For those who are new to the concept of faith in God, it can be challenging to understand the different meanings of the word, faith, or the many ways in which faith is used in the New Testament. There are three primary ways that faith is used: salvation faith, a body of doctrine or system of beliefs, and a state of being or living. These three ways of faith are essential in understanding the Christian faith.
Salvation faith is perhaps the most well-known form of faith. It is the faith that brings salvation and eternal life. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” This means that salvation is a gift that we receive through faith in God.
The second way faith is used is as a body of doctrine or system of beliefs. In 2 Timothy 4:7, the Apostle Paul writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In this context, he is referring to the entire body of Christian teaching, which includes everything from theology to ethics.
The third way faith is used is as a state of being or living. According to 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” This means that we live our lives in faith, trusting in God even when we cannot see Him.
Faith is not a one-time event but a journey that involves growth, development, and transformation. The six stages of faith development are:
- No Faith,
- Temporary Faith,
- Transactional Faith,
- Traumatic Faith,
- Transformational Faith, and
- Transcendent Faith.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage. As you will see, Jesus describes most of these in his parable of the Sower in Mark 4.1-20, Matthew 13.1-15, and Luke 8.4-10. I am convinced that this parable is in all three synoptic gospels because of the universality of the message across all cultures: various people will respond in various ways to the good news that Jesus came to offer.
1. No Faith:
The first stage of faith development is characterized by a lack of faith. Everyone has faith in something, whether it be science, facts, or their own abilities. However, they have not yet recognized the existence of God or accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In this stage, individuals may be skeptical of the concept of faith or indifferent to it altogether.
Jesus describes this stage of faith (Mark 4.4 & 4.14-15) as the seed that fell on the path which the birds came and snatched away. Here he clearly states that the problem isn’t with the seed; it is where it fell or the state of the person in whom the seed fell. He describes people who, due to different reasons, simply refuse to believe. Faith found no place to germinate and was taken by the enemy of the soul. We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.
2. Temporary Faith:
Temporary faith is often seen in people facing circumstances beyond their control, such as a life-threatening illness or a financial crisis. In these situations, people may turn to God and pray for help, but their faith may not be strong enough to sustain them in the long run.
We see this in the church all the time. Individuals come to church because their marriage is in trouble or the child is out of control, and they come and commit their lives to follow Christ. This is a great beginning as it springs out of a desire to trust something greater than ourselves. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
This faith actually germinates and begins to grow. However, if this type of faith isn’t developed into a more robust faith that applies beyond the immediate crisis, then their faith will wither. Only as they deepen their roots to allow this faith to work deeply through everything they face and extend to their entire lives will they find their faith continues to grow. They must learn to trust in God in all circumstances.
As Jesus describes (Mark 4.5-6 & 4.16-17), the seed that fell on the shallow soil. It springs up to life, but because its roots are too shallow, when the sun comes out, their faith withers because the trouble they experienced couldn’t sustain their shallow faith.
We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.
3. Transactional Faith
Transactional faith is based on a transactional relationship with God, where individuals have faith because of what they believe God can do for them. They may pray for blessings or good health, and when those prayers are answered, they feel their faith has been rewarded. Most wouldn’t describe it as a transactional faith at the time. Only later do they see that by believing and having faith in God, they are assured of eternal life, now and forever.
They read and believe passages like Ephesians 2.8-9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” And John 3.16, where Jesus asserts, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
As they find this salvation begins to change their lives, they seek to follow God more and commit more and more of their lives to him. As they continue to deepen their faith, they continue to grow and trust in his promises they find in the Scriptures. They see that God has given them wisdom for living their lives by his design.
I think 2 Peter 1.3-8 describes this stage of faith well when Peter says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you might participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.“
It is at this junction I watch individuals grow deeper or become more resistant. They find it hard to totally trust God in areas of their lives where they are just not sure they are willing to give God control. They are not sure God’s love will care for them deeply, so they stop going deeper in their trust. Outwardly, they still may attend church and go through the motions, but their faith inside is being crowded out by competing interests. Often, these are not bad interests in themselves, just slowly becoming idols.
It is these that Jesus continues to describe this type of faith (Mark 4,7 & 4.18-19) as the place where the seed germinates and grows but eventually is choked out by all the cares surrounding the person.
Some people find too many competing interests, so instead of going deeper, they go shallow and slowly wither. We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.
I find it interesting that those in the third season of faith development who continue to grow and orient their entire life around deepening their faith often come to the point of having their foundation of a faith tested in the next season of faith development.
