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FAITH AND HOMOGRAPHS

hom_o_graph –noun : a word of the same written form as another but of different meaning
Homographs can be tricky because you can’t always tell what people mean. With the word “bass,” I could be talking about going fishing or putting very large speakers into the trunk of my car.
With the word “close,” I could be talking about shutting a door or about how narrowly I missed an accident. With the word “live,” I could be talking about the opposite of die, or I could be talking about seeing the Eagles in concert. But I’d like to add one more word to this list, a word that isn’t normally considered a homograph. That word is “faith.”
Faith is a pretty popular word. Even in my short lifetime, I’ve noticed that people have become increasingly comfortable talking about “faith.” We hear a lot about “faith communities” and “faith-based initiatives” and “faith and politics,” but when we use the word, f-a-i-t-h, are we always talking about the same thing? Might “faith” be another homograph, spelled the same but having different meanings?
Consider how we use the word, “faith.” The United Muslim American Association and the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises serve completely different functions, yet both are officially considered faith-based organizations. On the Web site, beliefnet.net, Judaism and Paganism are both classified as faiths, even though their beliefs are as different as night and day. And if that doesn’t demonstrate my point, consider this: if you asked a Roman Catholic, a Hindu and an atheist to define “faith,” what sort of answers do you think you’d get? I can’t say for sure how they would answer, but I’m willing to bet that they wouldn’t say the same thing.
Here’s my point: the word “faith” is another homograph. It’s always spelled the same way, but in our culture, it doesn’t always mean the same thing. I believe Christians would do well to recognize this.
In practical terms, this means that it’s not enough just to talk about faith in some abstract way. “Do you have faith?” is not always the best question to ask. I have faith in the chair that I’m sitting on – I believe that it’s going to be able to support my weight. I have faith in the electric company – that if my power goes out, they’ll be able to fix it. I have faith that the crops will come up, and the fields will be full of corn and beans soon. (But I’m certainly not making predictions here.) I can have faith in lots of things, but that’s not the same as the Christian faith.
So when we talk about the Christian faith, what kind of faith are we talking about? The key is not in the idea of faith, but what we have faith in. Christian faith is not faith in my chair or in the theory of gravity or even in the goodness of humanity. That’s not to say any of these things are false. The Christian faith is faith in Christ. It is faith in the second person of the Trinity, His birth, death, and resurrection for our salvation. Faith apart from Christ might still be spelled f-a-i-t-h, but it’s just a homograph, a word of the same form with a different meaning.
Our Christian witness would be well-served to always be clear about who we have faith in and what that means. It’s not terribly clear to say, “I believe in God.” Satan believes in God too, but that doesn’t get him eternal life. (see James 2:19) Even the statement, “I have faith in Jesus,” could be clearer. Loads of people have faith that there was some first century Jew named Jesus, but that’s not the same thing as saving through faith.
I have a radical suggestion. Try this: instead of talking about faith, perhaps Christians should just talk about Christ. After all, if He is the object of our faith, then when we talk about Christ, we talk about faith in Him. Plus, as an added bonus, we avoid the whole messy issue of homographs. It’ll be perfectly clear what we mean when we say “faith.”

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