A phrase that can often be heard in Christian circles is ‘faith in Jesus Christ’.
What does this phrase mean?
It is probably not most useful to formulate it as believing that he exists, as in one wills oneself to believe he exists. This idea has always struck me as odd – it is reminiscent of something like ‘blind faith’, and seems to make as much sense as blindly believing anything. See here.
Closer, people often paraphrase ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ as believing that Jesus is the Son of God (which is to say, the Christ). Yet, I think this is a secondary meaning – it doesn’t get to what is important.
Rather, primarily the phrase ought to mean ‘trusting in Jesus Christ’.
It doesn’t make sense to trust in a person unless there is a relationship. So this phrase includes the idea of a relationship with the Christ.
(The Christ is typically personalized by thinking of the Christ as Jesus of Nazareth – this being an historical phase of the ongoing or living Christ, according to Christianity. Typically, it is easier to relate to someone recounted in stories where they walk around, talk, and so on, instead of relating to something that would typically be conceived fairly abstractly, like the Logos).
Yet, what kind of thing is this relationship? Well, to have a relationship, two people (in this case) have to have ongoing communication.
So, implicit in the idea of trusting in Christ is the idea that one can talk and listen, the latter through a practice (set of skills that can be developed) known in Christianity as ‘discernment’.
Discernment is about figuring out what the Christ (in this case) is saying, and then using that to help guide one’s actions (helping you to figure out what to do, and helping you to figure out how to do it).
What is important to note here is that ‘faith in Christ’, therefore, is not about sitting around believing that the living Christ exists, or some such thing. Rather, faith in Christ – which I think to many ears sound passive – is actually about trying to discern what the Christ is saying, and then taking actions with it in mind – it is highly active, the opposite of what it might sound like.
It is not an assent to a proposition but rather an attitude and habit of mind and consequent action.
(Aspects of the process of discernment (again, a skill or know-how which is learnt through practice) include the feeling of love, of joy, and a kind of divine serendipity (also see here), among other things.)
So, why would one trust in Jesus Christ? For the same reason one trusts anyone – one starts building a relationship, extends some trust, and then sees what happens, and so on.
So, the idea with ‘faith in Christ’ is usefully understood as trusting in the ongoing or living Christ’s guidance, which is about building a relationship with him, which implies one can build a relationship, and one does that by (in part) building the tool-set of discernment.
Anyone can, therefore, start this process as a conditional phase – to see if it actually works – by starting to practice discernment – atheist or theist.