The Conquering Power of Faith
What is faith? Philosophers and clergymen have often defined it, but their definitions have been far from helpful to the average person. The following article gives not only a clear-cut meaning of faith but the answer to that disputed question: Is faith dying in Christendom?
FAITH is powerful. It is so powerful that an apostle of Christ Jesus could say: “This is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4, NW) Yet today throughout Christendom, the professed stronghold of this faith mentioned by the apostle, there is little evidence of any conquering power. For one thing, Christendom’s faith is not conquering atheism. Indeed Gallup Polls have found atheism growing. And is it not a sobering fact that after 600 years of Christian mission work China today is almost 100 per cent pagan, having less than one per cent professing Christians? Within Christendom itself, especially in such fortresses of “faith” as Italy, the colossus of communism, instead of being conquered by faith, threatens to overwhelm the very ones professing faith in Christianity. How, then, can the Bible say that faith is a conquering power?
Before answering that question we need to know a vital fact that will give us insight into the perplexing situation existing in Christendom: that “faith is not a possession of all people,” even though they claim with their lips that they are Christians. (2 Thess. 3:2, NW) So just because 95 per cent of the American people say they have faith in God, as one survey indicated, it does not necessarily mean they are practicing the principles of true faith as set forth in the inspired Scriptures.
Not even the increase in the number of church buildings indicates that true faith is flourishing. In a United States coast-to-coast survey people were asked the main reason why they attended church. The largest block of answers, or 32 per cent of the people, said in effect that they went to church solely because of the “need for some kind of uplift.” Another large group, or 18 per cent of the people, said they were churchgoers out of “duty.” Others in significant numbers gave these reasons for going to church: “habit,” “to hear a sermon,” “to see people” and “to hear music.” Obviously, church attendance is no criterion for measuring true faith.
But does not the success of books and movies with religious themes indicate an upsurge of real faith? No, because Hollywood spectacles take many liberties that distort and conflict with the Bible account, while best-selling religious books are generally more concerned with psychology than with the Bible.
Further, do not be deceived by that motto appearing on coins and stamps—”In God we trust.” A sober look at the world reveals that there is no genuine trust in God. Christendom’s trust is in money, men and might. Thus Canada’s popular Maclean’s Magazine, December 15, 1953, stated: “Many are beginning to doubt how Christian Christendom really is. Not too long ago German pastors were blessing Nazi submarines, British padres prayed over RAF bombers and a U. S. chaplain manned an antiaircraft gun against Japanese bombers and coined history’s most ridiculous blasphemy—’Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.’”
Surely if there were a genuine trust in God by the millions of professing Christians, then they would demonstrate that faith by living according to the righteous principles of God’s Word. Yet what do we see? The world’s worst moral breakdown. If the apostle Paul were on earth today he could not have described Christendom’s hideous condition any better than he did at Galatians 5:19-21 (NW): “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, hatreds, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.” Could the masses of so-called Christians who practice these things have true faith? The apostle answers: “Those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” “They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.”—Titus 1:16, NW.
What, then, is the shape of faith in Christendom? Declared James Cardinal McGuigan, Canada’s senior Roman Catholic cardinal: “God is dead as far as the consciousness of masses of men and women today is concerned. Even to those who still pay Him lip service He enjoys little or no part in the formation of human life.” The same magazine that quotes the cardinal’s words (Maclean’s Magazine for December 15, 1953) then draws its own conclusion: “The Christian Church, considered in its world-encircling entirety, is declining—in membership, in the devoutness and obedience it commands from its members, and as a major influence on public thought and action.” Other observers agree. Thus Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen in his recent book World Christianity writes: “Despite all the statistics of Church growth and prosperity, in the larger view, we are not gaining ground—we are not even holding our own.”
WHY THEIR “FAITH” LACKS POWER
So instead of displaying any conquering power faith in Christendom is “not even holding its own.” Why? There are three big reasons: (1) lack of Bible study, (2) a spiritual famine and (3) worldliness of Christendom’s religions.
