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Is faith a skill that can be developed and made stronger through effort, following a method? If such a method exists, can it be tested, and by any human being? In other words, if the most skeptical atheist takes on the challenge of applying this method thoroughly and meticulously, would he or she reap the fruit of faith eventually over time?

Or is faith rather a gift, a supernatural gift, given by God only to a privileged subset, and therefore not attainable via effort?

Or is faith both a gift and a skill, requiring some sort of synergystic cooperation between the will of the person and the grace of God?

What is an overview of perspectives on the nature of faith, what causes it, how it can be attained, how it can be made stronger, the extent to which any person on the planet (including the most skeptical atheist) can acquire it by exercising their own free will by following a particular method?

Note: this is a follow-up to How can one attain the faith necessary to activate God's promises?

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    This is not a question about Christianity. 'Any person on the planet' 'acquire it by exercising their own free will'. Christian faith relates to Jesus Christ. This question does not.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 10 at 20:24
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    Christian faith isn't a skill, it's an attitude of dependence and reliance on God, which we develop as we give up our attempts at self-reliance. It doesn't make sense to talk about an atheist trying out faith when the reject the existence of the object or this faith. It's as non-sensical as the idea of a single person practicing trusting their non-existent spouse. You have to at least acknowledge their existence to begin trusting them.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 10 at 21:44
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    @curiousdannii I'm suggesting an atheist as an extreme case of a possible starting point. Of course they would cease to be an atheist in the process if the experiment turns out successful.
    – Mark
    Jan 10 at 21:47
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    @Mark Christian faith is fundamentally relational. It's not something that can be experienced by someone who is a committed atheist. That would need to be overcome before any faith "experiments".
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 11 at 0:33
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    @PeterTurner I think this is an excellent question, and it is very focused: It is simply asking how a person of any background can increase his faith, or whether people of different backgrounds may not be permitted to have their faith increase despite their interest in it. This has everything to do with Christianity. I recommend reopening it as it stands; I see nothing to edit in it. There is no need to narrow down to a specific doctrine or denomination.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 12 at 21:52

7 Answers 7

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The verb πειθω (peitho) and its derived noun πιστις (pistis) are possibly the most signature words of the Greek New Testament. The verb means to persuade or be persuaded, and the noun means faith; trust or certainty. From the noun in turn derives the equally important verb πιστευω (pisteuo), meaning to have faith, that is: to behave as someone who has been persuaded into certainty. Folks who try to make others "choose" to have faith, and who get angry when the answer is "no", really only want to sign them up to their club. You can't choose to have faith just like you can't choose to fall in love. Still, Biblical faith is a real and measurable mental capacity that, once acquired, changes someone to the core, and as fundamentally and wholesale as a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly (Romans 12:2). It can't be undone, revoked or forgotten; it can never go away. Someone who doesn't have it doesn't understand it in precisely the same way in which a brick does not understand a squirrel, or in which a squirrel does not understand Homo sapiens fidens: the human who discerns and trusts. And, believe it or not, the world today is largely populated by this magnificent creature. - Abarim Publications

Ultimately what Adam did in the Garden of Eden was to abandon faith/trust in God and replace it with trust in self. God had said he would die when he ate that fruit. The serpent said he would not die but would become like God in knowledge. Adam chose to be like God and have knowledge within himself over faith in God. And so mankind was infected with desire for self-possessed knowledge over faith in God and God has prevented eternal life for such. Faith in God, the true God, is now not a part of the natural make-up of man: The truth of God is manifest unto us and we make up other stuff instead.

Repentance of this; of what we are rather than of what we have done, is the flip side of and the prerequisite of attaining faith. Repent and believe is the call. We must be unmade and remade. In Adam all die. In Adam ... in believing we can be like God in knowledge... we are excluded from the Tree of Life. In the faith of Christ we live. This faith can be strengthened, purified, and perfected as we struggle to trust God/to act in faith in a world at enmity with him and it can be shipwrecked. God's stated purpose as we undergo all manner of various trials is the perfection of our faith and the stated value of our faith is 'more precious than gold':

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: - 1 Peter 1:3-5

But one cannot have perfected or strengthen what one does not possess. Faith (saving faith) cannot be 'achieved' by anything other than a new birth. One cannot try an experiment or follow a procedure and arrive at the faith the Bible is concerned with. One must receive Christ Jesus; his person and his testimony by repenting of one's own person and testimony. One must die to self in order to live by faith, His faith. Christ in us, the hope of glory.

