There was a short discussion this past week in our Bible study class about “faith” and “belief.” I was squirming in my seat as they had the discussion and after not being able to contain myself I leaned over to my wife and whispered…”faith and belief come from the same root word in Greek.” I’m not certain what I intended to convey to her with my vast knowledge of the Greek language (wink, wink), but I at least wanted her to understand it’s very hard to convey a difference between to the two words. At a minimum it’s inadequate to think one can have faith without first having a certain level of belief. The other side of that coin is the necessity of belief in someone or something in order to exercise faith. Try as one might, separating the two can be a recipe for frustration.
Now I’m most likely not the one to put the meat on the bones when it comes to a discussion of this magnitude, nevertheless, from my own thinking, it’s important for me to understand some very elemental principles. First, that the words “faith” and “belief” do indeed stem from the same Greek word “pistis.” It’s important we understand that. (There, I’ve just conveyed my “vast knowledge” of the Greek language.) 🙂 I could say that I believe in Jesus Messiah but in order to act on that belief I must have a certain faith that Jesus is who he said he was and his teachings are true. I can have faith that Jesus is who he said he was and his teachings are true, but that acknowledgement means little if I don’t practice what he taught. (We’ll talk about Abraham in a minute, but he typifies this idea.)
If we look up “belief” in the ISBE (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) it refers us immediately to “Faith.” The point, when you read the article, is mainly this – faith is an issue of reliance or trust. If I believe in God I trust/rely on God to be who He said He would be and to do what He said He would do. The opposite of this can be seen most clearly with the habits of Israel and their lack of reliance on God to do what He said He would do. Furthermore, if we trace that understanding far enough we end up at the doorstep of Adam and Eve. Not believing God and not having total reliance on Him was what really prompted the apple to fall into the wrong hands. It wasn’t so much that God didn’t want them to know “good and evil” it was that He wanted them to learn that lesson His way, in His timing, at His instruction. Another example that both James and Paul cite is Abraham: “…He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Actually, if you are familiar with the story, Abraham had great difficulty in relying on God to fulfill His covenant promise. As the years ticked by both Abraham and Sarah were finding themselves wondering about the delay and more than willing to take matters in their own hands. Not exactly a pure picture of reliance regardless of how deep Abraham’s belief might have been or would become.
We can believe in God all we want but unless we are willing to rely (have faith) on Him and follow His instructions we have what James calls an empty faith. We may believe in God and yet wonder why we struggle with certain sins or behaviors that are not pleasing to Him. It’s rather simple really – we’re not relying on God for the tools we need to conquer. We’re hoping we can do it on our own. Well, how’s that working out for you? For me, not so well. If we can just remember the words of the wisdom writer —- “Trust in the LORD with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding and He will direct your paths.” To put it another way – believe and rely, trust and obey. Never apart, always equal in intention.