Faith can be defined in three steps:
- Knowing about God through His word
- Believing that what you know is true
- Trusting and acting on what you believe is true
The early reformers referred to these three steps as notitia, assensus, and fiducia respectively. All three are needed to define genuine faith.
For example, you might read in the bible that gossip is a sin, you then believe that it is true that gossip is a sin and you then trust and act on that truth by avoiding gossip, speaking in truth and love instead. That is what it means to have genuine faith in something. The first two steps (knowing about God and His word and believing that it’s true) basically amounts to the study of theology. The third step (trusting and acting on truth) is what application of theology is.
So to simplify what faith is, I’d say that theology + application = faith. As with any equation, it won’t work if something is missing. Without application, your faith will be empty. Likewise, without theology, your faith will be empty. What I like about this equation is that if you increase both your theology and application, you will increase your faith.
One danger is that if you increase your theology but the application of that theology does not increase with it, your faith will not grow. Those that emphasize theology are often accused of doing this and it’s often an unfair accusation. But if you are truly learning about God yet not applying your knowledge of God, certainly your faith will not grow.
Another danger is that if you increase application but make no increase in theology, your faith will not grow. This is a more hidden danger. An increase of application without an increase in theology amounts to a growth in depth but not breadth. I don’t think your faith grows this way. That is one way to become an expert in a limited area but it’s just that: a limited area.
If you learn “A”, “B”, and “C” about God and all you do is apply the heck out of “A”, “B”, and “C”, your intentions are good but I would not say that your faith will grow this way. Why not learn about “D”, “E”, and “F”? Why not study and apply the lesser known doctrines of “X”, “Y”, and “Z”? If you did, I think your faith would grow. After all, we must strive to comprehend the vast and complex love of God (Eph. 3:18-19).
Just remember, by God’s grace and power, the more theology you gain, the more you must apply.