Understanding Faith

For Christians, what is faith?

Faith is a personal adherence of man to God; i.e., a person has a relationship of attachment and commitment with God. At the same time, faith is a free assent to everything that God has revealed; i.e., a person approves and agrees freely with everything that God has revealed. (cf. CCC 150) For a Christian, faith means believing in Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God — the One sent by God the Father and to whom the Father tells us to listen to. (cf. CCC 151) Faith also means to believe in the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit who reveals to man who Jesus is — “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). Therefore, the Church never ceases to proclaim her faith in one only God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (cf. CCC 152)

The Characteristics of Faith

  1. Faith is a grace. In the Gospels, when Simon Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood”, but from “my Father who is in heaven”. (cf. Matthew 16:17) Faith is a gift of God; before faith can be exercised, a person must have the grace of God to move and assist him. The Holy Spirit moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind, so that a person can accept and believe the truth. (cf. CCC 153)
  2. Faith is a human act. This human act consists of trusting in God and cleaving to the truths the He has revealed; it also consists of submitting one’s intellect and will to God, as well as sharing an interior communion with God. (cf. CCC 154) In faith, a person’s intellect and will cooperate with God’s grace. (cf. CCC 155)
  3. Faith is certain. Faith is more certain than all human knowledge because faith is founded on the word of God. Even when revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than the light of natural reason. (cf. CCC 157)
  4. Faith seeks understanding. A person who has faith desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed. As a person increases his understanding of God’s plan and the mysteries of faith, the more his faith increases. In the words of St. Augustine: “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.” (cf. CCC 158)
  5. Faith is reasonable. Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Research in all branches of science, provided it does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. (cf. CCC 159)
  6. Faith is a free act. A person’s faith must be free and nobody should be forced to embrace the faith against his will. Christ invited people to faith and conversion, but He never coerced them. He bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke against it. (cf. CCC 160)
  7. Faith is necessary for salvation. Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent Him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. For without faith, it is impossible to please God and to attain to the fellowship of His sons; without faith, no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life. (cf. CCC 161)
  8. Faith can be lost. Faith is an entirely free gift from God, but a person can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Tim 1:18-19) In order to live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end, we must nourish it with the word of God, we must beg the Lord to increase our faith, we must work our faith through charity, abound in hope and root our faith in the faith of the Church. (cf. CCC 162)
  9. 9.       Faith is the beginning of eternal life. Faith allows us to foretaste heaven, which is our ultimate goal on earth. As we contemplate on the blessings of faith, we “gaze at it as if at a reflection in a mirror;” it is as if we already possess the wonderful things which our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy. (cf. CCC 163)

Questions for reflection:

  1. Is it enough for a Christian to say that he believes? What more should a Christian do in order to really have faith?
  2. How did my faith begin? How did my faith grow? How can I keep growing my faith?
  3. St. Paul’s letter to Timothy indicates that people can lose their faith. What are the ways in which I can safeguard my faith?