I expect that when you hear the phrase "living by faith," you think only of Christians trying to exist without guaranteed financial support and that when you hear the word "fundamentalism" you think only of a version of Evangelicalism that seems to you coarse, crass, combative, crude, and best avoided. Thus noble words get narrowed and debased. "Fundamentalism" was actually coined to identify the virtue of faithfulness to Christian fundamentals and "living by faith" was a Reformational way of characterizing Christian existence. That is why Richard Baxter's treatise, The Life of Faith, written three centuries ago, is an analysis of the Christian response to all life-situations. This piece is about that, too.

What is the life of faith? Well, what is faith? Do not take seriously the legendary child's definition of faith as "believing what you know ain't so," even when (as happens) unbelieving adults embrace it. The human mind cannot believe what seems false; skepticism rots belief as a chinook turns snow to slush. Scripture is clear that faith is the positive response of the whole person to God's total revelation, perceived as such.

By faith "a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein: and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come" (Westminster Confession, 14:2).

Faith, then, is an exercise of mind and heart whereby we learn what God tells us in Scripture about himself and ourselves; we shudder at what is said about our lostness without Christ; promises of grace to sinners, and the Christ whom those promises set forth; and we apply to ourselves Bible teaching about God's work, will and ways, in order to see what attitudes honor God, and what actions will please him, in each situation. Faith knows that God shapes all situations as means to our final good and in light of that knowledge seeks biblical guidance on what to aim at, pray for, hope for, prepare for, and actually do; how to handle one's relationship to God and to the rest of creation and how to use one's opportunities for glorifying God.

Thus the life of faith must be thoughtful, conscientious and, at the same time, enterprising. Every Christian's life should reflect, first in private prayer and then in public performance too, Carey's famous maxim — "Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God."

It is a sad fact that people who profess faith often come short of its fullness. Sometimes knowledge and belief of God's truth are divorced from personal trust and obedience. That is the "dead" faith of which James speaks in his first and second chapters. Sometimes trust is not guided by truth, so that faith becomes superstition. Sometimes real trust for salvation in the Christ of the gospel fails to lead us to interpret what God sends by what he says in his Word. That is the vice of "double-mindedness," which ruins both one's prayers and one's walk.

When James says "double-minded" (literally), "two-souled") he means more than "irresolute", "undecided," and "unable to make up his mind," as various modern versions render the word. He is detecting not temperamental ditheriness, as these translations imply, but unbelief: doubting — that is, mistrusting — the good will of the God whom one trusts for salvation, prays to and calls Father. The text shows this.

Welcome trials — meaning "temptations" — says James. Why? Because handling trials produces resilience, strains put on our faith and obedience are God's Outward Bound course, toughening us up spiritually. The maturing that results leads us on to the victor's crown. So anyone under pressure should ask God for the wisdom needed to keep living right. Will God supply it? Yes. He is a generous giver, always glad to answer this request.

But the two-minded person, while professing faith in Christ as divine Savior and Lord, panics under pressure, thinks with his feelings rather than his brains and concludes that since God evidently no longer cares for him, his prayers for wisdom cannot expect an answer. Yet God is unchanging in his love and free from any shadow of inconsistency. Don't insult him by indulging such unbelief, says James.

What, then, is James' answer to the double-mindedness that juxtaposes trust in God's Word abut the hope of salvation with mistrust of his Word about his help under trials? Why, single-mindedness, of course, believing all that God says, not just some of it, putting faith in his faithfulness about everything, joyfully trusting his goodness at all times and seeking to honor him by consistent holiness. That is true purity of heart and that is the only life of faith worthy of the name. How, I wonder, do we measure up?

J.I. Packer is professor of historical and systematic theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

This article was previously published in Eternity Magazine, November 1988.