All of this comes together in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus whereby I am crucified unto the world and the world crucified unto me. The life I live is no longer my life but the increasing manifestation of Christ's life in me:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. - Galatians 2:20

In every real sense it is the faith of the Son of God that is being perfected within me and not my own faith; In Adam I had none to start with. Until that faith is born in me, born from above, there is no good thing that dwells in me. The measure of that faith which I wrestle to manifest and have perfected within me is the measure that I have been given:

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

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Faith is an infused habit, i.e., a "Virtue supernaturally conferred by God without one's own effort." It is not an acquired habit (i.e., one that of our own efforts we can get better at by repeating certain actions—e.g., practicing the piano), but faith can be lifeless or living and it can be greater in one person than in another.

St. Thomas Aquinas, commenting on St. Paul's definition of faith as "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" (Heb. 11:1), defines faith as (Summa Theologica II-II q. 4 a. 1 co.):

a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent.
habitus mentis, qua inchoatur vita aeterna in nobis, faciens intellectum assentire non apparentibus.

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  • From a Catholic perspective, what prevents God from infusing everyone with the virtue of faith? Are there conditions?
    – Mark
    Jan 11 at 0:52
  • + 1 ... But does the fact that it is not acquired mean that it cannot be developed. In my personal life it seems as if my faith has grown over years through exercise. Jan 11 at 1:30
  • @Mark That would violate freewill; "the believer's intellect assents to that which he believes […] because his will commands his intellect to assent." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II q. 5 a. 2 co.).
    – Geremia
    Jan 11 at 23:38
  • @DanFefferman We can remove obstacles to its intensification, but we could never develop the supernatural habit from our own natural abilities.
    – Geremia
    Jan 11 at 23:46
  • @DanFefferman "a man's faith may be described as being greater, in one way, on the part of his intellect, on account of its greater certitude and firmness, and, in another way, on the part of his will, on account of his greater promptitude, devotion, or confidence." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II q. 5 a. 4 co.).
    – Geremia
    Jan 11 at 23:46
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Faith is not a skill. Your Door #2 is closest to the truth but not completely correct. Faith is the spark that lights the flame, just like striking a flint creates a spark that will light tinder. You can work to strengthen your faith, like blowing very gently at first on the spark on the lit timber until it bursts into flame, and then gradually stronger and stronger until you have a stronger fire -- the bellows that blow air onto flames in a blacksmith's shop that heats iron to the point where it will bend easily will extinguish a small flame. You can conduct your life and practice faith-strengthening activities to make your flame grow stronger, but you can't develop faith from nothing any more than you can make a bunch of tinder burst into flame by blowing on it without the spark.

Faith is not given to someone because of their privilege in this world; it is given because of the love of God. In the OT, God told Israel that they did not choose them because of their own merit but because He loved them and kept His word to save them.

"It was not because you were more numerous than other people of the earth that the LORD committed himself to you and chose you. In fact, you were the least numerous of all the peoples. But the LORD loved you and kept his oath that he made to your ancestors. The LORD brought you out with great power from slavery, from the control of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

In the NT, Paul explains that faith is not something we can achieve on our own but it is the gift of God.

For by such grace you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God and not the result of actions, to put a stop to all boasting. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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Oxford defines "skill" as: "the ability to do something well." Normally we think of faith as a virtue or habit that we possess. In that sense it is a gift. But if we think of "walking in faith" the idea of "doing faith well" makes sense. So I would say yes, it can be a skill that we develop, both in terms of personal experience and biblical teaching:

1 Corinthians 3

1 Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now, 3 for you are still of the flesh.

Paul addresses members of the church at Corinth who had accepted the Gospel and had been baptized. This means that they "had" faith - possessed it as a spiritual gift. But their faith was still immature. I submit that the reason it was immature is that it had not grown through being exercised or tested. As these "baby Christians" exercised their faith they became more skillful at walking in faith, which means they began to "do faith well" - or developed their "skill" of faith.

