March 20, 2020

Defending the Faith (The Armor, part 11)

The Shield of Faith is arguably the most complex piece of the whole armor of God. The problem is that faith is such a complex word with many, many layers of meaning. Faith is hope. Faith is trust. Faith is belief. Faith can also be a set of beliefs. The Bible tells us, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is loyalty, confidence, assurance, and truth.  All of this… without even touching the topic of where we should place our faith.

It was with this awareness of the myriad definitions of faith that I opened my Strong’s Concordance to narrow down the possibilities and try to find out what exactly Paul was getting at by invoking the name of faith in regard to the Roman soldier’s shield. What I found was surprising.

We’ll get back to that later.

Now it has been my experience in life that when people talk about faith, more often than not they are referring to placing belief in something without having solid, decisive evidence - or even trusting in spite of evidence to the contrary, such as trusting someone who has been untrustworthy in the past. Sometimes people may even believe evidence which is of questionable origin: conspiracy theorists in particular are known to do this.

All too often, people of religious faith are mischaracterized as empty-headed simpletons who believe in fairy tales. We are often unfairly labeled as science deniers or anti-intellectuals. Such insults are routinely aimed at Christians by highly-educated atheists who claim that science has disproven the Bible and revealed religion to be a scam of the highest order - nothing more than outdated superstitions. They come armed with well-formulated arguments to which far too many Christians are ill-equipped to respond.

Perhaps these are the fiery darts or flaming arrows depicted in Ephesians 6:16. Our detractors come into the battle armed with burning arguments which they fire at us from what they believe to be an unassailable distance. They believe that they have the high ground in this argument. Unfortunately, too many Christians are unable to respond beyond simple statements of faith…

“The Bible says it, and I believe it.”

Now to be sure, I also believe what the Bible says, but “I believe” statements do little to counter the well-crafted arguments of those who are hostile towards Christianity. In fact, such statements can play right into their hands if we are unable to explain not only what we believe, but why we believe it beyond “the Bible says so.” Hostile atheists regularly exit encounters with poorly-equipped Christians feeling more sure of their position than ever. They feel justified in ridiculing Christians as uneducated bumpkins. Worse yet, undecided bystanders who are watching these encounters may well be lured further and further away from God’s saving grace.

We must do better. We must find arguments which will reach those who are hostile towards our faith. We must learn to present the Gospel in a manner which will convince the undecided that our beliefs are not just old superstitions. We must be able to give an account of our faith which withstands the pressures of science, politics, economics, and social issues.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash
Now certainly the Shield of Faith is there to protect the believer. Remember, we are instructed to put on the Whole Armor of God so that we might stand firm against evil (Ephesians 6:13). But what if there is more to it? What if, somehow, that protection is intended to go both ways? What if we are supposed to protect and defend the faith?

As a matter of fact, we are.

Strong’s Concordance lists “faith” from Ephesians 6:16 as entry G4102, the Greek word, pistis. The first word listed as a possible definition or translation of pistis, as I was surprised to discover, is not faith. It is persuasion. In fact, faith only appears after a series of other terms such as credence, moral conviction, truthfulness, and assurance (though to be fair, the most common actual translation of pistis by far is faith), but it was the word persuasion which caught both my eye and my imagination.

I’m not suggesting that faith is an incorrect or inferior translation of pistis, but I do think a better understanding of the original Greek word adds layers of depth to our English translation. As it turns out, another layer was waiting to be discovered! Pistis comes from the root word pietho, which is a verb meaning to convince by argument, an idea echoed in Peter’s first epistle…

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Putting on the Shield of Faith, then, whether to defend ourselves and our own faith or the Christian faith at large, can be done by persuasion: the use of rational, logical arguments which clearly explain not only what we believe, but why we believe it.

If your faith is under attack and wavering, remind yourself of what you know about God. Remind yourself why you chose to follow Christ to begin with. Recall God’s promises in the Bible and apply them to your own life. Remain calm, think rationally, and search the scriptures for guidance. Pray. Then pray more. Be persistent in prayer.

Maybe you need to take it one step further. Study apologetics: the art of using reasoned arguments to defend, explain, and justify your religious faith. If you are confronted with arguments against Christianity, take the time to learn about your opponent’s beliefs. Enroll in some science or philosophy classes, or do some research online, or check out some books from your local library. Find points within your opponent’s arguments that actually line up with what we find in the Bible (there will be more than you might think) and focus on these similarities rather than continuing to highlight the differences. Remember, we make progress by building bridges between ourselves and our opponents.

Of course, there is no guarantee that your opponent will hear the logic in your argument, but perhaps someone listening to your debate will. Perhaps your use of well-constructed reasoning will persuade some to open their hearts and minds to God. If nothing else, you will have given yourself the knowledge you need to quench the fiery arguments of the enemy and stand firm.


The Final Cut (The Armor, part 18)

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