In addition to numerous verses about salvation by grace alone, or the singularity of Christ's messianic office, the passage of Scripture which comes to mind as I ponder Spurgeon's words is the short dialogue from Mark 10 in which Jesus tells the disciples that they must become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God. This statement runs contrary to the very way we as Americans think about religion. Understanding God is a journey of spiritual enlightenment, right? Children can't understand the difficulties of life, much less the more complex elements of doctrine and religious symbolism. In fact, Paul himself speaks of spiritual childhood as a phase which believers must seek to leave behind because lack of maturity means ineffectual righteous living (1 Cor 3.1-3; 13.11).
In this regard, I think that American Christians are especially in danger of practicing the “belief of doctrine” against which Spurgeon cautioned, because we are subscribers not only to countless religious denominations, but also to post-modern concepts of individuality and independence. As a people, we like philosophy and education. We like to understand and debate religious doctrine. We like to be smart. But as Spurgeon reminds his readers, true faith is not characterized by knowledge. Belief in morality and Biblical truth is certainly essential to Christian living, yet it is not an end in and of itself. Therefore, if the faith that we claim as Christians is merely a type of head knowledge -- the type of faith which understands the existence of something but does not cling to or truly depend upon it -- what can be said about the integrity of that belief? What good is it to believe directly in the good of a principle and only indirectly in the originator of the idea? We fail to have true, saving faith in Christ if we do not prioritize true belief over dogmatic principle or the pursuit of greater spiritual knowledge. True faith is not the practice of religion. It is not years of study. It is necessarily simple and it is necessarily life-changing, finding its base in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ alone.
The classic sermon illustrations for faith are the chair and the wind, but both of these object lessons fail to truly encapsulate the principle of faith. I sit in a chair with confidence, knowing that it will hold me upright. The factors which play into that confidence are based upon logic, vision, sense of balance, understanding of the integrity of the chair. As for the wind, I feel it on my face, and though I cannot see it, I know it is there. But I'm not really exercising faith to believe that it exists. I know it exists due to the evidence my senses supply. Faith in Christ, on the other hand, is not based upon peripheral senses, logical reasoning, or sight. What Spurgeon is pointing to is the type of faith which puts all trust and belief in the character of Christ, His saving work, and His promise to return. This is the faith of a child, the type of raw, unrefined belief which is not muddied by reasons. It is simple dependence upon Christ.
Aside from realizing the foundational nature of this type of faith, it is also important to understand that true Christian living is impossible without this type of faith. It's the difference between merely talking the talk and actually walking the walk. James defines the co-dependent nature of faith and works, but also establishes that the faith must come first -- that it (faith) is the foundation, and the works which follow are the building itself, or the evidence of the secure faith. The command which Paul gives to the Ephesians, to be “imitators” of God and to walk in His footsteps (Eph 5.1, 2), is impossible if our faith is simply an empty practice of Scriptural commands and not an expression of heart-worship. Works without faith accomplish nothing, and a compartmentalized faith which is perhaps based in Biblical principle but does not affect one's lifestyle is dead (Jas 2.26).
However, we can't forget that the works of an unrighteous man are counted as nothing more than dirty rags (Isa 64.6). If your faith is not in Jesus Christ, if your belief is not solely in Him, it doesn't matter how many commandments you keep or how many Sundays you make it to church. You fall short of God's standard. Practice of doctrine is nothing without saving faith, because we do not do anything to attain heaven (Galatians 2.16). Christ's blood is the only payment for sin which God the Father will recognize.
To the Christian who places more emphasis on understanding theology than daily depending upon the sustaining power of Jesus Christ our Savior, I would challenge you to evaluate your standard of living. Is your faith truly in Christ, or in your ability to reason? Is it the type of faith which stimulates you to die to yourself daily and practice an Ephesians 5.1-2 lifestyle, or one which simply likes to impress scholarly minds with your knowledge of hermeneutics or theories of eschatology? Faith is not truly saving unless it is transforming. If your life is still characterized by any of the things Paul lists in Ephesians 5.3-5 without struggle, it may be time to re-evaluate what your faith is truly based upon. It doesn't matter how many Bible commentaries you have on your shelf if your conduct isn't affected as a result.
Simple faith, on the other hand, is characterized by submission to the will of the Father (Matt 7.21). Jesus outlined the greatest commandment as loving God the Father with all heart, soul, and mind, a devotion which will naturally result in loving our neighbors as ourselves. As James stated, we are not saved by our works, but our love for the Lord -- if it is genuine -- will result in an outpouring of love for one another which validates the faith we proclaim. This is not by any means to say that we shouldn't seek to broaden our understanding of God through the Scriptures and other means of study – as Peter captures it, we should be like newborns desperate for the spiritual milk which the Word provides in order to grow stronger and mature into strong practitioners of the gospel (1 Peter 2.2). Spurgeon is saying that the Christian life is about stripping away the periphery, reducing the practice of religion to its essential component. Simple, transforming faith is revealed in the life that is marked by dependence upon God, not upon intellect or personal righteousness. The Christian who is dependent upon God alone is the one who can love his brother without expecting reciprocation, and who does so because he loves God so much that he cannot contain his joy in Christ.