4. Traumatic Faith
Traumatic faith is developed through the experiences of extreme suffering, pain, and loss. It’s a faith that endures through difficult and trying circumstances. It’s a faith that is developed “in spite of” what one is going through. Job, one of the characters in the Old Testament, is an excellent example of someone who developed traumatic faith. Whereas most of the faith expressed in the Psalms in the Old Testament is a kind of Transactional Faith, this wasn’t true of Job. Despite losing everything he had, including his family and possessions, he still declared, “Though he slays me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
This kind of faith is evident in Paul in the New Testament. When we read of his faith in the New Testament, we find a person who has progressed through the first three stages of faith development before he began his ministry with Barnabas (probably about 10 years into his Christian walk). After Barnabas finds him in Tarsus and takes him to Antioch, we see his traumatic faith. He later writes about the numerous hardships and persecution he faced, including being imprisoned, flogged, and stoned (2 Corinthians 11:21-28).
Anyone who has walked for a long period and deeply with Christ eventually comes to know personally what it means to have your faith “in spite of” the circumstances. Your faith is no longer to simply “get you through” your crises (Temporary Faith), nor is it because of what you are “get out of it” (Transactional Faith), but in deep pain, you find a faith that undergirds you during times of turmoil and pain. Traumatic faith teaches us to hold on to God’s promises even when everything else fails. In this season, faith is not about everything turning out okay; rather, your faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.
The faith that develops out of this Traumatic season is best described by Robert Kriegel as “Faith is not the belief that everything will be all right tomorrow, but the belief that I possess the strength to make it through whatever comes.”
Some people walk away from their faith amidst this pain. We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.
5. Transformational Faith
Transformational faith is a heart faith that is transformed through the crucible of life and now finds contentment through agape love, God’s love. This kind of faith develops when we surrender our lives through the landscape of living years with Christ as the center of our lives. We allow Jesus to change us from the inside out.
Those whose faith has a resilience and a vibrancy of a life well lived in Christ find that there is little that shakes their faith. So much of their life is about giving what they have learned, acquired, or been given to others. They seek to invest in others and help others with little thought of what they will gain in return. Their lives are authentic, with no attempt to bring honor to themselves.
Paul talks about this transformational faith (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), when he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Similarly, in Philippians 4:12-13, Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
We read of this faith of Paul, and we wonder at the depth of his faith. It may help to realize Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians only a couple of years before he died. He had a 35-year ministry and grew in depth and trust through all these stages. We must be careful not to want his faith without the journey he went through to develop this depth. He didn’t start here and didn’t end here, as we will see in the next or last stage of faith development.
These are the people Jesus describes (Mark 4.8 & 4.20) as going so deep in their faith that they multiply their impact thirty, sixty, and a hundred times! We clearly see this through those who continue to live by faith (2 Corinthians 5.7 & Colossians 2.6-7) through all the seasons of life. Their impact may never be known or published, but the lives they touch are the measure of their impact.
We must be careful not to dismiss these individuals as too saintly or spiritual. They have simply been weathered many storms and wandered many deserts to find their faith secure. It is a faith everyone can attain if they are willing to walk their lives in the love and Spirit of Christ. Ironically, Jesus’ parable from Mark 4 only says about one of three whose faith initially sprouts actually reach this point. I don’t think he intended to use quantifying the parable this way, but it does give one reason to pause.
6. Transcendent Faith
The sixth and final stage of faith is transcendent faith. At this stage, individuals are ready to move on from this life to the next, having fully embraced the concept of eternal life with God. This faith is demonstrated through a deep sense of peace and contentment, even in the face of death. The apostle Paul, in his letter to Timothy, displayed this type of faith when he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
This letter (2 Timothy) was the last written letter of Paul shortly before he died. Notice Paul is making ready for his departure, even using language that implies his race is just about over. We don’t find a man despondent facing death and even desertion of some of his followers. But rather a man who is reflective and thankful with a sense of victory in his spirit.
I sometimes refer to Individuals in this final stage as the “check out” season of life. This isn’t a bad thing, but they realize they are about the checkout, and all of their life is concerned with leaving this world and becoming a reality in eternity. You know what it is like when you have a 10:00 am check out. In the morning, you are doing what you need to do to be ready to leave. The individuals in this stage of faith development, likewise, orient their lives toward their departure.
Faith is a journey, and it develops over time through various seasons. The six stages of faith development described above illustrate this process. It is important to remember that wherever we are in our faith journey, God is with us, and we can always lean on Him for guidance and support. As the author and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” Faith in God can bring meaning, purpose, and hope to our lives, and it is a journey worth pursuing.