The same may be said of Paul saying in 1 Cor. 13:11:

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

This has been my personal experience as well. When I first became a believer I had an unreasonable faith, thinking that God would give me whatever I asked, even powerful miracles. But over time, as I tested and applied my faith, it became deeper and wiser. In that sense I became more skillful at faith. Not that I became more proficient at getting God to do miraculous things for me, that I became more skillful at aligning my faith with God's will.

Conclusion: faith is primarily a spiritual gift; but as it is applied it can also be a skill. Spiritual infants have the gift of faith, but spiritually mature people develop the skill of it.

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Summary

In short, I will argue for the BOTH option: gift (from God) and trust (from us). The growth I wouldn't call "skill" but "virtues". Also keep in mind that Christian faith is primarily a relational quality of a journey with another person, like faith in someone's spouse in the marriage journey.

Faith has 2 dimensions:

  1. rational: this is a light given to us by God, which enables our soul to mentally see (akin to an "aha" moment when something "clicks") the truthfulness of the claims of Christianity, although our reason (which can be characterized also as a light that, unlike the light of faith, humans possess permanently) is left unsatisfied because reason wants more than what's available via reflection of the image given by the senses. But when the mind is further illumined by the light of faith, our reason CAN CONCUR, just as we also believe "by faith" the date of our birth told to us by our parents and believe "by faith" the birth certificate given to us by the government. This is a distinct "yes" or "no". Either you believe or you don't.
  2. journey: this is trust in a person Jesus who wants to form our soul into more conformance with Him, and who has given us His Holy Spirit who in turn infuses us with growing faith, hope, and charity (the 3 theological virtues). This infusion is gradual so faith can grow, consistent with Jesus's allusion to faith having a "size" (Matt 17:20-21) and with other NT passages such as 2 Thess 1:3 ("your faith is growing abundantly").

But discerning whether one has the "correct" faith is not always easy, especially if one believes a distorted gospel (the easy OSAS gospel, the performative/ritualistic gospel, the prosperity gospel, etc.). Just like in marriage which is quintessentially a journey with a rational dimension as well, one starts a relationship with Jesus with certain expectations that once the tire hits the road there bounds to be questions, doubts, hardship, re-evaluations, etc. which can be significant depending on whether one's understanding has been correct from the beginning. So there can ALSO be growth in the rational dimension ALTHOUGH it STILL does not invalidate the discrete "yes" or "no". Several cases:

  • Deconversion: Someone used to declare himself Christian but no longer a believer due to realizing he was sold the wrong gospel, or that his faith is falsely preconditioned on the Bible being inerrant the way his church promotes it
  • Confusion: Someone who STILL wants to believe but is having intellectual doubt; she still goes to church and still practices her faith as usual
  • Growth in understanding: This is a very established tradition of "faith seeking understanding", implying growth in the rational dimension of faith although the tradition emphatically asserts that no matter how much higher the level of understanding has become, it is STILL lacking the clarity we will attain in heaven by the light of grace.
  • Switching church: Someone who finds another Christian tradition to be more helpful in his journey with Christ (ex. Calvinist becomes Catholic). In this case, the faith is intact but his understanding matures.
  • Suffering: This is doubt when trying to reconcile one's loss / suffering with one's understanding of God as loving and present. Many believers are NOT spared this experience (in one degree or another), and many are processing this experience differently. C.S. Lewis's processing (A Grief Observed and the movie Shadowland) is one of the most cited and studied in recent times.

The meaning of "faith" in Christianity

We are about to launch into a description of the experiential and subjective dimension of faith so given the nebulousness and ambiguity of the experience itself (where even God meddles somewhat unpredictably, John 3:8), it's critical to delimit what we mean by "faith" in this answer, which is the easy part.

The pertinent meaning of "faith" you ask has 2 dimensions:

