“Faith” and “The Faith” by Gerald Cowan

What is the relationship of faith and belief?  A confession of faith usually is a statement of what one believes and sometimes, but not always, an explanation of why he believes it.  Faith requires belief, but it is more than belief.

Faith and “The” Faith

“The faith” is mentioned often in Scripture – not just faith in the generic sense but rather the faith (for example, in Acts 6:7 and 14:22, Philippians 1:27, 2 Corinthians 13:5, and Jude 3 and 20).

Here are the relevant words in the Scripture text. The noun PISTIS is belief, faith, trust, assurance; having the power of persuasion (it is thus related to the verb PEITHŌ persuade, convince, convict, move to action or obedience).

The verb PISTEUŌ means “I believe,” implying acceptance and obedience.

The verb APISTEŌ is negative, to be without faith, to disbelieve and therefore to disobey (it is related to APEITHEŌ not persuaded, not convinced, not obedient).

Necessary inference: that which is believed is true and verified. One may believe things that are not true, but believing will not make them true. It is not true because we believe it.  Rather, we believe it because it is true.  It is no unsupported belief, but belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

When the definite article is added, HĒ PISTIS, it is “the faith” – a particular body of truth, belief, and action.  Not generic belief (believing in faith, or faith in believing) but belief, acceptance and adherence to specific propositional truths and stipulations.

As used by the New Testament writers “the faith” is a reference to the teachings and commandments of Christ, so it is the Christian faith, the way of Christ.

For example: “And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied…and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

Paul urged Christians to “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  He does not say, “Check to see if you have any faith,” but to verify that you are in and obedient to the faith of Christ.

The faithful are true and obedient believers who not only know the truth but actually do what they know is true (John 8:31-32; 13:17).

Jude commands that we “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Paul addressed Timothy as “my son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:1) – not just in faith or as a believer, but as one with him in the faith of Christ.  You can find other similar references in the writings.

The Definition in Hebrews 11:1

“Now faith (PISTIS) is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

The common understanding sees faith as belief: i.e., your faith is what you believe.

Although belief is an integral part of faith, the two words are not strict synonyms, not completely inter-changeable, and though they share some shades of meaning, they do not mean the same thing.

Notice, though the word PEITHŌ is not used here, the idea is present: to be persuaded and convinced, led to conviction by the evidence presented in support of what is believed.  The ASV and ESV have it this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Each of the terms listed in Hebrews 11:1 must be properly understood or the definition given will appear meaningless. A paraphrase of both parts of the statement will be helpful.

11:1a: The substance (assurance) of things hoped for.

Paraphrase: Faith assures us that we will have what we hope for, giving form and substance to our expectation and desire.

11:1b: The evidence (conviction) of things not seen.

Paraphrase: Faith understands a statement made by God and the evidence which supports it leads to the conviction that it is true.

The weight of all evidence supporting one’s belief convinces him that his belief is valid.  What God has said and what He has done to confirm it convinces us of two things.

First, that the answers He gives to questions beyond our comprehension are satisfying and dependably true.

As in Hebrews 11:3, for example, we know/understand by faith that God made the world out of something invisible to us, and that He formed it into the shape and function He wanted (Gen. 1:1ff).

Second, we know that God will do what He has promised and we shall actually have what He has told us to expect from Him.  That is faith, the faith that supports our hope.

Faith Is Not…

Faith is not “making some good guesses” and “pleasing God by accident or chance.”

Faith was involved in the sacrifices of Abel and Cain (Hebrews 11:4).  Abel could not have offered “by faith” and Cain could not have offered “not according to faith” had both not known what God wanted and required.  In this case faith refers to the instruction and request received from God.

What Cain did was called sin; whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).  But, sin is not imputed where there is no law, where no commandment or direction of activity has been given (Romans 4:15, 5:12). We are not told how or when they were informed of God’s will, requirements, and commandments. It doesn’t make any difference.

However, another inference from the text is that God spoke directly to them prior to the sacrifices they made. He certainly spoke directly to Cain in regard to the matter after Cain’s failure. God has never left man ignorant of what is right and wrong, what is permitted and what is prohibited (Micah 6:8).

Sincerity alone is not faith.  Untested and unproved faith is foolishness.  One can sincerely and earnestly believe in something that is not true. He doesn’t know it isn’t true – he believes it is true. “Belief in belief” or “faith in faith” is not faith at all.

Demanding (miraculous) re-confirmation of God’s word is not faith. It shows a lack of faith, and that is foolish.  God’s word has been confirmed (Hebrews 2:1-4) and we have an unimpeachable record of both the word as given and the confirmation of it. People who demand miracles and signs – they even specify the signs and personal benefits they want to see – may get something that satisfies them, but it will likely not be from God.

