Hi Chris, Can you define the word believe. I was told it means more than just knowing Jesus existed, it is following Him. They said, even Satan believes. Does believing go deeper? Believing that Jesus died for your sins and you are cleansed by His blood. Is it what he did for you and I is where the true believing comes. What do you think??
The Bible says faith is the condition for salvation. John 3:16 says that everyone who believes has everlasting life. Eph. 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through faith. Theologians, though, argue over what “faith” means. Opinions range from seeing it as merely intellectual assent to full-orbed commitment. Some pack other theological concepts into the word, such as repentance, because they believe that repentance is necessary for salvation while many passages that explain how to receive eternal life make no mention of it. Some distinguish between true faith and false faith and point to passages like James 2:14-26 to prove their case (but see our discussion of that passage here).
To deal with these questions, we should first note the nature of the English word “faith” can be confusing. Many dictionaries define it as “belief without evidence.” The Bible does not promote this concept of faith. On the contrary, Peter tells the church to be able to explain why they believe in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15). Second, our word faith does not have a verbal counterpart. That is, we don’t “faith” something. We typically use the word “believe” to express that concept. Neither Greek nor Hebrew, however, has this issue, since in both languages the noun also has a verb form.
With that in mind, the primary Hebrew word for believe/faith is aman and is the word from which we get “amen.” It is the word used in Gen. 15:6, “Abraham believed (aman) the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The most important thing to know about this word is that its basic idea is to express certainty or sureness. To say aman was to declare something reliable or trustworthy and to thus have confidence in it. This is a far cry from most people’s concept of “faith” as a mere hope. When Abraham believed God, he was literally saying, “You can and will do what You have promised,” which in the immediate context was to give Abraham a son. It was this by declaration of Yahweh’s faithfulness that Abraham was justified.
The Greek word that translates aman and is used by John nearly one hundred times is pisteuo. Again, it fundamentally means to declare something reliable, trustworthy, or steadfast. By extension, it means to reply upon or trust something or someone. As such, pisteuo can bear the idea of “entrusting.” Because a person or thing is reliable, I can entrust something of value to them. John plays on this idea in John 2:23-25, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed [pisteuo] in his name. But Jesus would not entrust [pisteuo] himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (NIV). Here, John says that the people in Capernaum believed in Jesus. That is, in response to the miracles, they believed He was able to do the things He said about Himself. In Hebrew terms, they declared Him aman. Yet Jesus, knowing that man is fickle, did not find in them the same trustworthiness. They placed their faith in Him; He did not place His faith in them.
Some have used passages like this to prove that these people had “false faith.” There is, however, no evidence to support such a view. John nowhere distinguishes between true and false faith. He simply says they believed. Are we not to take him at his word? Further examples of this kind of fruitless faith are found in John 12:42 and Luke 8:14, etc. In fact, the Bible nowhere qualifies the word “faith” as either true or false. One either believes or they do not. This is evident from what we have seen in the basic meaning of the word. Just because you trust someone or something does not mean you will necessarily act on it or that you will grow in that trust. Preachers often like to use the picture of a man sitting on a chair to demonstrate “real faith.” Supposedly, it would be meaningless to say you trusted the chair but refuse to sit in it, but such a statement only proves our point. I can be 100% convinced that a chair will hold me up. That does not mean I have to sit in it to prove my trust.
The Bible distinguishes between believing and acting in obedience. According to James 2:14-26, we may believe, but unless our faith presses us on to good works, it is useless. This passage is not teaching that real faith necessarily produces good works. On the contrary, if his readers did not have real faith, James would have said so, but he says that faith without works is useless, not fake. We should go on to act in the faith that we have and not be content with merely believing the right things.
In short, “to believe,” in both Greek and Hebrew, simply means to place your trust in something or to rely upon it. There is no distinction between real and false faith. It does not include concepts such as repentance and baptism. When the Bible wishes to speak of repentance, it says so (Mark 1:15). When it wishes to speak of baptism, it says so (Acts 8:12).
The Bible is clear that salvation is by faith alone. Fundamentally, to believe is to trust. To believe the Gospel is to trust that God is telling the truth (cf. Gen. 15:6 and 1 John 5:10). Don’t let anyone add conditions to the Gospel by loading up all their extra conditions into the word “believe.” Unfortunately, such attempts are just as much false gospels as any that says that we have to do good works before we can be saved. We either trust Jesus alone or we do not.
What are your thoughts on biblical faith? Leave a comment and let us know how this effects your own view.
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