Faith is a term we use all the time, but its meaning is often vague. Sometimes, we use faith as a synonym for religion. When we ask someone “What faith are you?” we’re really asking “What religion do you belong to?” Usually, though, we identify faith as having something to do with belief. The Oxford American dictionary defines faith as a “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion.” In our modern context, to believe something means to accept it as true. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth. I believe that the Son of God took on flesh and was born of a virgin. I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again.
Even though I wasn’t there at the creation or the crucifixion, I believe that these events happened because I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Our faith is shaped by the Scriptures, by our surroundings and experience. And, as we grow and mature, our faith seems to go through different stages. Early on, your parents most likely played the largest role in shaping your faith. Parents’ faith, or lack thereof, has a huge influence on young children. If you grew up in a home where church, God, and Jesus were rarely spoken of, you might not have had much interest in such things at a young age. It just wasn’t a part of your world. If your parents brought you to church every Sunday, prayed at the dinner table, and spent time reading Scripture, their influence probably rubbed off on you.
Of course, as we grew up, we begin to ask questions and take ownership of our faith. As adolescents and young adults seek to find their own place in the world, they either grow in their faith, stagnate, or reject it altogether. Eventually, most of us move to a place where we do not accept something as true simply based on human authority. Just because Momma says that my face will get stuck this way if I make weird faces doesn’t mean I buy it anymore. So, as we evaluate our parents’ beliefs and practices, we begin to forge our own.
And as we do that, some of us simply replace our parents with other authority figures, who dictate the beliefs of our faith. “Well, if the bishop or the preacher or the pastor says it, it must be true.” And some religious groups thrive on blind obedience. But I, for one, hope that you don’t just believe something because you heard me say it. I hope that you take what we talk about on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, and evaluate it. Interpret it in light of Scripture, compare it to the teachings of historic Christianity, evaluate it in light of your own personal experience, and take into account your God-given ability to reason.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Instead, as Paul writes in First Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything. Hold onto the good.”