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Faith Is An Abstract Noun

Faith Is An Abstract Noun

Faith can be a misused word, both inside and outside the church. Inside, when asking to which church a person belongs, we often hear, “Of what faith are you?” when intended is: “Of what church or denomination are you?” Outside we hear, “I have no faith in government – in public education – in marriage.” when intended is: “I have no confidence in government, etc.” Misuse outside the church is easily remedied by inserting the correct word. Inside the church, however, misuse – since faith is the foundational means by which we come to God – may suggests a serious problem. Vigilance comes more readily with a better understanding of the English language and through a deeper study of God’s Word and His inspired writers at large.

The word faith in English grammar is a noun. Traditionally nouns are defined as the names of persons, places or things. Nouns also come in different forms. There are proper nouns which are capitalized and common nouns which are not. There are concrete and abstract nouns. Concrete nouns refer to something perceptible, which can be seen, heard, touched, and so on: shoe, soup, grass, teacher. Abstract nouns, on the other hand, designate a quality, condition, action, or state of being that cannot be directly perceived – that is, seen, heard, touched: faith, love, courage, honor.

Concrete, I understand. For instance, a mere glance at my old garden shoes tells me almost everything there is to know about them: dirty, whitish sneakers cracked open at the soles; broken laces, carelessly tied, stained by paint, grass and who remembers what. I can see them, touch them, smell them and, to prove a point, I could even taste them. Abstract, on the other hand, I do not easily understand. It’s vague, out of focus, out of reach, out of site around the corner. A mere glance will not suffice. To reach a correct understanding of faith, I must be taught.

Fortunately, I can be taught through parents, teachers in the church and the many fine writers in church history. Four examples: (1) The writer of Hebrews, a book of the Bible, gave a brief definition of faith in chapter 11 verse 1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… ” (KJV) (2) The Apostles Creed expanded the definition and provided the essentials of saving faith. (3) The Heidelberg Catechism in 1563, with its 129 questions and answers, gave the church one of the most expanded definitions. (4) After 450 years, the Heidelberg required some deciphering and one of the best books available is Dr. G.I. Williamson’s, The Heidelberg Catechism, A Study Guide.

In the end, perhaps faith is best understood, not by its definition, but rather by its purpose. A wonderful example found as a Theological Note in The Reformation Study Bible entitled, “Faith and Works,” reads, “Faith is the means or instrument by which a person is saved. Christians are justified before God by faith and by faith they live their lives and sustain their hope… secured by Jesus Christ… called forth by the gospel as the gospel is made understandable through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is a personal act, involving the mind, heart, and will,… directed to a personal God, not an idol or an idea.”

My old sneakers deserve only a mere glance, but the abstract noun faith merits a deep study of the Bible plus a serious look at the work of inspired writers at large. “Of what faith am I?” May my answer always be, “The faith stated in the Apostles Creed; the means by which I am saved; the means by which I stand before God in the righteousness of Christ; the means by which I gain life eternal.”