  1. The rational dimension: hearing, understanding, and believing God's saving plan for us individually AND collectively (humanity) through Jesus Christ, as revealed to us by the OT & NT prophets and apostles who left us a record of their testimonies in the Bible.
  2. The journey dimension: allegiance to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, thus implying our individual willingness
    • to be docile lambs being led by Jesus the Shepherd (John 10:1-18)
    • to be fed by Jesus the Bread of life (John 6:22-59)
    • to walk in the light of wisdom shown to us by Jesus the Light of the World (John 8:12) and to be yoked with him (Matt 11:28-30) so our path will be illuminated by Jesus's light and our decisions are marked by wisdom
    • to be a fruitful branch connected to Jesus the True Vine (John 15:1-8)
    • to use Jesus as a measure for a True Person, the ideal image to which we are being formed because Jesus is the Truth, John 14:6. Note that "The Truth" here is different than the truth of a proposition (the normal meaning of the word) since Jesus is a human person, but truth in the carpenter's sense: Jesus truing us like a carpenter truing his squares.
    • to imitate Jesus in loving God and neighbors like Jesus the True Friend (John 15:9-17), when situations call for it

Measuring our experience: does it deserve to be called "faith" as defined above?

I purposely phrase the meaning of "faith" above so it can be used as a measuring stick as we honestly reflect on our own experience vis a vis God and vis a vis the claims of Christianity. In his sermons my current pastor always explicitly speaks to 3 types of audience: seekers, new believers, mature believers. I think this is an excellent strategy, which I also use below:

  • For the seekers, my pastor would help make the gospel easier to accept intellectually by removing various objections relevant to the text he preaches on or by clarifying what it means to follow Christ and its benefits. He is following the tradition of presenting Christianity as a set of claims that can be understood rationally, of which C.S. Lewis is a prime example who famously said

    "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it"

    (learn more through this article C.S. Lewis on Faith and Reason).

    But does faith necessarily results when all one's intellectual objections have been answered? NO. More is needed.

  • New believers are those who undergo these 3 steps in the first few years of becoming Christian:

    1. Minimal understanding of the "gospel": who Jesus is, what accepting His spirit into one's heart means (i.e. born again), and what this action entails in one's subsequent life when united with Christ. This is the intellectual dimension; regular reason operating here, unaided by faith. The gospel is the "proposal" to be believed. In Christian traditions that teach that faith is rational, this proposal CAN be understood by reason alone, and IS a prerequisite to proper faith. Unfortunately, many skeptics remain at this stage.

    2. The reception of "the light of faith" given by God. A very good 2021 lecture about this by a Catholic priest of the Dominican order (following the teaching of Aquinas) is The Light of Reason and the Light of Faith. The lecture only covers the contrast of the light of reason vs. faith, but from my personal experience (as well as others), it is usually accompanied by other kinds of experience as a result of this light:

      • recognition of one's sinfulness (leading naturally to repentance)
      • "aha" moment that God is trustworthy as described in the proposal (it's "aha" for those who come to faith only as an adult, but more like "confirmation" for those who have already believed the claims of Christianity since childhood)
      • conviction that giving away your life to Jesus makes sense (one can see the happiness that can result from dying to self)
      • decision to be baptized with Jesus's death and resurrection and to become his disciple for life, "for better or for worse, so help me God" (because the future of where Jesus would lead us is unknown).
    3. The nurturing of the mustard seed of faith as discipleship commences, where one consciously integrates Jesus into one's life. Again, imagine life with your spouse after the wedding. In this step, our will and effort predominate:

      • making efforts not to commit sins one used to do, asking the Holy Spirit to be given grace
      • killing sinful desire (concupiscence) and replacing it with the desire for wholesome actions, sometimes need to DO them first with desire and feeling to follow
      • following the church's practice such as meditating on the Bible, frequenting the sacraments of confession and Eucharist, regular prayer life, examination of conscience, etc.

      Once this gets going, the New believer is on the road to become a Mature believer where faith bears fruit in loving actions. The Bible talks more about growing in fruit & love rather than growing in faith, but it's natural that faith grows together as we reflect on the years that we have been with Christ, just as couples do on their 5th, 10th, 25th, and 50th wedding anniversaries. I now have more faith in my wife than in our wedding day precisely because of the years we have been together although the "aha" moment (the reasonable seed of trust) when I decided to marry my wife was already present since before the wedding. Wedding here is very analogous to public baptism in a credo-baptist church.

  • Mature believers are those who are past the initial shocks of being united with Christ. This is beyond the scope of this answer, but some of the characteristics:

    • More intellectual understanding of the faith through studying the Bible, theology, and philosophy
    • Less likely to be swayed by non-Christian opinions because of BOTH the time spent in studying as well as the increasing quality of the experience with Jesus
    • More experience in processing hurts, suffering, and disappointment that God let believers to experience precisely to mature our faith and love.