As to Bible reading in the United States, a land with probably more Bibles than any other country, a 1954 survey revealed that about 40 per cent of the people virtually never read the Bible. Of the three major religious groups, 65 per cent of the Jews never or practically never read the Bible; 32 per cent of the Protestants fell into the same class, and 56 per cent of the Catholics never or practically never read the Bible. According to another survey what Bible study is done is on a “Sunday school” level.
Not only is the Bible grossly neglected but the spiritual food purveyed by the clergy is woefully deficient in vital Christian truths. So a spiritual famine stalks Christendom, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah.” (Amos 8:11, AS) Who is responsible? The clergy themselves! In a nationwide religious survey conducted by the Ladies’ Home Journal, issue of November, 1948, this conclusion was reached: “While the mind that enters a university may be ready for adult fare in the secular field all it gets in the religious field is infant food.” “Infant food”—the diet of millions of professed Christians. Is it any wonder that thousands succumb to the Communist threat? Eating spiritual baby food can only lead to a loss of strength and faith. Declared the president of Harvard University, Dr. Nathan M. Pusey: “We have not been well taught about religion and there is as a consequence a very widespread religious illiteracy and correspondingly little religious practice.” It is not only knowledge that is lacking, he added. “It is rather, I think, faith.”—New York Times, October 1, 1953.
The third reason that faith ebbs while communism grows is that organized religion has not kept itself “without spot from the world,” as the Bible commands. (Jas. 1:27, NW) Instead the clergy mix commercialism with religion, using such means as bingo, bazaars, carnivals, lotteries and entertainments not only to lure worshipers to worship but to fleece them. Then, too, an editorial in U. S. News and World Report for April 2, 1954, should provoke thought: “Lately some of the national church organizations have begun to meddle in politics. If the trend is not arrested, it can only lead to a loss of faith in churches and in clergymen who profess to teach Christianity. . . . How much faith, how much confidence can there be in any clergy which allows itself to become an integral part of the factional strife of the political world?”
WHAT FAITH REALLY IS
Now the eye-opening question: Is the faith claimed by countless persons really “faith”? The truth is that much of what is called “faith” is really credulity. What is credulity? It is a too great readiness to believe. Thus a credulous person is uncritical with regard to beliefs and is easily deceived. Eve was credulous. She believed the serpent, though there were no grounds, no evidence that the serpent had spoken truth. The outcome for Eve: “The woman was thoroughly deceived.” In like manner millions of people today are deceived. They accept many articles of religious faith as truth when in reality the teachings are not even based on the Bible. Credulity leads to disappointment and death. So do not do as the masses, but rather do as the early Christians who “received the word with the greatest readiness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”—1 Tim. 2:14; Acts 17:11, NW.
Faith has been defined by philosophers and clergymen. But their definitions, wrapped up in a high-sounding jargon, have only confused people as to what faith really is. So the wise thing to do is to go to God’s Word for the definition. “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” Certainly it is clear now that faith is a well-grounded conviction of that for which we hope. True faith can never be a conviction held without reference to any ground or authority.—Heb. 11:1, NW.
What is the basis for faith? Only that which is absolute truth can serve as grounds for faith. Such absolute truth is the Bible. The fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecies, many of which are being fulfilled today, stamps it as being of divine origin, reliable and true. The Son of God himself confirmed this: “Your word is truth.” In the grander sense Jehovah God is the basis for true faith. He is “the faithful God.” So “it is impossible for God to lie.” Clearly, then, true faith is much more than just belief in God; it also means an acceptance of God’s Word, obtaining an intellectual understanding of that Word and then manifesting a heartfelt reliance upon it.—John 17:17; Deut. 7:9; Heb. 6:18, NW.
WHY FAITH IS NEEDED
This kind of faith is essential. Why? Because “without faith it is impossible to win his [Jehovah’s] good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” Faith is also needed because we must “keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen,” and because faith is the power enabling one to triumph over the demon-controlled world.—Heb. 11:6; 2 Cor. 4:18, NW.
