When talking to non-Christians, the nature of faith can be a tricky topic. For some followers of the aggressive ‘New Atheist’ movement, faith is something that stupid, ignorant fanatics use to cover up the fact that there is no evidence for their beliefs. Thankfully, I don’t know many people who actually hold this view, but there can still be a lot of uncertainty over what faith actually is. Without a doubt, as a concept, it can be very hard to pin down.
Whilst at Soul Survivor last week, I heard a talk from a Malaysian pastor called Clement Wong that was called ‘What is Faith?’ As part of that hour long seminar, he gave us five levels of faith to help us see the different ways that it can come into our lives. In this post, I’m giving you those five levels, keeping as much as possible to the ideas that he was communicating. I’d never really thought about faith in levels exactly like this, so I’m still going through it in my own mind, but I want to get these out there as a particular point of view that might help people to come to terms with what this thing called faith actually is.
Level 1: Natural Faith – This is the faith that everybody has, regardless of religious beliefs. It is the everyday acceptance of things that can’t necessarily be proved. For example, before sitting down on your sofa, you don’t check that it can take your weight, you just have faith that it can because it has never failed before. There is an almost endless list of examples of this kind of faith: faith that your pilot isn’t drunk when you fly to America, faith that your car’s engine won’t explode, faith that the food that you bought from the supermarket isn’t poisoned…the list goes on. In a sense, this faith is unremarkable; it just allows us to go on living normal lives.
Level 2: Saving Faith – This is the basic level of faith required to be a Christian. It is faith that Jesus, whom we can neither see, nor touch, is still alive today and died on the cross to save us from our sins, rising again 3 days later. This is faith because it cannot be proven to us, and even though a Christian may see that there is a lot of evidence for the historical truth of the death/resurrection of Christ, we can’t prove it, and thus faith is required for us to take it as truth.
Level 3: Living in Faith – As Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, Christians ‘live by faith in the Son of God’. This means that once we have taken that (cliché alert) ‘leap of faith’, or in other words, applied that saving faith, our lives become lives of faith. This goes beyond simply believing the words of God as written in the Bible, this is applying them to our lives, in order that our faith can be demonstrated by our good works (James 2:18). James 2 is a very good passage for explaining what this sort of faith looks like, so rather than trying to do a better job than the God-inspired apostle, I’ll let you read that if you want to understand it further.
Level 4: Miracle Faith – I suppose that the best way of describing this kind of faith is to refer you to the attitude of the centurion in Mark 8:8-9. This is the confidence that God has the power to do the miraculous, to heal the sick and raise the dead. As Clement Wong was at pains to point out, having the faith to see miracles is more than just hoping that God will answer your prayers, it’s knowing that God will answer your prayers. Instead of praying ‘God, please heal my friend’, we should pray ‘God, thank you for healing my friend’ and believe it. In some ways, faith is practical belief, and this sort of faith – miracle faith – involves letting belief in God’s power become a real, tangible expectation for awesome things to happen.
Level 5: Gift of Faith – This is the one that is hardest for me to explain from the talk, but in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions a gift of faith in 12:9. I’ll explain this the way I’ve always understood it, because I don’t think there was anything in the talk that contradicted me. Basically, this faith is a complete trust in God whatever is going on in your life. No matter how hard things get, you can always thank God for his mercies, like Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:22-24. I believe that God doesn’t just give this gift to people for their own benefit, but for the benefit of people around them. If those who aren’t as strong in faith see someone going through hard times and still praising God, then their faith will be strengthened. Because it is a gift, I don’t think that this kind of faith is something that everybody can receive, just as not everybody will be a prophet or an interpreter of tongues, but it’s certainly something that we should all desire and pray for.
Well there you have it, five different levels of faith. I hope this makes things a bit clearer for anyone who might have been struggling to come to terms with what faith looks like.
Remember, the Biblical definition of faith is this:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1