October 20, 2020

Mistakes We Make about Faith

tree of life beach

We mistakenly understand faith when we…

Confuse having faith with having certainty.

Forget Jesus said faith that is only the size of a mustard seed avails much.

Fail to recognize how much our fears shape our faith.

Think that having a hearty or mature faith means I have strong opinions about lots of different issues.

Trust in our faith rather than in the One who is the object of our faith.

Think of faith like currency that can buy us favors from God.

Imagine that having faith will give us “answers” to life’s perplexing questions.

Forget that Jesus helped the one who said, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Fail to recognize how much our personalities, experiences, and relationships affect the way we think about faith and exercise it.

Equate faith with positive thinking and presume that faith and failure cannot go together.

Think that faith is only an individual thing and that I cannot ever be carried by the faith of others.

Conceive of faith only as an inner, “spiritual” reality, and divorce it from the sacraments and actual Christian practices we perform in the body.

Imagine that faith enables us to avoid or overcome suffering.

Presume that faith can only grow in religious soil, through influences that are specifically pious or devotional in nature.

* * *

What are your comments on these statements?

Are there any that you would alter or refine?

Do you have some of your own that you would add?

Do you have any examples that might shed light on how we sometimes carry the wrong idea of having faith?


  1. I like Calvin’s definition:

    “Faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth.” (John Calvin, Institutes 3.2.12)

    • I was surprised to learn that this is one area where I disagree with Calvin. His approach tends to be focused on the self and on knowledge; I believe the Bible indicates that faith is something from God for us, and that it consists in a relationship rather than knowledge. It is very difficult to justify knowledge-based faith with children, the feeble, and other classes of people who simply aren’t equipped to understand on a knowledge level.

    • Colosssians speaks of our faith producing joy and thankfulness: your (Calvin’s) definition helps amplify that. Thanks.

  2. Steve Newell says

    Faith is not something that we have but it something given to us by God. In Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that our faith is not of own work by is a gift of God. The beginning of this chapter starts with Paul stating what we are all dead in our sins and a dead person can not make any decisions for God by only respond with God has given us life and the ability to accept his salvation in Christ by the gifts he as given us.

    • That is one way to interpret that verse…. the wrong way I believe. The gift is salvation. Not faith. It is given by grace, and received through faith.

      • I would say an even more accurate understanding is “all of the above” — saved by grace through faith — and THAT not of yourselves; it is God’s gift. All of that and every element of that, including faith, is God’s gift.

        • Which is one reason why you are Lutheran and I am not! 🙂

          • Well that’s what my college Greek prof said, and he was no Lutheran!

            Seriously, I don’t think including faith in the category of “gift” here necessitates a commitment to a particular theological formulation of that. It just reminds us to thank the right Person for all that has been involved in our salvation.

      • Steve Newell says


        Where does faith come from?

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I gotta agree with Michael Bell here. That is not a very complete understanding of that passage.

    • Faith is not something that we have but it something given to us by God.

      So tired of this alleged dichotomy: is there ANYTHING we have that is not from GOD ?? This is the discussion that is more annoying than…… (insert cable commercial H-E-R-E). In HIM we live, breathe, and have our being….. that does not preclude being a human being: but here comes the “works” police, I’m guessing.

    • Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. James 1:17 ESV

  3. flatrocker says

    Here’s an addition.

    We tend to confuse faith with belief. Our belief is what brings us to faith…or not.

    • Ninure da Hippie says

      If it is belief that brings us to faith, what do we do with people – like those seen in the Gospels – who have faith in Jesus/God who don’t believe (our theology, doctrine, dogma, bible)?

    • In greek, faith = belief. Trying to differentiate the two is what causes confusion.

      • flatrocker says

        In greek, faith can be called “pistis” and belief can be called “pisteuo”. Granted, trying to differentiate the two is probably confusing but a difference is present nonetheless.

        • Noun versus verb in the greek. You were comparing two nouns.

          • flarocker says

            Which brings us back to the original point.
            The verb (believe/pisteuo) leads us to the noun (faith/pistis).

            The verb is not the noun. The verb serves the noun – as it should be.

            Shew, now can we talk about baseball and cold beer?

          • But your original post didn’t use a verb (believe), but the noun (belief), which in greek is the same word in the same form as faith.

            As for baseball and beer – will my bluejays turn it around? And how can they charge so much for drinks in the concession stands? 🙂

          • charge so much for drinks in the concession stands?

            Because you keep paying for them. 🙂

  4. Without a doubt it is no sin to have doubts, but what chance do we have if the Church preaches doubt instead of faith?