Answering specific concerns in your question

I have addressed all the angles you raised above, so what follows are quick comments.

Is faith a skill that can be developed and made stronger through effort, following a method?

What follows only apply to New & Mature believer stage. In a sense, yes, it's a "skill", although traditionally named "virtue" which is a "habit", i.e. a predilection of trusting God in the midst of hardship / suffering / depression of one's sinfulness, etc. Yes, it can grow through BOTH our effort and God's grace following a method prescribed by your church. In religious orders they follow a regula or a rule such as the famous Rule of Saint Benedict that can be adapted to laypeople use. In fact, my pastor did a sermon just a few days ago to encourage us to develop our own individual practices following a daily "rhythm of life" as the "method" in 8 rubrics: prayer, Scripture, Stillness, Simplicity & Generosity, Relationship, Hospitality, Vocation & Mission (pursuing justice & peace), Health & Maturity (spiritual, emotional, and physical maturity).

If such a method exists, can it be tested, and by any human being? In other words, if the most skeptical atheist takes on the challenge of applying this method thoroughly and meticulously, would he or she reap the fruit of faith eventually over time?

You confuse 2 stages of faith: before the "aha" moment and after; the method for each is VERY different but YES, it can be tested.

  • In the previous section I already talked about the method to grow in faith. Just like growing in any skill, one may not see it right away, but in times of testing.

  • For the Seekers, I can think of one useful method below (NOTE: people are complex, there are bound to be other methods out there). The "test" is step FOUR. But please note, it's NOT the following the method that guarantees result, just like a study guide is not a guarantee to pass a Calculus final exam. God's grace is STILL the necessary ingredient but I believe the method below will at least create a conducive environment by having the right state of mind:

    1. FIRST they need to sort out major intellectual objections until they are faced with a credible proposal, experientially like being faced with a decision whether to accept a proposal of marriage (after some years of courtship), which at this point STILL has an element of risk and uncertainty.

    2. SECOND, it also involves "laying down your weapons", realizing that one cannot fight concupiscence by one's own effort. One needs help. Eleonore Stump likens it to someone who has "crashed and hit bottom", finally realizing that one needs "professional help" like an alcoholic, or one needing anger management counseling, etc. See this 13 minute video How Does Salvation work, the "professional help" section starts at around minute 6:00.

    3. THIRD, say to God something like this:

      "I want to will the good, but I'm conflicted. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Also, I cannot heal my desire for sins on my own. Not only that, even though I want to be healed but some part of me says I don't. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to CEASE RESISTING and let You operate on me."

      What this does is issue an invitation to God to heal us. This way, we UNITE our will with God voluntarily, not exactly saying "Yes", but just to cease resisting (a.k.a. quiescent, a third mode of the will proposed by Eleonore Stump, to learn more see a review of her book 'Atonement').

    4. FOURTH, while maintaining that state of receptivity, wait for that "aha" moment to happen, as we continue our reflection of our sorry situation as well as reading up on God's plan for us in the Scripture and reading about God using other spiritual and devotional texts.

Or is faith rather a gift, a supernatural gift, given by God only to a privileged subset, and therefore not attainable via effort?

The debate whether this gift is available only to the privileged subset is a Calvinist teaching, which by the way cannot be summarized that way either. There is STILL interaction with free will (which is complex subject). But my answer's point of view is definitely NOT Calvinistic, so although it is NOT Pelagian either, some form of conscious response by us is contributary to coming to faith.

Or is faith both a gift and a skill, requiring some sort of synergistic cooperation between the will of the person and the grace of God?

The light of faith to trigger the "aha" moment is DEFINITELY 100% gift, but we can ask for it. Maybe for kids who were raised in the church (like I did) this light was given much sooner when as kid we innocently ask Jesus to come to our hearts (I attended Sunday school since I was 5). The synergistic cooperation is most clear in the growing phase, after the "aha" moment.

What is an overview of perspectives on the nature of faith, what causes it, how it can be attained, how it can be made stronger, the extent to which any person on the planet (including the most skeptical atheist) can acquire it by exercising their own free will by following a particular method?

