An overwhelming majority of American adults (78.4 percent) would identify themselves as Christians, according to a Pew Forum study. But their level of belief varies widely. So when people say the word faith, they may mean a variety of things.
That shouldn’t be surprising, because the word itself has several shades of meaning. Not all people who claim to have “faith” are describing the same experience.
In fact, my own life has been a journey through various stages of faith.
Raised in a Christian home—a preacher’s kid, no less—I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe that there is a God. I simply knew it was true.
At some point, however, that “head knowledge” had to become something more than fact that had little to do with my real life—like Al Kaline’s batting average (.297 lifetime). It would have to be a reality that shaped my decision making, affecting my moral choices, financial decisions, and even choice of a marriage partner.
For me, that moment of deeper came on a warm summer night as I lay in the grass staring into the starlight sky. I saw two paths ahead of me, one that was based on life as if there were no God, and one that would be founded upon belief in this God whom I had already acknowledged in a cursory way.
I chose the latter.
Without realizing it, I had been walking down the pathway of faith, subtly moving from one level of belief to another.
Faith is not a static, once-for-life experience. There are at least four levels or shades of faith.Though the progression is not always linear, most believers seem to move through these stages.
The first level of faith is credence, or a mental acceptance that the facts of the Christian story are true or real. This means believing that there really is a God, that Jesus Christ was literally born in a stable and raised from the dead. This first stage of faith has to do with facts.
The second stage of faith is reliance upon the character, ability, and integrity of God. This goes beyond saying, “Yes, I believe God exists” to saying, “I believe God loves me.” Christianity is an intensely personal religion, and our faith involves trusting the character of God.
The third stage of faith is acceptance, or agreeing to enter into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why we talk about the moment when a person “accepts Christ.” We believe that people must enter into a trust relationship with God, effectively tying their lives to his—just as you might do in a marriage or adoption.
A fourth stage of faith is reliance, or depending on God in a practical way. As James wrote, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” We believe that real faith will shape the way a person lives.
Over the next few weeks I will explore each of these stages and offer some practical tips for those who struggle with moving to the next level—and advice for those who doubt.
For now, I’d love to hear your faith journey.