  5. Great list Chaplain Mike ~ really have to “ponder these”.

    Imagine that having faith will give us “answers” to life’s perplexing questions.
    Trust in our faith rather than in the One who is the object of our faith.

    After my “crisis” I had to re-think faith. It is scary how much of our faith remains in ourselves – it is not really in Jesus. The “faith in MY faith” issue.

    AND the belief that “now that I know the Truth I have all the answers about all life situations and with that confidence it is my responsibility to straighten out all the problems in the lives of my friends and family.” What arrogance. God have mercy on me for the years when I lived like this. Yesterday in my Bible Study group one of the questions asked was what are the qualities you would say show that a person is spiritually mature and complete? First of all the question shows an assumption. But my response was “when they know they are helpless”. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

    • +1

    • Having pondered this list awhile one other one that was a BIG STUMBLING BLOCK for me was the idea that if I had faith I would, should and could just easily overcome suffering. It took agonizing time and questioning and anguish until I finally realized that suffering was not to be overcome but to be incorporated into my life. It was part of being human. And finally the cross became my only “witness” and all I have to offer others. The cross was not taught in my Evangelical experience but VICTORY and OVERCOMING were big and somehow suffering was equated with failure. I saw such incredible denial now that I look back. And when my own time of grief/suffering came I felt such a pressure to “be strong, to provide a good witness.” This issue was one of the big reasons I felt so drawn to the Lutheran theology of the cross. Now I weep with those who weep and do not run from suffering.

      • +1

        Interesting that pretending to be strong is thought to provide a witness in the triumphant life paradigm… rather than being able to grab someone’s hand and say, “I know exactly how you feel; you are not alone.”

  6. What Mother Teresa says here makes sense to me:

    “Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

    I always get tripped up trying to take care of the big things, forgetting those are the Lord’s realm.

    I think the above reflection is powerful in that it can comfort me when I feel beaten and correct me when I am of course.

  7. I recommend adding the view of faith as a leap. This was taught by Kierkegaard, but not exactly as it has been popularized since then. Rob Bell endorses the view in his new book. Faith is not a leap into irrationalism, a blind faith. Kierkegaard appears to teach a call to move beyond endless debate and definitions regarding religion and move on to actually live religion – perhaps no different than the message of the epistle of James. Presenting faith as accepting something as irrational is not what he taught. Albert Camus viewed such a leap as intellectual suicide. Camus proposed revolting against the absurdity of life and live in spite of it. This view is very similar to Paul Tillich’s view of courage, in which he frequently used the phrase, “in spite of”. He draws into his argument Luther’s search for gracious God as an act of courage. I believe it is better to view faith in terms of courage and revolt rather than a blind, irrational leap. We don’t brave the trials and absurdity of life by longing to be in heaven; rather, we live in spite of the absurdity, trials, non-being, and estrangement experienced in life in spite of it, daring to revolt against it.

    • cermak_rd says

      But don’t atheists do the same? They live and show kindness and face trials, etc. without ever expecting to be in a heaven. And they don’t even do it to be examples (see that atheist who is kind) most people exhibit kindness towards others because it actually makes them feel better about themselves (not to say there is no altruism, but in it’s own way, altruism can be its own reward like the concept of a mitzvah).

      • The difference is God’s grace. Separating grace from the “leap” is something I haven’t resolved yet, because that grace is based upon the Son of God being incarnated as a man, dying on a cross, and being raised from the dead, which indeed sounds irrational. I don’t believe the courage necessary to overcome the absurdity of life is possible without that grace, but perhaps I am mistaken. If I am mistaken then, no, there is no difference between an atheist and a Christian, which even Paul agreed if there is no resurrection. According to Paul, the resurrection was attested to by five hundred witnesses, which makes it a historic event and not a religious fantasy demanding an irrational “leap”. Given that we truly live in an age where some believe George Washington is a myth, perhaps five hundred witnesses are of no use 2,000 years later.

        • Good point about the George Washington myth. Heck, we’re only 70 years removed from the Holocaust, in which millions were killed and millions were a witness to, and you STILL have people out there claiming it didn’t happen.