"What causes it" is unanimous across all Christian traditions: grace of God. "How it can be attained" is similarly unanimous: ask God in prayer. "How it can be made stronger", there are many methods BUT as mentioned above, it's very important the separate the method for non-believers vs. for believers who already have the initial mustard-seed-faith.

Would you say that a better and more standard term for the 'aha' moment you refer to in your answer is the 'born-again experience'?

Well, what IS exactly this "born-again experience"? I hesitate to equate the two because theologically "born again" is associated with the coming indwelling of the Trinitarian life who comes rushing into someone's soul, WHILE the "aha" (experienced as a realization) is associated with the act of faith aided by grace (i.e. the "light of faith"). I think the main problem is that most Christian theologies DO NOT PRESCRIBE an epistemological description of how we should experience those 2 events. We can only reflect on them ex post facto based on the effect of God's action where we CAN answer:

  1. whether we have faith or not (simple answer to the question "Do you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior")
  2. whether the Spirit of God is living in us (by the fruits of our lives)

For example, if you find yourself to bear grudges and not forgiving, even if the Spirit of God may live in us imperceptibly, certainly the Holy Spirit is not operating, maybe blocked by our stubbornness. Other people are usually a better judge, after all Jesus says it's easier to see a speck in someone's eyes.

Then there's the matter of different traditions giving different answers regarding WHEN the Trinitarian life begins. In a pedobaptist church (Lutheran, Catholic, and some Reformed), it was since one was an infant concomitant with the sacrament of baptism, but that infant is expected to understand the teaching later and thus having conscious faith only later. So the baptism/"born-again" event precedes "conscious faith" event.

If a baptized infant reaching the age of youth now claims to have a significant experience of contrition and gratefulness (which in the evangelical circled is labeled "born-again"), this church will interpret the experience as the Trinitarian life who is already present since baptism becoming active and giving one the grace to "see" their sinful state AND to be more conscious of one's implicit trust in Jesus. Thus it's an experience of appreciating what has been done before (baptism) and of having possessed the light of faith that was given in an unknown past. That is my own personal experience.

Is that significant contrition experience (that evangelicals labels "born-again") an "aha" moment for me (I was in college at the time)? I hesitate to say so, since my trust in Jesus has never been troubled since as early as I can remember, even while I was having a lot of intellectual questions. I would say in my case that I have always possessed the light of faith (for which I'm thankful). When did it come? I don't know. By the way, not knowing when the light of faith comes is STILL consistent with how the "light of faith" operates as described in the lecture; after all, the main audience were Catholics who have been baptized since infants. For sure, my understanding of the faith and my trust in Jesus itself increases. But if during youth this infant-baptized believer rejects Christianity and rejects Jesus (while understanding correctly what he/she is doing), the pedobaptist church will explain it as he/she rejecting the Trinitarian life, which humans can well do (we don't need help rejecting, but we need help receiving).

In contrast, in a credo-baptist church, the sequence is: conscious faith FIRST (after regeneration), conscious invitation SECOND, followed by the Holy Spirit rushing into the believer's soul (which is NOT promised to be perceptible! except possibly by older Pentecostals where you are expected to speak in tongues), and THIRDLY the willingness to be baptized (keeping in mind that this baptism is merely a seal, not an instrument). So the instrument for receiving the Trinitarian life is "faith", not possible in an infant.

But regardless of the 2 different sequences, a serious believer who has reached the age of reason will eventually process their emotional / epistemological experience ex post facto in terms of the earlier imperceptible "two theoretical events" of 1) RECEIVING the Trinitarian life (the proper meaning of "born again") and 2) POSSESSING the light of faith given by grace. At this point the believer can consciously "test" the presence of the 2 dimensions of faith by using the measuring stick I described in the 2nd section above by BOTH declaring that Jesus is his/her Lord and Savior AND by showing some evidence of being a disciple of Jesus.

That's why in most churches (with the exception of a church teaching classical Pentecostalism, etc.) it is NOT necessary for one to have a SPECIAL "born-again" experience. Instead, they will focus on the EFFECT, which fortunately for us IS measurable: others that really know you will know your character, whether similar to Jesus or not. If one does a heroic act of forgiving an enemy who acted grievously against one's family for example, they would credit it to a higher level of faith or to a higher activity of the Spirit of God living in them. But on the other hand, if one is backsliding, or even worse, denying Jesus freely, then it's clear they may no longer have the Spirit of God living in them at that time. I think is wise; highly emotional conversion experience can be deceptive. After all, Jesus himself warned (in the Parable of the Sower, Matt 13) of a seed that fell on rocky places or among thorns. Thus, most good churches focus on discipleship, training believers to keep their life of faith active by being close to fellow believers, doing regular acts of forgiveness, love, thanksgiving, and almsgiving, having frequent prayers & sacramental life, etc.

