What Does It Mean for Faith to Have an Object?

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From Merriam-Webster.com

noun, fāth

Definition of faith:

  1. allegiance to duty or a person: loyalty lost faith in the company's president (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions acted in good faith
  2. belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof clinging to the faith that her missing son would one-day return (2): complete trust
  3. something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially: a system of religious beliefs the Protestant faith

Sadly, it seems that Webster is in agreement with most of Christendom. Faith is indeed a noun, but as you read the definition, it sounds like a verb. Allegiance sounds like something that a person does, by placing their trust and hope in a person or thing. Fidelity, once again, it is a person’s being faithful, a doing, a verb-like thing. “Acting in good faith,” a verbing of the noun. “A belief” in religion or in something for which there is no proof (the no proof thing is a whole other issue). On and on, faith sounds like something that a person does, but is it? And if it is, who is doing what?

Faith as a noun

To see faith as a noun in Christianity, one must ask the question of what is faith and whence does it come?

We are born without faith. Since the fall, we have no trust in God in and of ourselves. We are all curved in on ourselves (incurvatus in se in the Latin), always looking out for ourselves and our own well-being, taking care of “Number One” first. Even in matters of love, it is rare to find true selflessness in ourselves. We reason that if we make our spouse or significant other happy, that there may be a benefit for me. “Happy wife, happy life,” if “she-who-must-be-obeyed” is happy, maybe she will give me freedom to go to the cigar lounge with the guys, or, there may be a romantic interlude in my future (nudge nudge, wink wink). Ultimately, we are all selfish with perhaps an occasional ray of personal sacrifice.

We must, therefore, as Christians, understand that faith is a gift from God, from outside of ourselves (extra nos in the Latin), never from our hearts or inmost being. “For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

We also read from St. Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Which is the gift, grace or faith? The answer is, both. The beautiful thing here is that good theology is often a both/and proposition and not an either/or, especially when we speak of God’s gifts—for they are gift upon gift, overflowing.

When faith is a noun or an object, it is easier to see it as a gift from outside of our faithless selves. So when we understand that our God is reckless with His generosity toward His rebellious creation, we see how God’s graciousness toward us is completely beyond our natural understanding. After all, we tend to be nice to people who are nice to us. It is natural to be terse or even avoid those unpleasant people in our lives. God, in His mercy and kindness toward us, does not avoid us or act unkindly toward us.

St. Paul writes:

”For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

Could you imagine such a thing? Someone breaks into your house, trashes the place, kills all of your pets and even your family and while that person is hating your guts, you stand before the judge and take that person’s prison and death penalty in their place? It is beyond our reason and comprehension, but that is what God, in Christ Jesus, has done for you. HE TOOK YOUR PUNISHMENT! When Jesus died on the cross, while you still hated Him with your selfishness, Jesus took your penalty. While you were flipping Jesus off with your sin, He forgave you and suffered your punishment.

'Ecce Homo!' by Munkácsy Mihály | License - Public Domain
'Ecce Homo!' by Munkácsy Mihály | License - Public Domain

Christ’s mercy takes your punishment so that you didn’t get what you deserved and His grace was upon you so that you would get more than you ever deserved, an inheritance in His Kingdom and a seat and the Feast of the Lamb that has no end.

God granted all of this to you as He granted you Faith through giving you faith, as a noun, placing His Name on you through water and the Word.

Faith always has an object to which it looks. We see faith in action when one sits in a chair—for that person trusts that the chair will hold them. We see faith in action when one flips the light switch—for that person trusts that the electricity will work. We see faith in action as the mother lives out her vocation as a mommy. Feeding and clothing her children, she trusts that God will provide for her family their daily bread. We see faith in action as the bus driver goes to work, knowing that God will provide and sustain his or her needs for the day. We see faith at work as we gather in God’s House and confess that we rightly deserve hell and damnation, yet we approach the altar of the Lord with confidence in that atoning sacrifice of Christ, for us.

The Christian faith is about Christ and not about us. It is about His finished work and never should we place our trust in our own works, for they will avail us nothing before God.

If faith is a verb, and especially if the subject of the verb is you, you will never know the relief, the promise and the outrageous peace of the Gospel which is done, completed, finished for you in Christ.

The gift of God is given freely and received in dead and empty hands that cannot even grasp it until Christ grants us His life.