  8. Joseph (the original) says

    Romans 12:3
    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

    this verse helps keep my theological & doctrinal ‘beliefs’ in proper perspective as i recognize my conclusions+convictions will not be the ones all others’ will be measured against. it makes me less dogmatic & more willing to state i do not fully understand and/or have some very loud discussions with God about certain issues i still wrestle with even after being a Christian ~4 decades.

    i have also concluded, and am comfortable with: doubt does not equal anti-faith. skepticism is healthy. do not believe everything other saints claim to be true, True, truth, Truth, how God is, why He did this or that, why He didn’t do this or that, etc. and i will not accept any supra-natural claims or spooky-spiritual Christianese urban legends no matter how well sourced they are said to be. i’ve learned i don’t need to be an expert on anything spiritual, nor do i need to be my neighbor’s bible-answer-man or God’s-Gift-to-the-World. i don’t have to believe i am some critical cog in some divine destiny plan bigger than my waistline, or that God selected me from the before the foundations of the world to establish a new acre of the kingdom here on earth before i die. i am not the spiritual catalyst for some type of spirtual renewal in my immediate family members or even in the small local fellowship i attend.


    i have been able to relax more into what i am not as much as what i am. in fact, my experience of freedom in the last 4 years has allowed me to be more accepting than expecting, if that makes sense…


    • +1

      +50 years of walking with Him (and stumbling, running from, racing ahead,working ‘for’ Him, etc…sigh). And yet, He loves me.

  9. Wow… that list is the story of my spiritual journey-flounderings and misunderstandings: taught and preached and emphasized by well-intentioned people with human understandings and shortcomings like mine. I’ll be pondering these…

  10. “Faith is a gift”.

    Ok…it’s not something that we do, or muster up on our own.

    Our faith is smaller than a mustard seed (anybody asking mountains to move, lately?).

    But it’s not about how much we have but the object of that faith that is important.

    And being kept in faith is important. And God has provided the tools for that job, as well.

  11. This is really good.

    It’s titled, “What is Faith?” :


    I think all denominations/non-denominations would benefit from it.

  12. “Think that faith is only an individual thing and that I cannot ever be carried by the faith of others.”

    This statement is particularly meaningful to me at this point in time. In light of my Father-in-law’s illness, the care and support of others has really helped to carry us along through a difficult time.

    Please especially remember to pray for us tomorrow, and there will be family conference where we will hear for the first time the prognosis and treatment plan and options. Up to this point in time my Father-in-Law has been in good spirits, and has had lots of support and care from family, pastor, and friends. The other day, three of the staff of the Tim Horton’s coffee shop where he visited every day came by to visit him in hospital.

    • I will pray for a good prognosis for your father-in-law and for God’s peace to be on you all.

  13. Imagine that having faith will give us “answers” to life’s perplexing questions.

    Really, sometimes it seems faith just has to be a substitute for answers to life’s hard questions.

    Think that having a hearty or mature faith means I have strong opinions about lots of different issues.

    …not that there’s anything wrong with that… 😛

  14. Not to go too far with this, but it seems to me that churches that exhibit the latter part of these sentences grow a lot faster than those that exhibit the first part of these sentences.

    • Related – and related to my first post – the first half as you call them, for me represents my immature understandings of what faith is… and it’s taken a whole lot of life experience and reading and listening to writers/speakers/preachers outside of or on the fringes of the evangelical ghetto to gain those deeper understandings of faith….

      • To clarify any confusion – the “first half” doesn’t really hold for all of them…. it might be better to say the negative part of each point that is implied we should avoid – that represents my thinking at a more immature stage and I think is what PastorM is also referring to?

  15. Believing that a life going well is the result of our personal faith or God blessing you.

    Believing that every answer is found in the Bible.

    Believing that Pastors and other leaders are above sin.

  16. For me, faith is trust that grace is the ultimate and final reality, and I know I’m exercising that faith when I have enough courage to live trustingly and gratefully in the midst of all my uncertainties and imperfections (including sin) and fear.

  17. Ok so this is maybe a slightly different interpretation of #1. Not ‘certainty vs. doubt’ as much, but more of a ‘faith leads to certainty about life decisions’. My wife and I are missionaries in South Asia, but we are moving our family home soon in order to attend seminary. I’ve been trying to trying to figure out how to talk about it. Did God speak in my ear and tell me to go to South Asia? No. Did he speak in my ear and tell me it is time to go home? No. Did he give me a vision of myself in a pulpit (or maybe just sitting on stool if I want to be a hip preacher)? No. We are making decisions based off of hundreds of factors, but my general sense is that especially in the areas of full time ministry work people want to hear some certainty.
    Our decision is based on analysis of our gifts, strengths, passions, opportunities, and faith (meaning belief and knowledge that God sustains us). Does that constitute ‘Calling’ or is calling something more than that? Any pastoral readers here want to chime in?