How can faith conquer a world? Not through any flesh-and-blood conflicts, but by giving one the strength to worship Jehovah when “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” the Devil. Not only that, but faith provides the triumph in that at Armageddon, when Jehovah God destroys this present evil world, those with true faith will survive into a new world of righteousness. For an encouragement to his followers, Jesus declared: “In the world you will have tribulation, but cheer up! I have conquered the world.” Hence, his followers through faith can conquer this wicked world and come off, as the apostle put it, “completely victorious.”—1 John 5:19; John 16:33; Rom. 8:37, NW.
Today faith is more vital than ever. Satan and his demons, now hurled down to the vicinity of the earth, violently oppose God’s true servants who are announcing Jehovah’s purpose to displace this present evil world with a righteous new world. The demon hordes hate anyone who comes to know the true God, Jehovah. That is why Christians have a fight “against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” “On this account,” Paul warns, “take up the complete suit of armor from God, that you may be able to resist in the wicked day.” This is the “wicked day” and Jehovah has provided the truth of his Word for our protection. But the suit of armor consists of even more than truth: “Stand firm, therefore, with your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and with your feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace. Above all things, take up the large shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles.”—Eph. 6:11-17, NW.
In this allusion to the equipment of the ancient soldier, Paul mentions a shield, evidently referring to the great oblong shield used by soldiers to shelter their whole frame. It consisted of two layers of wood covered with canvas and then with hide. Now, missiles or arrows tipped with pitch and then set ablaze were used not only to burn up engines of war but they were intended also to stick in wooden shields and set them afire, obliging soldiers under enemy attack to throw away their shields. Now a shield covered with hide would not catch fire. It deflected the burning arrows. So when Satan lets fly his “burning missiles” at the true Christian, his faith is not some wooden shield that catches fire, burns up and leaves him defenseless. No, a well-grounded faith deflects the burning missiles and prevents their inflicting a mortal spiritual wound. Those “burning missiles” may be opposition from the world, even persecution from one’s own family, any device of Satan to cause you to give up the fight for true worship. How vital then is faith! Are we not commanded to take up the shield of faith “above all things”? Why “above all things”? Because Jehovah himself “is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” When you make Jehovah your shield by virtue of absolute trust in his name and Word, “no weapon that is forged against you shall succeed.”—Prov. 30:5; Isa. 54:17, AT.
DEVELOPING AND DEMONSTRATING FAITH
How does one develop true faith? Not by feeding on “infant food” dispensed by the clergy. Break away from starvation meals. Obtain solid spiritual food. The purpose of this magazine and other Watch Tower publications is to give you this vital spiritual nourishment. Jehovah’s witnesses the world over are interested in diffusing this much-needed knowledge. For without knowledge there can be no faith. This the apostle explains: “Faith follows the report,” meaning the report of knowledge contained in God’s Word. To develop faith cast off religious prejudices. Start obtaining knowledge with an open mind. Do as God advises: “Come now, and let us reason together.”—Rom. 10:17, NW; Isa. 1:18.
Since the Bible declares that “faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself,” mere knowledge is not enough. True faith activates the mind, the heart and the mouth. “With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.” That is why Jehovah’s witnesses are so energetic in bringing the good news of God’s kingdom to all people despite the fact that millions profess to have a “faith.” We already know that this faith displayed by the masses is not true faith. These people need to know what true faith actually is. They need to know that not even “golden rule” living is enough. They need to know the good news as Jesus foretold: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.”—Jas. 2:17; Rom. 10:10; Matt. 24:14, NW.
Who are giving this warning of the impending end of this evil world and the tidings of God’s kingdom? Not the clergy nor the churchgoers! But Jehovah’s witnesses are. They know that when one has true faith he feels impelled to tell the good news to others. Those with true faith cannot be like Christendom’s millions who render mere lip service, pew-sitting worship, and are very poor at even that! So acquire knowledge. Demonstrate true faith by using your mouth to make “public declaration for salvation.” Doing this you will be in line to survive Armageddon, to enjoy happiness and life. Indeed, “this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.”