The Faith

M. S. Staveley, Bradford on Avon

Category: Exposition

WHILE THERE ARE A GREAT MANY USAGES Of the word 'faith' In the New Testament, in a comparatively small number of these it is preceded by the definite article, 'the faith', giving the term a distinct and different significance from the usual sense of trust or belief. Nearly all of these latter reference occur in Paul's epistles; and of the others, all but one are found in the Acts, written by Luke the companion of Paul, and with one exception, Acts 6. 7, their context alludes to Paul or his ministry. This implied connection of the expression 'the faith' with Paul's ministry is in keeping with his reference to himself as the minister of the assembly (church, in Colossians 1. 25.

It may be helpful to consider what the expression 'the faith' signifies. Clearly it involves the truth of the gospel, centred in the grace of God and the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as presented for 'the obedience of faith', Rom. 16. 25; 26; and often it signifies no more than this, as in Acts 6. 76; 13. 8; 14. 22; 16. 5; 24. 24; Rom. 3. 3; 14. 1; Gal. 3. 23; 1 Tim. 4. 1; 5. 8; 6. 10; 6. 21. Acts 24. 24 refers to 'the faith in Christ' (the Subject of the gospel) and Romans 3. 3 to 'the faith of God' (the Author of the gospel). 1 Timothy 3. 9 refers to 'the mystery of the faith', i.e. that which is known only to the initiated, implying the work of God in believers, giving enlightenment and understanding; and 1 Timothy 4. 6 speaks of 'the words of the faith' (JND) (the means by which the faith is expounded).

Other references to 'the faith' are as follows, 2 Cor. 13. 5; 1 Cor. 16. 13; Col. 1. 23; 2. 7; Eph. 4. 13; Tim. 6. 12; 2 Tim. 4. 7; Jude 3; and these, in their contexts, contain helpful instruction.

In 2 Corinthians 13. 5 Paul calls upon the Corinthian saints to examine themselves 'whether ye be in the faith'. The context of this requirement was the unwillingness of at least a significant number there to accept Paul as an authoritative vessel and apostle of the Lord, see v. 3. He points out that the work of God that had been effected in them was through his own ministry; and this could not be denied unless they were prepared to regard themselves as 'reprobates', a word Gk. ‘adokimos' translated elsewhere as 'rejected', Heb. 6. 8; that is, as not true believers at all. To be 'in the faith' may therefore be regarded as one definition of a Christian believer, the evidence for which is to be seen in that person, as in the case of the Corinthians in their early history, of whom Paul had said in 1 Cor. 6. 11, after listing gross sins, 'and such were some of you: but ye are washed; but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God'. Although Paul would not have called for the self-examination described in 2 Corinthians 13. 5 if their spiritual state had been better, this is a salutary challenge for anyone who may be less than fully committed to the faith, in a day when there is much nominal profession of Christianity without real faith. Self-occupation can be dangerous; but it is wholesome to recognize what God in His grace has effected in us and in our lives, and to draw comfort from this, that we are indeed 'in the faith'.

While the term 'the faith' as used in this passage clearly involves the truth of the gospel, it is perhaps significant that Paul does not ask the Corinthians to examine whether the faith was in them, but whether they were in the faith. That is, the faith was something existing outside of themselves, into which, as believers, they had (or should have) come. Viewed in this way, the expression 'the faith' may be intended to convey more than the simple terms of the gospel. One would suggest that the expression could well be related to, perhaps even explained by, our Lord's words in John 14. 6, 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'. Those things are all, in that context, objective: that is, they are seen in their fullness in Christ Himself, with no reference to what is done, or not done, in us. 'The way' would involve His atoning sacrifice, as in Hebrew 10. 19, it is only 'by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way', that man can draw near to God and enter His presence (the 'holiest'). For Christians, as John 14. 6 indicates, this involves access to the Father, Eph. 2. 18, and our relationship to Him as sons by faith in Christ Jesus, Gal. 3. 26, and by adoption, Eph. 1. 5. The term 'the Truth' can be linked with what the Lord went on to say in John 14. 7 as to 'knowing' Him and the Father. This refers to what Christ is as the embodiment of all that the Father is, in love and light, the fullness of the divine nature; and as regards man, all that God intended man to be, Christ being in Himself the embodiment of all truth as to both God and man.

He is also 'the Life', and there is no doubt an allusion to this in His words in John 14. 19, 'Because I live, ye shall live also'. But the thought is more fully developed in John's first epistle, where he refers in the opening sentences to having seen and borne witness to 'the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us' (the apostles and other disciples who companied with the Lord in His time on earth).

Each of these features applied by the Lord to Himself in John 14. 6 has a vital significance for the believer. It is only by Him as the Way that we can approach and be in the presence of God; and it is in Him as the Truth that we learn what God is, and what His thoughts for us are; while as the Life, we both learn in Christ the activity that is pleasurable to God, and receive by His Spirit the power by which alone that life can be lived in mortal conditions. Thus, taken together, the three terms of John 14. 6 might be said to constitute the faith which Christians are to hold.