  18. I find it helpful to distinguish between faith and presumption. In faith one looks to God for healing, for example, but it is presumptuous to anticipate that God will answer my prayer by bringing healing as a desire (i.e., completely) and in the time frame that I would prefer (i.e., immediately).

    It seems to me that one facet of faith has to do with spiritual insight. When Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28) it seems to me he was recognizing not only the confidence with which she had approached him, but also what underlay that confidence — her insight about the greatness of his power and the depth of his mercy.

  19. I don’t think it matters to God what any of his believe. What matters is being kind to each other, stuff like that. The word “faith” might have been ruined beyond redemption, but if we’re going to reclaim it, it should refer more to an attitude than a set of beliefs (or attempts at beliefs). The problem is that churches have taken over the discussion, and made belief in particular things a symbol of belonging to the group. Maybe they need this, institutionally speaking, but the result is that real human concerns get put on a back burner.

  20. I am in practicum mode regarding faith. . “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.” I read the Bible and see that there are precedents for me to follow. The Roman soldier told Jesus, say the word and my servant will be healed. The woman who knew if she just got close enough to Jesus to touch his hem then that would be enough. To take it a step further, I heard someone once say “Lord, don’t give me just faith in Jesus. I want the faith of Jesus.” This is the kind of faith I want. The faith that moves God. Faith with substance. And I already have a few of my own “spooky” Christian stories to tell.

  21. I love this list. It speaks to so much I have struggled with at various points.

    If I were to add something, it might be this —

    Mistake the companion of faith to be power, when her true sister is hope.

  22. Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.~ St . Maximos the Confessor

  23. On the last point.
    Presume that faith can only grow in religious soil, through influences that are specifically pious or devotional in nature.
    This is held dearly my many. And allows them to hide from the world around them.

    I found out in my early 20s that my mother thought this way. She made a comment that she was glad she was married to a man that would never work in a place where others used bad language or made sexual jokes. Things got very quiet. Then my father explained she was not quite right and things got quieter for a long time. He worked in a large industrial plant as a nuclear fuel production supervisor. And was a contractor as a side job.

    This little insight explained a lot about my mother that didn’t make sense to me and my brothers while growing up.

    • I was hoping someone might pick up on that point and make a comment. Thanks, David.

      • In another example we had a neighbor who home schooled. Not because it was better for the children but because she said she could not imagine exposing her children to that world. My kids went to public schools. I think we were likely heathens in her mind.

    • David, I love this example. Two companion anecdotes:

      When interviewing for something within an evangelical context, a fellow interviewer spoke–on the verge of tears–about how he/she wanted to start a career in acting and had been to several auditions. This person then shared how they wanted to witness and how burdoned they felt looking around the room at the other actors and actresses, who were completely lost and had no light in their lives.

      On another occasion, I was shown around a secular college campus by an evangelical student who explained that she though of herself as a kind of Christian crusader, “pretending to be a student.”

      These are two examples I’ve always remembered, out of many, that illustrate the tendency to think that being spiritual means drawing from spiritual resources and that everything non-Christian is dark and evil. “Pretending” to be a student … as if learning, creating, building, and helping others were not spiritual exercises. Reaching out to all those poor lost people… as if there were nothing valuable in simply knowing them, as they are, and growing in concourse with them. I think the devotion to religious life is on the whole commendable, but moving beyond this to a place where all of life can be affirmed and made part of one’s Christian life makes for a wider and more practical view of the Kingdom. Why belittle what can become so good and worthwhile?

      • C.S. Lewis speaks to this well, I think, in one of his essay’s in The Weight of Glory – Learning in War-Time, many of his ideas seem relevant to learning whether at war or not. He makes the point that entering Christian life does not mean abandoning learning or the arts, but to the contrary, they too can serve as a path to God.

        I’ve seen a similar thought expressed in some sermons that I’ve read (and I hope I’m not misunderstanding the point) which convey the idea that there is no work of art, no advancement, no piece of great literature, no symphony which God has not administered, or presided over. And we can extract things that contribute to our spiritual growth from places, philosophies, books, works of art, etc. that perhaps on the surface may even appear contradictory to faith.

        I found this idea to be a refreshing change from thinking of knowledge as mostly a distraction, or even a snare to viewing it as something potentially beneficial to faith and growth.

        For me, one factor, not the only factor, but one factor in my own reconsideration of Christianity stemmed from reading the books of a classic British author who was a fairly outspoken atheist. In retrospect, I realize that those books ignited a shift in my perspective, and (though it’s difficult to succinctly explain) without that I’m not sure I would have started to give Christianity another chance.