The Decision To Believe

When I asked Anderson to elaborate on the roles of faith and the will, he immediately brought up the Old Testament character Abraham as an illustration.

"He was called the 'father of the faith,"' said Anderson, "but it wasn't that he never doubted, it wasn't that he always did the right thing, it wasn't that his motives were always pure. He failed on all three counts. But listen-Abraham never gave up on his will to follow God. He said, I'm going to trust him-will not the king of all the earth do right?' He wouldn't give up on God. And one definition of faith is that it's the will to believe. It's the decision to follow the best light you have about God and not quit.

"The idea of choice runs all the way through Scripture. Look at Joshua. He says to choose this day whom you're going to serve, but as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord. So faith, at its taproot, is a decision of the will."

I lifted my hand to stop him. "But isn't there also a sense in which faith is a gift from God?" I asked.

"Yes," he conceded, "and that raises a big mystery about choice and free will. But I look at it like the power steering on a car. Good luck trying to move the car's tires without it. But with one finger you can supply the impulse of request and the power steering will empower you to turn the wheels. In a similar way, our wills make the decision to put our trust in Christ, and God empowers us."

Anderson reached over to remove his glasses from atop his Bible. He slipped them on and then rustled through the book's wafer-thin pages until he came to the gospel of John.

"Listen to John 7:17," he said, clearing his throat. "Jesus says, 'If a man chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.' So, somehow, if we have the will to believe, God then confirms that Jesus is from God."

He turned a few pages to John 12:37. "The Bible elaborates on this when it says, 'Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.' Then two verses later, it says, 'For this reason they could not believe.'s

"In other words, they made a decision of the will to deny the message of the miracles-the evidence that Jesus is God-because they wouldn't pay the price, which would be their whole religious system being blown out of the water," he explained. "And they had made this decision not to believe for so long that they had dismantled their capacity to believe. Consequently, at its core, faith is a decision of the will that we keep on making, but we're given that option by God's grace. We're empowered to keep making it by his Spirit."

"And," I observed, "it's a choice we must make without having all the complete information we'd like to have."

"That's right. Otherwise, what we would have is knowledge, not faith."

"Talk about the difference."

Anderson laid the Bible back on the table and then scanned the room in a search of an impromptu illustration. Apparently unable to find a suitable prop, he reached into his pocket and withdrew his hand. "Okay," he said, "I'm holding something. Do you know what it is?"

I ventured a guess: "A coin."

"But you don't know for sure," he said. "That's your opinion. Our faith is not our opinion. Let me tell you I've got a quarter in my hand. Do you believe that?"

"I'm telling you it's true, but you haven't seen it. That's faith. Hebrews says faith is the evidence of things not seen."

Anderson smiled. "Watch as I completely destroy your faith." With that, he opened his hand to reveal a quarter. "Now it's no longer faith; it's knowledge."

He tossed the quarter on the table. "Sometimes people think that faith is knowing something is true beyond any doubt whatsoever, and so they try to prove faith through empirical evidence," he said. "But that's the wrong approach."

He gestured toward the coin. "You can see and touch that quarter, so you don't need faith. God, for his own reasons, has not subjected himself to that kind of proof.

"Instead, people should do what you did in The Case for Christ-you relied on corroborative evidence. You showed how various strands of evidence point convincingly toward God. And that does something very important-it leaves room for us to make a choice by taking a step of faith in the same direction that the evidence is pointing."

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