What Is Biblical Faith?

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??
Thanks, Karen

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.

An interesting and informative use of the word "aman." It is used in II Ki. 18:16 to describe the pillars in the Temple.

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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5 thoughts on “What Is Biblical Faith?

  1. There are life apps, inspiring stories, and scenarios, all of which are used to illustrate a point. I would like to propose a scenario. Let’s say there is a guy sitting on a wooden box on the corner of a street. He is dressed in everyday casual attire, though a little worn, but seemingly clean. His hair is a little unkempt, his shoes are clearly in need of replacement, and he has absolutely nothing with him. He smiles and greets everyone who walks by him. Many people pass by and no one says anything to him until a young man stops and curiously asks him if he needs some help. The gentleman smiles at the young man and says, “Son, I am glad you asked. You see, I am only going to be on this earth for a short while longer, and through the years, I have accumulated quite a bit of wealth.” The young man, somewhat intrigued, begins to intently listen to the man. While the story is told, a small group gathers as the man talks of his great fortune, his many homes, his priceless possessions, and how he had acquired all these things. As his story goes on, he tells of the small family he came from and how they have all passed on. Now, finding that he had only a short time to live, he say that he wants to give away his vast fortune, but he wants help in doing so. He tells the small crowd that if they know anyone in need of anything, any kind of help, all they have to do is bring that person to him and he will help him. “So, what’s in it for you?” One young woman sneered. The man replies with, “I will just be happy knowing I have helped someone in my lifetime. Maybe I can be someone’s answered prayer.” Now let’s say in a crowd of approximately 50 people, 30 of them laugh and walk away, and ten of them say, “You know, I really believe that man is a wealthy man and is telling the truth,” but they just go on about their lives. Ten, however, believe everything the man says. Because of their belief, they go and bring someone to the man who, in turn, presents each person, along with the one who believed his words, with a large portion of his fortune.

    Can you see the three positions? First their is complete denial, or disbelief. Then there is total belief, but no action taken as a result of that belief, so there is no blessing or reward. Finally, there is complete belief and as a result of that same belief, action is taken thereby causing a response or reward for the action. Now here is the next question. Did the second group believe any less just because they did not respond? Not according to our scenario. They believed just as much, however they took no action. It didn’t lessen their belief. What did happen, though, was that they robbed themselves, as well as others, of a blessing. I further believe that this scenario represents a good description of “faith without works is dead”. It doesn’t mean you don’t have faith. It means you didn’t act on the faith, so there is no action to reward.

    In addition, I believe that when you “believe” in Christ, that means that you believe everything about Christ. In other words, you believe in the totality of Him as Lord and Savior, part of the Godhead, the Only begotten Son, the Lamb who was sacrificed, our only Way to eternal life with God . . . I could go on and on, as could most of you. We believe everything we know about Jesus, as well as all the things we learn about Him. That is belief.

    I agree with every statement you have pointed out in this explanation. I believe that believing the gospel is the only requirement for eternal life. I believe everything God has said about Jesus. I believe everything He has said about His works; past, present and future, and because I have believed, I know that I will spend my eternity with Him. God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

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