn all the ramifications of what it is that they believe and what difference it makes. When belief itself is treated as a virtue, people are tempted to stop right there. Belief is not a virtue. Living in active trust, true faith, is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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5 Responses to “Faith Is Not A Virtue”

  1. tildeb Says:

    I notice that nowhere in your final paragraph do you mention anything at all about respecting what’s true… as if the assumption that some belief is true is sufficient to make it so.

    I don’t think it’s good to get someone to believe something… unless that ‘something’ is probably true and demonstrably so. That would make the lives of charlatans and snake oil salesmen and woo-meisters that much less profitable.

    I don’t think it’s good to get someone to act according to belief… unless that belief is probably true and demonstrably so. That would not only severely curtail the livelihood of such charlatans, snake oil salesmen, and woo-meisters but make the commands of tyrants that much less influential.

    I agree that treating belief itself as a virtue is not virtuous (paraphrasing your point). But neither is living in active trust… unless that active trust (which has to be in something) is shown to be probably true by demonstration.

    Without the necessary requirement for respecting what’s probably true first and foremost to bolster the justification for our belief in something, then there is no means to differentiate between acting on a belief based on it being virtuous (after all, how do we know if it probably is?) or acting on a belief based on credulity and gullibility and a willingness to follow (for the sake of following).

  2. labreuer Says:

    Let’s try this on for size:

    Faith means you are willing to wager significant opportunity cost, up to and including your life, to advance some conception of ‘the good’.

    I could have said “to stand for Truth”, but due to the separation between scientia and sapientia Randal Rauser describes in his Theology in Search of Foundations as happening in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (9), I prefer to say ‘the good’. Note that the Christian can set ‘the good’ = Jesus, perhaps with Romans 10:4 as support (I liked the thoughts provoked by How is Christ the “End of the Law”?).

    We generally believe that it is noble to fight for what is right, up to and including dying for what is right. (The failure to make deaths worth it has damaged our grasp of this concept, in the US due to the Vietnam war and in the UK due to WWII following so quickly on the heels of WWI.) The 7+1 instances of one who conquers in Revelation testifies to this. The last instance is followed by a verse condemning cowards and the faithless to the fires of hell. If you’re a coward, you won’t wager much. If you’re faithless, you won’t wager large amounts in a consistent direction.

    This provides a potent redemptive use of the gambling spirit: why not gamble on people [who others think are worthless/hopeless], instead of slot machines and other mammon lunacy?

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