These dual aspects of belief and trust are summed up perfectly in the book of Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We must first believe that God exists and we must also believe in his just and good nature – that he is a God who rewards righteousness.
But, basic as this might seem, we do not always understand that these two aspects of faith are the story of the Bible itself – that throughout the Scriptures God introduces and reveals himself to humanity in exactly these two ways. If we start at the beginning, we find the existence of God is shown in the creation story of Genesis 1. The nature of God is then seen in the story of God’s gifts to humans – including the potential gift of eternal life – in Genesis 2. The same two-part story is repeated in every major theophany of the Bible. God’s existence is shown to the Israelites in the fire and thunder on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:17-20), and his nature is revealed to them in the law of love that he gives them there shortly afterward (Exodus 20:1-17). There are dozens of smaller examples of this pattern throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In words or actions, God reveals himself, then his nature.
Of course, the New Testament is no different. On numerous occasions Jesus is revealed as the son of God and then his nature is demonstrated in his works and teachings (Matthew 14:22-36, etc.). The reality of his divine existence is made especially clear to the key disciples in the visible transfiguration on the mountainside, and his nature as the son of God is then stated audibly (Matthew 17:1-5). At the conclusion of his ministry, the same two principles are made evident in more symbolic yet equally real ways for all to see. The identity of the Son of God is revealed to Jerusalem in the triumphal entry, and his nature, his sacrificial goodness, is revealed a few days later in his public crucifixion on behalf of all. The expressions of these two bases of our faith are inseparable and reach backward and forward as we read the Scriptures – the Passover lamb, as a foreshadowing of Christ, was identified on the tenth day of the month and sacrificed separately on the fourteenth, and so on. Throughout the Bible we find God continually reveals himself and then reveals his nature. God appears and God blesses; God is and God acts; the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) is also the great “I DO” (Psalm 86:8).
Our faith in God must also follow the same development. It is never enough to simply believe God exists. As the apostle James tells us: “Show me your faith … You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:18-19). That kind of faith is purely belief in God’s existence, and James shows that we must go beyond that. The second half of God’s revelation of himself is always of his nature, and the second half of our faith that must be developed is always our trust in God’s nature. As we saw above in Hebrews: “… anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, emphases added).
We must never be content in feeling that we are Christians because we believe God exists. The Bible shows from beginning to end that we must believe that – then come to deeply know and trust the One we believe exists. We are reminded of this in almost the final words of the Bible which stress the existence and the nature of God: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12). Our faith is ultimately rewarded not because we believe God exists, but because we trust in the way he is and wants us to be.