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  • This is an exceptionally well-written and thorough answer. Up-voted and accepted. One question: would you say that a better and more standard term for the 'aha' moment you refer to in your answer is the 'born-again experience'? I just asked a follow-up question about that: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/99672/61679
    – Mark
    Jan 12 at 19:18
  • @Mark I have been much helped to understand the nature of the "aha" moment by listening to the lecture I referred to plus other lectures I have listened multiple times by the Thomistic Institute. I found that when it comes to reflecting on the experience of grace in various forms, Catholics truly have an edge over Protestants. I didn't hear about "light of faith" until I learn more of Thomism, for example. Jan 12 at 19:28
  • @Mark C.S. Lewis is an Anglican medievalist so he must have known this, and his experiential exposition of his coming to faith is detailed in his Pilgrim's Regress and Surprised by Joy. I don't think C.SE is a good medium to talk about this though, hence my offer to correspond with you over email or over chat at The Upper Room. Other resources: Simon Tugwell's journal article series "Faith and Experience", James Fowler's book "Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning", and Hagberg & Guelich's book "The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith". Jan 12 at 19:32
  • @Mark I just realized I didn't address your question: "would you say that a better and more standard term for the 'aha' moment you refer to in your answer is the 'born-again experience'", so I appended that to my answer. Jan 12 at 21:23
  • @Mark I made a final edit to my answer. I try to be descriptive of actual practice and faithful representation of the theology of conversion and of faith (others can do peer review by commenting here). But the overall effect on me as I'm writing this is that I have become VERY PESSIMISTIC of the prospect for finding an *experience measuring stick" that can be correlated with "faith", other then observing the EFFECT. You may come across questions by user50422 (before he removed himself his username is SpiritRealmInvestigator) who also is seeking an empirical indicator for genuine faith. Jan 13 at 0:58
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Is faith a skill that can be developed over time?

The short answer is that faith is not a skill, and as such can not be developed over time.

However, faith is the avenue or the instrument God uses to bring salvation to His people. God gives faith because of His grace and mercy, because He loves us (Ephesians 4—5). Faith comes from God in the form of a gift (Ephesians 2:8).

Faith being a gift given to us by God, it can be nurtured, deepen and strengthen though prayer and spiritual works such as reading the Sacred Scriptures and other spiritual books, as well as spiritual activities such as bible studies, (alms giving and fasting for those who practice such spiritual works). “But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[a] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Faith being a gift from God must be cherished as pearl of great price and has to be cultivated as a the most precious gift of our lives: Faith in Jesus Christ our Redeemer and God.

Faith and Will

Man is free either to accept or to reject this gift.

9 Ways to Strengthen Your Faith

  1. Read the Bible. The Bible tells us to read, know and meditate on Scripture. The Bible is more relevant and powerful for building unshakable faith than anything. It is unique in that it alone delivers Truth and corrects false teachings, provides instruction for daily living, transforms our thinking, renews our minds (Romans 12:2) and guides our decision-making. It tells us about our Father, God, and His incredible power, love and holiness. King David loved the Word as he wrote in the Psalm: “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your Word” (Psalm 119:16).

  2. Worship the God of the Bible. Worship is a proclamation that God is infinitely worthy, holy, true and good. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29).

  3. Pray. Pray honest prayers. Your faith will never be strengthened when you sanitize your prayers or hold anything back from God. Confess to God what you fear will cause your faith to fail. Confess your deepest desires. Confess what causes your heart to be divided and distracted. Trust that God cares. And when you don’t trust, pray that He will help you trust Him.

  4. Fast. Coupling prayer with fasting provides many benefits. The ultimate one is we receive more of God Himself, because abstaining from food and feasting on the Word of God reroutes our affections to be satisfied in God.

  5. Place your identity in Christ. Examine your heart. What kingdom do you identify with—the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world? What sins or desires dominate your attention? What do you look to for security, hope and peace? Process your answers with God.

