We commonly speak of there being “two sides” to one coin. We do this to make the point that “heads” and “tails” are distinctly different. We have used a coin like this since we were all very young. It is still done in various events and ceremonies, like just before the kickoff of a football game when the referee does a “coin toss.” But this coin is one. Both sides are connected and intimately related; of one piece.
Like a coin Christianity also has two sides. These sides are one yet they are quite distinct. They are intimately related yet they are different. These two sides are the faith and the way, or the truth and the life. These are the two great aspects of the whole. Unless we keep both sides of this coin in view we will make major mistakes. These mistakes have broken many who have lost their way as Christians.
Jesus Is the Truth and the Life
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John we read these familiar words:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. 3 After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”
5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?”
6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father. 7 If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him” (CEV).
Jesus incarnates the “heads” and “tails” of the coin of true Christianity. Why? Because he is the truth and the life together in the perfect revelation of God.
To be a Christian you must believe something. This statement stands as elemental to every true confession of the Christian faith that we know. You may not have to understand everything that you believe but you do have to believe something, not nothing. Christian faith is not empty, vacuous or undefined.
As Christians we believe the truth about God, man, and the world. We believe that God is all-powerful and holy. We believe that he created the world, thus this world we encounter every day is “our Father’s world.” It sparkles in all its wonder revealing the wonder and glory of the God who created it. We also believe that God created man, a unique being different from all other creatures on the earth. We are made “in his image” (or likeness). As persons we think, feel and create precisely because we have been made in God’s image. This is what theologians call the imago Dei. We also believe that man and woman broke this relationship, rooted in divine love. What existed between God and the first human couple in history past is now defaced and damaged. We call this the fall. We were made for higher and better things but we human beings fell from that high place and the results include suffering, pain and death. But we also believe this world, made by God, is supremely good. It was destined to be the place where God would reveal his love for all his creatures, beings “made a little lower” than the angels. God became one of us, full of grace and truth, and revealed that to know Jesus Christ is to know God himself.
This truth about God, man and this world is not just intended for our brains to process and debate. To borrow a common phrase this truth is for the head and the heart–it is for the whole human person. It involves our will (volition), our affections (which includes our emotions but is much more), and our intellect (mind). It is this word “affections” that I have found so helpful when understood in a proper way.
Jonathan Edwards contributed mightily to our understanding of human personality when he said: “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” By this word affections Edwards means that what we as believers endure and overcome in this life is rooted deeply in a supernatural foundation buried deeply in the love of Christ. Holy affections are an inner spiritual joy that is always present, supporting and sustaining true faith. Such holy affections motivate our will and shape our mind, our character, and our heart. True faith depends on both the will and the emotions, thus the affections. If affections are understood in this manner then they are central to the Christian life.
Numerous biblical texts refer to “the faith” as the great truths of Christianity regarding God, man and the world. This is the “core” of Christianity, rightly understood. C. S. Lewis referred to this as “mere Christianity” but whatever you call it, without this content there cannot be “the faith” which saves and purifies us in Christ.
Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14: Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love (NIV).
In Ephesians 4:11–13 we read:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (NIV).
These references, and others like them, refer to “the faith” as that body of truth which centers in Jesus Christ and him as crucified and risen. It is this faith that we must believe to be followers of Christ. This is one reason why Christians began to summarize “the faith” in short statements before the end of the second century. These statements were creeds; e.g. The Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc. These give the essential core of “the faith.”
Truth for Life
“The faith” is not something Christians merely believe in their heads but it is something they take into their heart. It is believed actively, personally and purposefully. The faith is not merely believed intellectually but it is done experientially. It is truth for life!
The apostle Paul follows a particular pattern in this regard that helps us grasp the point I am making here. In the first part of his letters he often expounds upon the faith that we are to believe but then he applies this faith to what must be done. This faith is to be lived out. It will change how we relate to others who profess the same faith, and it will impact the lives we live before our neighbors as well. The simple way to say this is that the faith always leads us into the way.
If Jesus is the truth then we always move towards him if we are to discover what is true and real. If he is the way then we always draw near to him in order to follow in the way of vital discipleship. His truth, Jesus himself, must lead us into himself as the way and the life. True faith results in the going in the way.
It is interesting that the earliest and best Christian catechisms have followed this pattern precisely. The catechism is an ancient form of reaching by questions and answers so that all Christians, young and old, can grasp what is to be believed and how to live it. The first section of a catechism speaks of the Christian faith as the content that is to be believed, while the second portion speaks of the Christian way–how we then live.
These two sides of the one coin are really two aspects of the one whole, for as Paul says in Galatians 5:6: “If you are a follower of Christ Jesus, it makes no difference whether you are circumcised or not. All that matters is your faith that makes you love others.”