What Kind of Faith Do I Have?

There seems to be a disconnect in my life between my absolute faith in Christ as the Savior of the world and of my soul, and my sometimes-less-certain faith in his guidance of my everyday life. Of course, in my head I absolutely believe that he will provide for me every second of every day. But sometimes my heart does not believe this as securely as my head. I feel like the man whose child was possessed by a demon and in desperation, cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Matt. 9:24) I don’t like uncertainty—I want to know what is ahead and how I should act or react. I want to know, but most of the time, God’s only reply is, “It’s ok to not know; you must trust me.”

I’m not very good at that.

So there seems to be two kinds of faith in my life: first, the grand, overall faith of Jesus as my Savior; and second, the plodding, grinding faith of Jesus as my daily guide. I know how my faith works in the eternal part of the story: I believe; Christ saves me; I die and go to heaven instead of hell. It’s the nitty-gritty details of what happens tomorrow that I struggle with. I graduate from college in less than nine months—what will happen then? Will I be able to find a job in my chosen career? Where will I live? Can I be successful and make my family proud? When God says, “Have faith in me,” about these kind of things, I struggle more to say, “Yes, Lord,” than when he asks me to trust in him alone for my salvation.

Somehow, I don’t think there are supposed to be two different kinds of faith in the Christian’s life—and neither does John Wesley.

Wesley was preaching in England at a time when many were concerned with the issue of assurance—how we can be certain that we are saved. This concern came as a result of Calvinism, in which many insisted that no one can be sure of salvation (although Calvin does not expressly say this himself). Wesley was very concerned with the salvation of his congregation, but not only as a distant event that would take place only after death. Instead, he spoke of saving faith as something that is very present, and should influence every action of a Christian’s life:

Whatsoever else it imply, [salvation by faith] is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained, on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith…a salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word justification; which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart. (Standard Sermon One, Salvation by Faith)

Not only does faith save us from hell sometime in the vague future, but our faith saves us from sin now. This is what Wesley means by deliverance from the power of sin. The Christian who believes in Christ for his eternal salvation also believes in Christ for his everyday needs, and relies on Christ to guide him in doing good works. There should be no disconnect between our saving faith and living faith—it is all one faith.

This is the same idea that the Apostle John teaches in his first epistle:

 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John’s idea of abiding in Christ and following his commandments is the same as Wesley’s idea of the present, daily saving faith. As Christians, we cannot only believe in Christ for our salvation after death—we have to believe in our salvation now, on earth.

It’s hard for me to “not be anxious about anything,” and instead, have faith in Christ to help me lead the kind of life that will glorify him. I am so eager to try for righteousness on my own. I only have one life; my tendency is to think that it might be messed up if I let the Lord take control. But in reality, he’s in control anyway. I may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

From Atoms to Mustard Seeds: Assurance and Uncertainty

John Wesley insists we can have assurance of our salvation. Romans 8:16 states, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Wesley takes this to mean that we can be absolutely certain of our entrance into heaven:

“To secure us from all delusion, God gives us two witnesses that we are his children [his Spirit and our spirit]…Their testimony can be depended on. They are fit to be trusted in the highest degree, and need nothing else to prove what they assert.” (Standard Sermon Eleven, The Witness of the Spirit)

The problem with Wesley’s argument is that it is based on a feeling of conviction. The reverend does warn against deception by instructing his congregation, “Let every man who believes he hath the witness in himself, try whether it be of God; if the fruit follow, it is; otherwise, it is not.” Nevertheless, feelings can be misplaced. Mormons are some of the kindest, most sincere, and religiously pious people I know. Yet when they are presented with a difficulty in the logic of their faith, they ignore rationality and instead reply that they know their beliefs are true because of a “burning in their bosom.”

John Calvin capitalizes on this possibility of deception, insisting that faith may not be real, but only a false pretense. In other words, feeling an assurance of salvation is not a promise of that reality. According to Calvin, if someone turns away from his or her faith, they were probably not part of the elect, and never truly saved in the first place:

“The faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretense. They are borne along by some sudden impulse of zeal, and erroneously impose upon themselves, sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter II)

If Calvin is correct, then I could believe that I have salvation through Christ, not realizing that I will fall away 20 years down the road and end up one of the reprobate. That is not a comforting notion.

Which of these two doctrines do I believe? Both Calvin and Wesley are well-known, well-respected theologians, whose texts are still read centuries after their deaths. They both present convincing arguments, defended with conviction. Yet the opposing arguments and objections seem equally convincing. How could God allow a single soul to slip through his fingers, once grasped? Yet how could God cling to and save a soul that does not desire salvation?

In all honesty, I do not have a final answer for this issue. It seems very important—not necessarily to the non-believer, but to every Christian. I would like to absolutely know that I am safe in Christ—that I will not fall away and find myself burning eternally after my death.

While I don’t know all the intricate details of how salvation works, I do know one thing—God is good. He sent his Son into the depths of hell to save us from our foolish decisions, which means that he desires our salvation. Jesus tells his disciples, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matt 18:12-14)

This issue of salvation is only one of many uncertainties. The more questions I have, the more unanswerable questions I have. I must rely upon my Creator to support me through the uncertain and unsolvable. That is extremely difficult. As humans, we want to have knowledge and certainty; we want a floodlight on our path, not a simple lamp. Yet if we did know all the answers, there would be no need to trust God. If a mustard seed of faith will move a mountain, I only have an atom. But more answers will only decrease my reliance on faith, not increase it. I pursue God more through uncertainties and trials than times of assurance and harvest, which is probably one of the reasons for testing. And while it is hard to suffer through uncertainty, if it will bring me closer to the Lord, I am willing to endure.