We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

You learned what a transitive verb is back in school, but you might’ve forgotten, ’cause your teachers didn’t make the definition all that memorable. Transitive means you can’t use the verb without an object. Unless you’re a toddler, you can’t just say, “I wet”: You have to indicate what or whom you wet. You wet the whistle; you wet the bed. Got that?

Faith works the same way. Because “faith” is a synonym for “trust,” and trust is also a transitive verb. You can’t just say, “I trust”: Gotta say what or whom you trust. Saying “I have faith” means nothing till we say whom or what we have faith in.

But as you know, lots of people are walking around saying, “I have faith.” Without defining in whom or what they’ve placed their faith. So we’re left to guess whom or what they’re trusting. “I have faith” means “I have faith in [YOUR GUESS HERE].” It’s like when your toddler tells you, “I wet,” and you know they speak English well enough to not mean “I’m wet”—so now you gotta search the house for the puddle.

“I have faith” based on what? Dependent on whom?

Next time one of your friends or acquaintances claims, “Well I have faith,” pin ’em down. What’s that faith in? Most of the time they’ve never even thought about it, and aren’t even sure they need to think about it: “I just have faith.” But I’ve found a lot of those people who “just have faith” actually have faith in karma. They believe the universe is good and just, and that in the end things’ll work out for the best, justice will prevail, and evildoers will be punished. If they’re deist or Christian they’ll give God the credit for a universe which works this way, but that’s what their faith is in: A benevolent universe which rewards goodness and punishes evil—and of course they figure they’re good.

And yeah, “I have faith” can mean other things. They have faith in human decency and goodness. They have faith in our civic institutions and criminal justice system. They have faith that “all things work together for my good.” They have faith in Jesus, or more precisely faith in the things they believe about Jesus, which may or may not be so.

But as you can see, it’s not enough to just say “I have faith.” Ten people can say “I have faith” and mean 10 different things by it. But sorting out the difference is really easy: Figure out whom or what their faith is in.

And for us Christians, we gotta put our faith in Jesus.

“Faith in faith.”

I was first taught faith is a transitive idea in seminary. At the time, my professor pointed out a lot of these people who “just have faith,” who can’t describe what they have faith in, probably reckon “I have faith in faith.”

Well they might try to defend their beliefs that way. But in reality, anybody who claims “I have faith in faith” doesn’t understand the concept. We’re not dealing with the proper biblical meaning of faith—belief, trust, assurance, and moral conviction. We’re working with one of the other definitions found in popular culture. Or a distortion of the biblical idea.

Skeptics and antichrists claim “faith” is the power to believe nonsense. And y’know, a lot of Christians actually accept this definition: They think faith is a supernatural ability God grants us, and with it we can believe things which pagans will find foolish. Granted, there are some things we Christians believe which pagans refuse to understand, and think it’s stupid for anyone to accept ’em. But when the scriptures discuss this scenario, 1Co 1.18-31 the apostles are describing pagan stubbornness, not Christian foolishness. And when Christians choose to believe actual foolishness—like hoaxes, conspiracy theories, or what their favorite politicians tell them instead of what their very own eyes show them—yeah they’re exercising faith, but it’s absolutely not faith in Jesus. It’s faith in the liars who deceive them.

So if by “faith” you mean the ability to believe the unbelievable: Okay yes, that’s not really a transitive idea. One can have this ability; many do. But “faith” is the wrong word for it. Unreason is much better. “I have unreason.” Yes you do. As does the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, and everybody in their Tea Party.

But as I said, this isn’t faith in Jesus. This is faith in one’s deceivers. In many cases this is looking for deceivers, for people who will tell us what we want to hear, because we’re not happy with reality and want alternatives. Paul warned Timothy of this more than once.

1 Timothy 4.1 KJV
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
 
2 Timothy 4.3-4 KJV
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

It’s a devilish kind of “faith.” It’s faith in oneself, not Jesus.

Skeptics and antichrists love the idea that this is what Christians mean when we say we have faith. They don’t see how any rational person can believe Jesus rose from death, so they figure we Christians are just suspending our disbelief: Deep down we know crucified men don’t just stand up and walk out of their sepulcher a few days later. They assume the only reason we accept this idea is ’cause we’re forced to believe it, and threatened with hellfire when we don’t. For some pagans, they shrug and figure it’s not hurting anyone if we believe silly things. For others, they’re outraged that we’d ground our entire lives on crazy fantasy.

But that’s not even close to what we’re doing. (Well, when we’re doing faith right.) We accept Christian ideas, not because we were ordered to, but because we had God-experiences. In some cases we even met Jesus. Like Thomas, who refused to believe till he saw for himself, Jn 20.24-29 some of us totally have seen for themselves. I haven’t yet, but I’ve seen plenty of other acts of Jesus. These things confirm he’s living and active, and cancel out any doubts we were harboring.

Now yeah, there are Christians who haven’t had any such experiences. So their faith isn’t in Jesus, but in their fellow Christians who tell them Jesus is alive. (And sometimes in their fellow Christians who tell ’em Jesus doesn’t do such things anymore. That’s another issue.) It’s still legitimate faith; they’re still putting their trust in somebody. It’s just they really oughta be putting it in Jesus directly, y’know?

And yeah, there are Christians who do embrace Jesus because they really, really want him to be true and real and coming back. Their “faith” honestly is wishful thinking. The pagans are right about them. It’s why, once they have their crisis of faith, their “Christianity” as they practice it is gonna change radically, ’cause now it’ll be grounded in reality instead of wishes. Or they’ll freak out badly and quit. Hope not.

When “faith” is like magic.

Christian faith needs to be grounded in Jesus. When it’s not—when it’s based on our own positive attitude, our own hopeful wishes, our own happy thoughts—we’re actually hoping to conjure things out of thin air. We’re hoping to name-and-claim things into reality. Properly put, we’re trying to practice magic.

Take the Christian who covets a new car, who wishes and longs and hopes for it, who figures their desires and beliefs are actually gonna manifest a new car. They will get a new car. Because they “have faith.”

No, this isn’t necessarily part of the name-it-and-claim-it school of thought. Such folks believe God’s the one who gives them what they ask for. Their faith is actually placed in the right guy; the problem is they’re materialists who expects God to cater to their Mammonism. Jm 4.3-4 It’s not a faith problem; it’s a whole other problem.

In reality, my wishes have no power. I could wish for all sorts of things. I’m never gonna get any of them till I take positive efforts towards getting them. Assuming I’ve submitted these wishes to God, as I always should: He doesn’t always just give them to me. (He has in the past.) But often I still have to work for them, earn them, win them, or find someone to donate them. Wishes alone won’t make anything come into existence. I’m not God; I can’t create something from nothing.

I could wish for clean laundry, but it’s not gonna magically appear. I have to do the laundry. I gotta load the machine and turn it on (or, if it’s broken, I gotta fill the sink and get out the washboard). I gotta place my faith in something real: My actions. And the washing machine’s actions. And the detergent’s ability. And so forth.

However much faith I place in my own actions, I know I’m not almighty. But God is. I can put limited faith in myself. I can put total faith in him. “Faith in faith,” or wishful thinking or magical thinking, is hugely misplaced. Faith in my works is far better. And faith in God is not misplaced at all.

So: Where’ve you placed your faith? In God, or in “faith”?