Basic as it might seem, the concept of faith can be confusing for many people. The word itself can be understood as what we believe (“the Christian Faith”) or how we believe (“their faith is strong”), though the Bible usually uses the word in the second sense.
But even if we focus on faith in the sense of how rather than what we believe, many people still only understand part of what faith is all about.
Belief and Trust
First, the word used in the New Testament for faith (pistis) primarily means belief and trust. It involves not only believing that God exists, but also trusting him. When Jesus taught “… believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15), he was not just saying believe that the gospel exists, but trust that the message of the gospel is true.
In the same way, the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote “… faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see … 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 11:1, 6). This makes it clear that faith involves both belief and trust.
Faith and Faithfulness
However, there is another aspect to faith that even many Christians miss. To see that dimension of faith it helps to go back to the Old Testament. In the book of the prophet Habakkuk there is a vitally important verse that was translated in the King James and some other English translations as “… the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). But the New International Version and several other recent versions translate this verse as “…the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” Why the different translations? The answer is that the Hebrew word translated “faith” in the KJV really can mean either “faith” or “faithfulness” (see Isaiah 11:5 where the word is used of the faithfulness of the Messiah).
This verse in Habakkuk was seen as so important by the early Christians that it is quoted three times in the New Testament – twice by the apostle Paul (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11) and once by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38). Looking at the context of these verses we see that while Paul stresses that the believer is justified by faith, the author of Hebrews stresses the aspect of the believer’s faithfulness (see verse 36).
So true faith can – and should – involve both a trusting belief in God and also faithfulness on our part. Faith and works are sometimes said to be antithetical, but they are not. Although the Bible says clearly that we are saved by faith, not works (Romans 3:28, 31), it also shows just as clearly that living, saving faith will produce good works (James 2:17). In that sense the aspects of believing faith and active faithfulness are both expressed in true faith.
The Gift of Faith in All its Aspects
Although we may have some limited human level of faith, deep faith is a gift of God (1 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 2:8) that is developed through ongoing spiritual growth and transformation (Romans 4:20, 12:6, Jude 1:20), and this applies just as much to our trust in God as to our faithfulness toward him.
In all of this we see that true faith is far more than just an emotional feeling or even a belief. True faith involves a living trust in God that affects every aspect of our lives. But at its most basic level, true faith is belief and trust on the one hand and faithfulness on the other.
* Extracted from our free e-Book These Three Remain: Why Faith, Hope and Love Are Even More Important Than You Think. Multiple formats are available to read on any computer or e-Reader here.