Theology Thursday: Faith: An Addition to Life or Foundation for Life?

Girl prays as she makes her faith the foundation of her life.

When considering the issue of faith, it must be asked whether it should be viewed merely as an “addition” to life or as the very “foundation” for life. Now, of course, since we are here concerned about the Christian faith, we must recognize that the object of our faith is the Christian God. We are not speaking about putting our faith in “faith,” or in some generic higher power. We are speaking about faith in the God of the Bible: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, as Christians, we often simply speak of faith in Christ.

Our question, then, is this: should faith in Christ be viewed merely as an addition to life, or as the foundation of life? Genuine faith in Christ cannot plausibly be viewed merely as an addition to life but must be given its full weight as the very source and foundation for our lives.

Addition or Foundation: What Is at Issue?

What might be meant by viewing faith in Christ merely as an addition to life? It seems to me that the person who adopts such a view must regard their life as fundamentally their own. They might think that in addition to working as an accountant, playing baseball and enjoying science fiction movies, they are also a Christian. But their faith doesn’t really influence the way in which they do their job, compete as an athlete or evaluate a movie; it is merely an accessory, “in addition” to these other things.

By contrast, the Bible teaches that Christ is the only true foundation for real life (John 14:6; 17:3), and faith in Christ unites us with him (Galatians 3:26). This can be seen in at least three important ways. According to Scripture, faith is the means by which we begin the Christian life, it is how we continue and grow in this life, and it is the “victory” by which we overcome the world.

Beginning With Faith

The Christian life begins when we repent of our sins and turn to Christ in faith. We put our faith (or trust) in Christ as the one who has done for us (through his life, death and resurrection) what we could never do for ourselves; namely, reconciling us to God and restoring us to a right relationship with him.

Jesus, like “Jacob’s Ladder,” is the one who bridges the chasm between heaven and earth (see Genesis 28:10-17; John 1:51). When we trust Jesus to carry us safely over the chasm that separates us from God, we experience a spiritual rebirth, which is brought about by the Holy Spirit. John refers to this as being “born of God,” “born again” or “born from above” (John 1:12-13; 3:1-8). Saving faith is believing God’s promise, that Jesus has done all that is necessary to reconcile us to God and restore us to a right relationship with him.

Saving faith cannot be merely an addition to one’s life, for by its very nature it changes the entire tenor and trajectory of one’s life. Saving faith unites us with Christ, who is the source and foundation of our life. And once we are united to Christ and indwelt by his Spirit, he begins to transform us increasingly into his likeness. This will affect everything about us: what we value, how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we treat others, etc.

Living in Faith

Saving faith brings many benefits. One becomes an adopted son or daughter of God, is forgiven of all sins, and is granted eternal life. Receiving God’s life changes all who receive it. They cannot continue to live the same way they did before Christ came into their lives. Genuine faith leads to a life increasingly characterized by love for God and people (especially other believers). Loving God and loving people is a practical effect of the new birth and, when properly understood, leads to a life of obedience to God’s commands (see 1 John 5:1-3).

We enter the Christian life through repentance and faith, but we live the Christian life by faith as well. This is often described in terms of “walking by faith,” or “walking by the Spirit.” Paul tells us that if we “walk by the Spirit,” we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16, ESV). Indeed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can resist “the desires of the flesh,” and increasingly show forth “the fruit of the Spirit,” things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Overcoming the World With the Word of God

When troubles and difficulties arise (as they inevitably will) we continue to trust that God cares for us and will work all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me,” (John 14:1). He also told them, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). Jesus has overcome the world through his obedient life, death on the cross and resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:25). We participate in his victory through faith. As John says elsewhere, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith,” (1 John 5:4-5).

It’s interesting that John describes our faith as “the victory that has overcome the world.” I suppose he says this because it is through faith that we are brought into union with Christ, who has overcome the world on our behalf. We thus share in Jesus’ victory as our own, through faith.

From all that has been said, it is apparent (I think) that Christian faith, when properly understood, cannot plausibly be viewed as merely an “addition” to our life. Rather, faith in Christ should be seen as the “foundation” of our life, for it unites us with the life of God, causing us to be spiritually reborn, and giving us authority to become the sons and daughters of God (John 1:12). If such faith is genuine, it radically transforms every aspect of our life. Those who pride themselves on being Christians but who are eager to assure a watching world that they are not “radical” in their beliefs, or that they don’t take all of this too seriously, may want to earnestly inquire into the reality of their “faith.” As Paul encouraged the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

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Approved by Faculty for the College of Theology on Nov. 9, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.