  6. Unite with the Saints. One way Satan tries to shake our faith is by creating division among the family of God. Evaluate your heart for bitterness, resentment or frustration for the Church, your local church or your Christian community. Take the first step to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

  7. Make efforts to grow in godly qualities. Read the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5–10. Ask yourself hard questions: Do I practice these qualities? Am I effective and fruitful in my life of faith? Why or why not?

  8. Take a break from social media. Studies show a direct correlation between social media overuse and unhappiness. Evaluate how social media affects your mood, your worship and your faith. Consider a social media fast or set a time limit on use.

  9. Meditate on your salvation. The moment God gave you the gift of faith you became a brand-new creature. Reflect on Ephesians 2:4–5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Your faith was secured on the cross. Ask God to help that sink in and shape and strengthen your faith.

Faith is perhaps the most precious gift God can give us and we must be ever so careful not to lose this gift from God called faith.

According to Catholicism faith is a gift from God and a grace:

Faith is a grace

153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven". 24 Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'" - Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Orthodox Churches teach that faith is a gift from God

Anglicanism teaches that gift of faith is understood as a theological virtue, which holds true for Catholicism and Orthodoxy as well:

The theological virtue of faith is multifaceted in the Bible. It is not one thing. The notion that faith is simply equivalent to belief in God is a notion which developed in the modern era when the church found itself under attack from atheism and various ideological beliefs which opposed themselves to the ruling religious authorities of the time. To have a biblical understanding of faith means to have a multifaceted understanding and commitment to the rich variety of ways in which this gift of faith is given to us by God. This is the theme of our readings for today, and each of them speaks of the different ways in which God gives to us the gift of faith. - The Gift of Faith

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  • 3
    "faith […] can not be developed over time". It seems it can; cf. Summa Theologica II-II q. 5 a. 4 co.: "one man can believe explicitly more things than another, so that faith can be greater in one man on account of its being more explicit."
    – Geremia
    Jan 10 at 23:53
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Absolutely yes. Or perhaps more accurately, it is a character trait that we can grow in the understanding of and increase our ability to exercise.

There are two primary schools of thought:

  1. That nothing we can do affects whether or not we have faith, or how much faith we have, versus
  2. That what we do affects our faith.

Faith can come as a gift from God but it also must be applied in order to grow or even be preserved. So the answer to your question of whether it is a gift or a skill is both.

But, taking it from the Scriptures:

Ephesians 2:8

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God

Pronoun-antecedent resolution here says it is ambiguous whether "it" in "it is the gift of God" refers to faith or to grace (or possibly both). Or is salvation the gift? Grace is obviously a gift from God, but is faith? Let's assume so for now since it is the more recent possible antecedent in English, and because (spoiler) this is affirmed from other Scriptures. I suppose perhaps there are some who also think that they can make faith from scratch and don't need or would not benefit from any gifts from God, but I will comment no further on such a belief.

Alma in the Book of Mormon outlines the process of exercising faith (of which we all have some to begin with, hence it is a gift even in the humblest of cases), and obtaining more faith or stronger faith by obedience to God (Alma 32):

Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.

In his talk, The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, Apostle Richard G. Scott says,

Faith and character are intimately related. Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used. Your exercise of faith in true principles builds character; fortified character expands your capacity to exercise more faith. As a result, your capacity and confidence to conquer the trials of life is enhanced. The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith. You will discover how faith and character interact to strengthen one another. Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience.

The Savior often reproved those of little faith (Matthew 8:26), implying that they ought to choose to grow their faith. In Luke 22:32, He says to Peter:

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

This commandment enjoins the strengthening of others based on the premise that Peter's faith "fail not", until he is "converted", in agreement with the process of conversion outlined in Alma 32.

In Matthew 17:20, He says:

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Why the use of the word "if", if we cannot choose faith over doubt or neglect?

In Doctrine and Covenants 46:19-20 on the subject of gifts we read:

And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed; And to others it is given to have faith to heal.

Thus faith to do certain things can be given as a gift to us, but as with all gifts from the Lord, the blessings are conditioned on our exercise of that gift, and we are invited to "apply unto it" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2), in perfect harmony with the Savior's Parable of the Talents.

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