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Faith Based on Knowledge of God

The central teachings of the Christian religion, such as those of the Apostles’ Creed, were from the beginning presented and accepted as knowledge—knowledge of what is real and what is right. That is why they had the transforming effect they did on a world dead set against them. Indeed, the biblical tradition as a whole presents itself, rightly or wrongly, as one of knowledge of God. Then, within that overarching context of knowledge, there do arise specific occasions of faith and commitment to action extending beyond what is known, but still conditioned upon the knowledge of God. Consider the biblical stories. When, for example, Abraham left his homeland and went out “not knowing” where he was going, he did so because of his knowledge of God and of God’s constant care in his life. He did not do it wondering whether God existed or was with him. The same was true of his willingness to offer up his son Isaac. The very ground of his actions in faith without specific knowledge was precisely overarching knowledge of his God, who spoke to him and acted in his life.

The same is true of Moses when he went in faith to deliver the Israelites from slavery, and of David when he went into battle against Goliath. Moses, according to the texts, is given conclusive evidence that God is with him—evidence he also can present to others (Exod. 3–4). David actually cites, to those who doubted his ability, the experiences and the knowledge that enabled him to believe he could conquer the giant (1 Sam. 17:34–37). Over and over in the Old Testament the explanation of events in human history is that humans may know that Jehovah is the living God. An act of faith in the biblical tradition is always undertaken in an environment of knowledge and is inseparable from it.

We can never understand the life of faith seen in scripture and in serious Christian living unless we drop the idea of faith as a “blind leap” and understand that faith is commitment to action, often beyond our natural abilities, based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways. The romantic talk of “leaping,” to which we in the Western world have become accustomed, actually amounts to “leaping” without faith—that is, with no genuine belief at all. And that is actually what people have in mind today when they speak of a “leap of faith.”

From Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. Copyright © 2009 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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