In 1 Corinthians 16. 13, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to 'stand fast in the faith'. In chapter 10 he had shown how Israel's history is used by God to provide instruction for the Christian assembly, and the setting of this exhortation corresponds with the wilderness where Israel are seen as carrying the Ark of the Testimony in hostile surroundings as they journeyed towards the land of promise. It is a defensive posture that is in mind. The Hebrews epistle is similarly set, the danger there being that the Jewish saints, faced with trials as Christians, might be tempted to revert to Judaism. For the Corinthians, the danger was rather one of worldliness and human wisdom, features which have always been used by the devil to assail the church, and perhaps never more so than in the present day. To 'stand fast in the faith' today usually involves a measure of reproach, even from professing Christians; for instance, to be stigmatized by epithets such as 'fundamentalist' and 'simplistic'. It is a matter of holding tenaciously to the vital truths of the faith, the deity and incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning work, His resurrection and ascension, and His second coming, first to rapture the church and then His public appearing to take up His rights as King of the Jews and Lord of all, ultimately 'King of kings and Lord of Lords', Rev. 19. 16.

Paul no doubt had a similar thought in mind in urging the Colossians, in our third scripture, to 'abide in the faith founded and firm' (JND), 'and not moved away from the hope of the gospel', Col. 1. 23. In the second chapter, he goes further, and urges them, 'As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; rooted and built up in Him, and stablished ('assured' or 'confirmed', JND) in the faith', Col. 2. 6, 7. In all these references to 'the faith', it is important to see that there is nowhere any suggestion of addition or development. What was communicated by the Lord and His apostles, and recorded by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, is to be maintained in its integrity and completeness, without addition or change of any kind. Jude's phrase, 'the faith once delivered', implies that the faith is a body of truth which is not to be altered or added to in any way. The same thought underlies Hebrews 2. 3; and in Colossians 1. 25 Paul says that it was given to him 'to complete the word of God' (JND). There was nothing of revealed truth to come afterwards. Nowadays it is commonplace to hear or read remarks about 'the need to adapt Christianity to modern times', and 'the progressive evolution of Christian thought and practice', or similar expressions. All such thoughts must be resisted by those seeking to hold and walk in the truth; and Paul links our being confirmed in the faith with our initial, personal reception of Christ, not only as Saviour but as the Lord, and with continuing to 'walk in Him'. This is a peculiar, but very significant term. The expressions 'in Christ' and 'in the Lord' occur frequently in the epistles of Paul, and no doubt have important doctrinal implications; but 'walk in Him' would imply our personal occupation with Christ, and what has been described as our 'apprehension and appreciation' of Him. This would include all that He is to God, and all that He has accomplished, and is doing, for Him and for Himself, as well as all that He is for us; and it is to affect our whole life, which 'walk' suggests. 'Rooted and built up in Him', which follows, is an elaboration of this thought, leading on to our being confirmed in the faith.

In Ephesians 4. 13 there is the expression (only found there) 'the unity of the faith', which is closely related to the reference to 'one faith' in verse 5, the context there being the unity of the Spirit. The fact that 'one faith' is linked with 'one Lord ... one baptism' suggests that the public testimony is in view; but in verses 12 to 16 the apostle has rather in mind the spiritual edification of the saints through ministry to enable them to take up the truth of the church as the body of Christ in its proper functioning. 'The faith' in this context is one of the great components of the unity necessary for this, the other being 'the knowledge of the Son of God'. This clearly means that the desired unity is not to be simply one of doctrine, but centred in the personal knowledge of, and love for, Christ as the Son of God.

Both Paul, in his two letters to Timothy, and Jude introduce the thought of conflict for the faith, 1 Tim. 6. 12, 2 Tim. 4. 7; Jude 3. The first passage should probably read, 'Fight the good fight of the faith', as in JND (footnote), RSV & NIV as well as the RV; and Paul is surely alluding to this in the second reference, when he says, 'I have fought a (literally 'the') good fight ... I have kept the faith'. 'Keeping the faith' would imply its defence, as in 1 Cor. 16. 13; but in Paul's case it would also involve his special responsibility as one entrusted by God with ministry for the exposition of the faith. However, fighting for the faith, or 'contending earnestly', as in Jude 3, would be a more active idea than simply defending it, even implying when necessary a degree of combativeness, and certainly resoluteness. The word used by Jude, translated 'contend', is the only occurrence of the Greek 'epagonizomai', which is a strengthened form of the verb 'agonizomai' used by Paul in 1 Tim. 6. 12 and 2 Tim. 4. 7. Other uses of that word are all in a good sense, by the Lord in Luke 13. 24 (translated 'strive') and John 18. 36 ('fight'); and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. 25 and Colossians 1. 29 ('strive') and Colossians 4. 12 ('labouring fervently'). By contrast, when Paul says in 2 Tim. 2. 24 'the servant of the Lord must not strive', he uses a completely different word, makomai, which suggests ungodly strife as in John 6. 52, Acts 7. 26 and James 4. 2.

There are many statements made today in the press or in books, or on radio and television, which challenge the faith in the sense which we have been considering; and we should perhaps ask ourselves what our attitude is to be. In the early days of the recovery of assembly truth, able servant like Mr. Darby frequently challenged and refuted statements made by leading figures in Christendom which were erroneous. Sadly, one seldom reads or hears of such challenges today. While we should not go out of our way to seek controversy, it is a question whether we should not go out of our way to seek controversy, it is a question whether we are being faithful to the Lord and to the teaching of Jude 3 if we allow erroneous statements about the faith that come to our notice to pass without comment publicly.