By Hal Knight
Sometimes faith is used to mean what we believe. We affirm our faith when we say the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. To say we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they are described in those creeds is to profess a profound faith. But to say only that we believe these things to be the case, or even less, to say only that we believe there is a God, is simply to affirm a fact. This form of faith lacks personal commitment.
While Wesley would agree that we must assent to the teachings of scripture and the essentials of Christian orthodoxy, he was opposed to a dead orthodoxy. Faith, he says, “is not an assent to any opinion or any number of opinions.” A person “may assent to three or three-and-twenty creeds; …to all the Old and New Testament … and yet have no Christian faith at all.” (A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity, II.5)
In another place Wesley warns that faith is not “a bare assent to the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our Creed, of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament. The devils believe this… And yet they are devils still.” (“The Way to the Kingdom,” II.10)
For Wesley, true Christian faith is to know and trust in God. Drawing on Hebrews 11:1, Wesley describes faith as “the demonstrative evidence of things unseen, the supernatural evidence of things invisible, not perceivable by eyes of flesh, or by any of our natural senses or faculties. Faith is that divine evidence” by which we “discerneth God and the things of God. It is with regard to the spiritual world what sense is to the natural.” (An Earnest Appeal of Men of Reason and Religion, 6)
Faith, put simply, is how we know God and God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Just as our five senses enable us to know the natural world, faith enables us to know those things we cannot experience through our senses. Through faith, we can experience the reality of God’s presence, what God has done for our salvation in Jesus Christ, and what God has promised. This faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. To know God’s love through faith enables that love to change our hearts and shape our lives.
Faith is knowing God but it is also trusting in God. Wesley says “Christian faith is … not only an assent to the whole Gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ, a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency of him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us.” (“Salvation by Faith,” I.5)
There are as many claimants for our trust and allegiance today as there were in Wesley’s day. Where we put our ultimate trust decisively determines the kind of person we are and the life we live. To live a life governed and shaped by the love we see in Jesus Christ is only possible when we not only know about Christ but come to know Christ by faith, and put our trust in him.