Faith is a word that bears multiple meanings. The Latin word for faith, fides, gives us words such as fidelity, infidelity, infidel, and fiduciary. The Greek word for faith, πιστις (pistis), bears three important meanings in biblical usage:
- intellectual assent (belief);
- trust (faith);
- loyalty (commitment).
Belief is the faculty by which we hold propositions, and it is a necessary condition of propositional knowledge. One cannot know that p without believing that p. Below are a few random examples of biblical propositions that one could believe.
- Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee.
- David son of Jesse was anointed king of Israel by the prophet Samuel.
- Paul the Apostle saw a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road.
Now consider the following verse (Jas 2:19):
You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble.
Believing propositions about God does not entail that one is in a relationship with God. The danger with some preaching is that people mistake assent to various propositions for communion with God. For all the mocking of the “sinner’s prayer” made in some Christian circles, it possesses the virtue of being a prayer: it is a conversation between a human being and God. A necessary condition of true biblical faith is reaching out to God.
Lesson: Do not let the study of doctrine come at the cost of relationship with God.
Let not your heart be trouble: you believe in God, believe also in Me.
Propositional knowledge is not necessarily relational, but trust is. Trust is a fragile thing. When we feel let down by a person in whom we have placed our trust, the relationship is strained, damaged even.
Intellectually we can reason that when we feel let down by God it is not God’s fault: the fault lies with us and the world. Trust, however, is an emotional thing, not purely intellectual. This is why the free will defence is intellectually satisfying but not emotionally satisfying.
A relationship must be cultivated, tended. When we are angry with God, the answer is not to abandon the relationship. Rather, we must work at it with honesty, integrity, and vulnerability. Trust in God is not simply about faith that things will “work out in the end”; it is also about an ongoing willingness to commune with Him, to share our thoughts, and to listen to His.
Lesson: What is damaged can be repaired – if you will have it so.
You shall have no other gods before Me.
Loyalty in the context of biblical faith means exclusivity, which is why it is compared with marriage in the words of the prophets. One cannot mix Christianity with other religions. Leaving Christianity for another religion (or none) is called apostasy in the Bible (e.g. at 2 Thess 2:3).
Loyalty is tested by temptation and persecution (indeed the term temptation means testing). The early Christians refused to compromise their loyalty to God by worshipping the gods of Rome or the Roman emperor. This came at a terrible cost: ostracism, ridicule, financial hardship, torture, and death. It continues in parts of the world today: in North Korea Christians are imprisoned for their faith; in many parts of the Islamic world Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith.
Why do these brave souls refuse to recant their faith? The answer: they know and love God; they trust that when they die their spirits will be with Him and He will raise up their bodies and vindicate them on the Day of Judgement.
Lesson: Following God comes at a terrible earthly cost. True loyalty to Him rests on trust in His goodness.