If someone asked you what faith is, what would you say? How would you define faith? A lot of people would say that faith is having a set of beliefs. Having faith, they say, is having some fixed ideas about God, about life and about the after-life.
There is truth in that. Beliefs are a key part of faith. But faith as the bible describes it is much richer than that. Through the pages of scripture we see that real faith is a confidence in God which produces a willing obedience to his commandments. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Suppose you wanted to go on holiday. Maybe life has been stressful, and you want to get away from it all for a few weeks peace and quiet. So you pick up a stack of travel brochures and search their pages for a destination that appeals to you. You take soundings from friends, you check ratings and testimonials on the internet.
Then what? In the olden days you went down to see the travel agent in person, armed with a cheque book. These days you pick up the phone, or you fire up your web browser, and you make ready your credit card. You divulge the long card number and the three digits from the back of the card. The holiday is booked. And you just exercised faith. You’ve haven’t seen the people involved and you know very little about then. Yet you have just handed over a substantial sum of money because they have promised to take you where you want to go and to give you a good time when you get there.
But that’s not the end of it. You get your tickets, and with them some blurb from the airline. This tells you that there are restrictions on your luggage: you are forbidden from bringing certain items with you, and there is a weight limit. You are very careful to follow these instructions. You obey orders because you want this holiday, and you don’t want to be turned away at the check-in.
Finally you head to the airport, get on the plane, and settle back. You might be a little nervous, but again, you are exercising faith. You can’t see the pilot; you haven’t checked his CV; yet you are prepared to believe that he is up in the cockpit and that he is up to the job. You are putting your life in his hands because you want the holiday. And (almost always) your faith is rewarded. You arrive safely and have a wonderful time.
At its heart, Christian faith is just the same. In Hebrews chapter 11 you will find a heroes gallery of men and women who have exercised faith in God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”. Throughout history, men and women have trusted and obeyed God because they have confidence that He will reward them with eternal life at the end.
The Christian life starts with a person who wants to get away from it all: they want to be rid of sin from their lives; they want peace of mind and peace with God; they want to be sure of arriving in heaven. There are not multiple airlines or tour companies offering safe passage to heaven. There’s only one way: that is through Jesus Christ the Son of God. No money is required: he offers salvation free of charge to whoever will take it. He lived His life perfectly so that we could be credited with His good works. He died a death he didn’t deserve so that the penalty we do deserve for our sins could be paid for in full. All we have to do is ask him to give us this salvation.
At this point some people say, “but I can’t see Jesus – how do I know he is listening?”. To which I answer: you can’t see the travel agent when you’re on the phone – and you have no idea who responds when you fill out a form on a website – but that doesn’t stop you. You go ahead in faith because you want that holiday. And if you want certainty of eternal life you should go ahead and speak to Jesus in prayer. He will respond to you through the bible, perhaps as you read it for yourself, or as someone explains it to you. When we seek God in earnest, he sends His Holy Spirit to take up the words of the bible and press them home into our hearts so that we feel an unshakable confidence that they are meant for us.
As with a journey by air, following Jesus requires our obedience. There are luggage restrictions. If we want Jesus to take us to heaven there are many things we can’t take with us. Our sins must go: bad habits, wrong thoughts, wrong attitudes. We can’t get rid of these things by ourselves, but we can ask Jesus about that too: he willingly gives his power to transform our lives. He transforms us by making us so eager to be with Him and to be like him that old habits, old sins lose their appeal. Each victory over sin increases our confidence that He is with us, and increases our courage to do battle with the next sin.
At the end of life comes the last great journey of all, the journey of death. Even Christians may get apprehensive about this, but every Christian can have confidence. They have put their trust in the greatest pilot of all: Jesus Christ is the only one who has been through death and come back again. He has conquered death, and is supremely qualified to bring His people safely through.
On the other side of death, God promises that the faith of His people will be rewarded. In Psalm 36:8 we read of God’s people in heaven: “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures”.