To a lot of people, having faith in God means nothing more than to believe that He exists. Obviously believing in God is a big part of having faith in Him, but that’s not all faith is.
How does the Bible define faith?
The words that are translated into English as “believe”, “faith”, “faithful”, “faithfulness”, etc. are from the Greek words “pistis” (πίστις, G4102) and “pisteuo” (πιστεύω G4100). These words are linked to three related ideas: belief, trust and faithfulness. Let’s look at some passages which demonstrate that the words faith and belief includes all three of these concepts.
Belief in God
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe [pistis] that -- and shudder. (Jas. 2:19 NIV)
One can clearly see from this verse that “pistis” carries with it the idea of believing in the existence of God. In this case we can see that the demons believe in the existence of God, but they are not acceptable to God. Mere belief is not enough to reconcile anyone to God. There is more to faith than just believing in His existence, if this were not so even the demons would be pleasing to Him.
Abraham was the common ancestor of the Jewish people. He and his wife Sarah were unable to conceive children, but in spite of this God promised them that they would have a child. Even though they were very old and had every natural reason to doubt, they trusted God to do as He’d promised.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed [pisteuo] and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 19 Without weakening in his faith [pistis], he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-- since he was about a hundred years old-- and that Sarah's womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith [pistis] and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Rom. 4:18-21 NIV)
Undoubtedly, this passage is expressing the great trust Abraham had in God.
“Faithfulness” is listed as a fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], (Gal. 5:22 NIV)
A person who has faithfulness is steady in allegiance or affection, loyal, reliable, etc. For example, a husband who has faithfulness is fully devoted to his spouse and will not waver in his loyalty to his wife.
That faithfulness is a component of faith can be further demonstrated from the writings of Josephus, a 1st century A.D. Jewish historian. He tells a story about a Jewish rebel…
I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me … ; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty [pistis] to me.
The New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, notes that the word translated “loyalty” from Josephus’ story is the Greek word “pistis”. Wright claims that the translation could have been rendered ‘if he would repent and believe in me.’ This is extra-biblical evidence that people of Jesus' day understood "pistis" to include the trait of loyalty.
So we see that there is much more to faith than mere belief. The faith that God desires includes trusting Him and being loyally committed to Him. This is a commitment that leads to obedience and making Jesus the king of our lives. Faith that includes all three components (belief, trust, loyalty) is often referred to as "saving faith."
It has already been noted that while demons believe, they lack trust and loyal commitment to God. They do not have saving faith. There was another group of people in Jesus’ day who believed, but would not trust Him with their lives by committing to Him:
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (Jn. 12:42-43 NIV)
These also did not have saving faith. Their lack of trust in Jesus allowed their fear of the social consequences of loyalty to Him to override their belief.
Faith has three meanings
All three elements of faith are present when we first become Christians:
- We believe that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God and the Messiah.
- We trust that God’s promises to all who commit themselves to Jesus are true.
- We commit our loyalty to Jesus. We obey, serve and submit to Him, living in a manner that brings honor to Him.
When the scriptures say that everyone with “faith” will be saved, the promise is to those who incorporate all three elements of faith into their lives.