Author: Ron Graham
Some folk treat faith as a personal matter, but true faith is external to ourselves. Faith should certainly abide in our hearts, but not originate there. Faith should come from "the word of faith" which is preached (Romans 10:8-10).
Many mistakenly rely on their "own personal faith" —an eclectic, do-it-yourself faith, made up of whatever seems true to them. They don't mind holding a faith different from everyone else’s. They see their faith as reflecting their own uniqueness and individuality. But it has to be said that such faith is an illusion and cannot save.
Let's look at three facts about faith, which show that true faith is external to ourselves, not of our own making...
"He has denied the faith" (1Timothy 5:8). "Some shall depart from the faith" (1Timothy 4:1).
Faith is like the air you breathe. You are in it, and it is in you, but it is something external to you which exists independently of you. You can deny air by refusing to breathe. You can depart from the air by submerging yourself in the sea. Now you are no longer in the air and there is a lack of air in you. However the air is not changed by your denial of it and your departure from it. It is still out there.
In the same way, people can act so as to "deny the faith" (1Timothy 5:8), and they can teach so as to "depart from the faith" (1Timothy 4:1). The faith however remains the faith, exactly as it was. The faith does not change as people act and speak, because it is not in their control or of their making. God provides the faith just as he provides the air. And just like the air, the faith exists whether we receive it or whether we deny it, whether we abide in it or whether we depart from it.
So whilst we should make it our own personal faith in the sense that we make a personal commitment to receive it and abide in it, nevertheless it is not our own personal faith in the sense that we ourselves invent or create it.
Jesus asks "When the Son of Man returns, will he really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) Jesus is not asking whether the Son of Man will find people believing stuff. Of course people will believe something. However Jesus is asking whether he will find people still be keeping his word, still believing and obeying it just as he gave it, without having denied it or departed from it to follow whatever suits their whims.
"Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith" (2Corinthians 13:5). "Continue in the faith" (Colossians 1:23).
Faith is like a road. If you and I were walking along a road, we might examine whether we were on the right road, but we would not ask whether we were on our feet. That's because our feet are part of us, whereas the road is something external to us and independent of us. If we continue on the road, we will end up where it goes. The road doesn't change just because we wish it to. If it is the wrong road, then it will take us to the wrong place if we continue along it.
Again, suppose we wanted to walk from Bairnsdale to Eagle Point. Wouldn't we use the road and pathway system that has been publicly provided? We would not attempt to make our own personal road, and could not, because we would be prevented by the morass and the river, not to mention the law.
In the same way, "the faith" is a road that has been publicly provided, the "narrow way that leads to life" (Matthew 7:13-14). We don't make our own road to heaven. We walk the road God has made. We don't walk by our "own personal faith." We walk by the faith that God has already prepared for us. It is stated that true faith "is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
"Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered" (Jude 1:3). "[May] all attain to the unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13).
Faith is not like your favourite colour. You like your colour; I like mine; and we agree to differ. We don't usually "contend" for our favourite colour, even when we are goint to paint the verandah. Usually we see no harm in each of us having his or her own favourite colour.
A lot of people see faith like that. But faith is something for which we have to "contend earnestly" (Jude 1:3), and in which we must have "unity" (Ephesians 4:13). It's not just something personal within us, it's something external that we have to take a stand on, and be loyal to. Faith says, "Will you unite those who fight for me, or will you take your stand with those who fight against me?" That certainly is a personal choice and commitment, but the faith itself is not a matter of personal taste and preference. Rather, it is something that God has mandated, and that we uphold by laying aside our own personal philosophies.
When Paul says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith," (2Timothy 4:7), he is telling us that when Jesus arrested him on the road to Damascus, he stopped opposing the faith, and started contending for it. That faith changed Paul completely, his life, his beliefs, even his name. But Paul never changed the faith. He simply kept it. Let us make the faith personal, by all means, in the sense that it changes us into the image of Christ. But let us in no way change the faith, but contend for it as Christ delivered it, and let us become united in it.
When Paul said, "I have finished the race" (2Timothy 4:7), he had not run a course of his own choosing or fancy; but one laid out for him by an external authority, that is Christ. Faith is a course laid down by God. We do not choose the course; we simply choose to "run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The Greek sometimes uses the definite article with the word for "faith" or "belief", and sometimes the word stands alone. This has little or no significance. There is no real difference between "faith" and "the faith". The only religious "faith" we have in our hearts should be "the faith" originally taught to the world by Christ and his apostles.