Undertaking something and “trusting God” to get you through it is fancy, wishful thinking, and foolishness – if God has not given prior assurance (in His word) that He will “be there for you” in that or similar things.

Faith (that brings approval and positive response from God) is not merely belief in God. The devils believe, and tremble (James 2:19).

Acknowledging God’s existence and certain of His attributes is not enough to qualify as the faith that puts one into a right relationship with God.

Making claims for God that He will not honor or promises that He will not fulfill is foolish!  Much of this is done, with great fanfare, by self-styled prophets and preachers today (pretended miracle workers, tongue speakers, healers, and other profiteers).

It amounts to telling LIES in the name of God, making God out to be a liar.  People are so gullible and naive that they really expect God to do something He has said He will not do, or not do something He has said He will do. It is fatuous fancy and foolishness, but it is not faith!

Faith is not unsupported belief, a mere belief in something that cannot be proved.  Faith is firmly based upon two things. First, upon what God has said (Romans 10:17, Hebrews 1:1-2).  Not only that; but faith is also based upon what God has done to confirm His word (Hebrews 2:3-4).

Faith Requires and Must Include

HEARING the word of God – actually listening to what God says. Faith comes by hearing – applying your own mind to learning and understanding the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Be careful how and what you hear. The word preached did not profit them, because it was not mixed with faith in those who heard (Hebrews 4:2)

 BELIEVING and ACCEPTING God’s word and will. Compare the reception given to the word in Acts 2:38-41, 7:51-58, and 17:11.

The words and doctrines of Christ are worthy of acceptance by all (1 Timothy 4:9).  One may think belief is automatic, once one hears and understands God’s word. But it is not so.

Hearing it, being told or informed or instructed, does not mean one believes it.  One cannot believe nor have faith in what he has not heard, but it is also self-evident that one can hear and yet not believe.

Many claim to be “people of faith” (or even of “the faith”) but they do not believe the word of God. There is a contradiction here.  How can one claim to believe God, or even believe in God, if he does not believe God’s word, especially the words of Christ?  Christian faith requires one to believe specific things about Jesus Christ (John 8:24, Romans 10:9-10, 12-13).

      OBEYING God’s word and applying it to one’s own life is the proof that one believes God’s word (Romans 6:17, 10:9-10 and 16-17).

Scripture says Jesus Christ only saves those who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9, compare 1 Peter 4:17-19 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8).  To know what is good, what God requests or requires, but not do it is sin (James 4:17).  One who says he believes but does not obey actually negates his claim to believe (Romans 10:15-17).

Two examples will demonstrate the point.  The first is repentance. Scripture says very clearly that unless one repents of his own sin he will perish, which means he will die in his sin and be without hope of salvation (Luke 13:3-5, Acts 2:38. Luke 24:47).  If he believes he can be saved without repentance, he does not have faith in God or God’s word.

The second example is baptism.  After the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the church was established and the New Covenant of Christ was implemented, not one person is said to be saved without baptism.  Let the apostle Peter have the first, middle, and last word on it (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:47, 1 Peter 3:21).

Does everybody who reads or hears those words believe that baptism is essential for salvation? Of course not!  The great majority of those who profess to be Christians believe “a loving God will not condemn a person just because he hasn’t been properly baptized.”  That means they do not believe what they read and understand of God’s word.  That also means that, by God’s definition, they do not have faith, they are not in the faith of Jesus Christ.

Obedience may not prove one has true faith, but disobedience can be taken as the lack of faith (Romans 10:16-17, 22; John 3:16, 18, and 36).

One may say, “I believe I am saved. I feel it very strongly.”  But if he has not obeyed the Lord he is not saved, no matter what he believes or how he feels. That is why we say faith is more than belief, and that feelings cannot take the place of faith.

TRUSTING God is the result of hearing and believing His truth (Ephesians 1:13).  We trust in God who is the Savior of all who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).  We trust God to keep His word, even to deliver us from death (2 Corinthians 1:9-10, 4:14). Such faithful trust in God anchors our hope in heaven with Christ (Hebrews 6:19-20).

ENDURING – commitment and loyalty cannot be temporary, or based upon situations and circumstances.  We must not give up. We must continue, even when the trials and burdens we bear are difficult.  Faith requires a living sacrifice in commitment to the Lord that endures to the end (James 1:2-3, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 10:22).

     PLEASING GOD is the goal and the end result of faith, the only faith that He accepts (Hebrews 11:6 and 13:20-21; 1 John 3:21-22).

Ultimately, faith is VICTORY, the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4, 1 Corinthians 15:57, Romans 8:37).

By faith and faithfulness – believing and accepting the grace of God and obeying His commands and requirements for receiving it (Romans 5:1-5) – we have our access to Him and can hope to share in His glory.