I know it is easy to talk about faith, as it is always easy to tell someone to believe. “Just believe and trust God”, as is often said. In this aspect, we know many people may also speak of “believing” as equivalent to “faith.”
So when we pray and do not get what we pray for, we may often be told that our “faith is not strong enough.” We didn’t fully believe, and that is why we didn’t receive. We can see that this is saying “believing” is the same as “to have faith”.
Many, of course, will quote Scripture to support this. For Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive,” and “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 7:8, 21:22
So I hope to discuss whether this talk about “faith is to believe God” is all there is for the Christian, or if there is something missing in all this “talk”, which does not work out in “practice”.
To believe or not to believe
I think the place to begin is to consider whether “believing” is identical in meaning to “faith”.
In the English language, it is obvious that “to believe” is talking about “beliefs”. This is because “belief” is the noun for the verb “believe”. Here, we can see that “faith” is clearly not the same in meaning as “beliefs”.
Yet, in English, we often speak of “to believe” when we are talking about faith! Obviously, this presents a problem. We can see that many will be confused because it is not clear if we are talking about beliefs, believing, or faith. Are there significant differences?
Yes, there is one important difference, at the least.
In the first place, there is no verb in English for faith. We have to “borrow” the word closest in meaning to faith when we speak of the verb “to have faith”. This is the verb, “believe” when we speak of “to have faith”.
In this problem, we know “believing” and “faith” speak of trusting God and putting our hopes in God. However, we know we cannot use “beliefs” to describe our trust and hope in God because we sense something in “faith” is missing.
Part of the meaning content in “faith” is lost when we speak of “believing”, even though we do not intend this. We mean “be faithful”, not “believing”. This is because Jesus is going to greet us as “good and faithful servants” when we see Him. Jesus won’t call us “believing servants”.
The Measure of Faith
The English Language is not a primitive language. It is well developed, and its sophistication and beauty can be seen in its ability to adapt so many different ideas and words from other languages. So, if it seems strange that the verb for faith is missing, it is speaking volumes about the content and meaning of faith. This is to say that words often cannot fully express an idea.
We can see this clearly when we speak of “unbelievable”, “in disbelief”, and “unbelief” to describe aspects about the lack of belief. So when there is “little faith”, we sense that faith cannot be measured by common quantitative terms, and neither can “belief” be accounted for by qualitative terms.
However, for the moment, we must put aside these thoughts, and consider first the significance when we have no corresponding verb for faith.
When we have faith
In Scripture, the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the word “faith” speak of acting faithfully by walking with God. It is about “trust and obey” when we “believe” in God. So to have “faith” means more than to “believe”, as we sense or comprehend.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites believed in God, of course. But many were not faithful or godly in their lives. The Exodus generation was one example. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians was another. God rejected these Israelites.
Thus faith must be seen in godly ways in our living. This is not about “works” for salvation, of course, but about being faithful to God. This speaks of faith that is alive, not merely something in our ideas about God. Our lives are the testimonies of living faith.
We remember that Jesus said to obey His commandments when He talked about faith. Jesus did not talk about our beliefs. Here are some of them:
“Not all who says to me, ’Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of God, but only he who does the will of My Father.” Matthew7:21
To the Jews, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples.” John 8:31
“This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you.” John 15:17
Jesus taught that we need to obey also, when we have faith. It is more than merely the idea in “believing” that Jesus saves us!
If someone chooses to live a worldly life and does as he pleases, he has not turned away from the sinful world. The person cannot claim Jesus saves him from sin because he didn’t actually mean it! Consequently, his life is not “born again”, for his heart is not regenerated. He is not a new creation in Jesus.
If we are to show our faith in God is alive, we must show love in our lives. This is because God is love. Thus Jesus commanded us to love one another because love is from God.
It is written: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” 1 John 1:6
So we are careful not to “pluck” a verse out of its context in Scripture to support what we are saying about “believing”. In this way, we restrict this problem due to the lack of an English verb for “faith”.
Theory and Practice
Faith is something that is “practical” and not just “cheap talk”. The problem is not new.
James spoke of this in his letter because many talked about “believing” also. Thus in James 2:14 – 24, we find the Lord’s brother told early Christians what was wrong with their “theory” about faith. James asked, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”
James was saying that talk is cheap when you only ask someone to believe! James said that if a brother or sister is hungry, don’t just tell him or her to trust God. That is for the person to do.
We did nothing by talking! It is because we did not do anything to help him. James was saying that we have not shown love for the brother or sister! Our faith is sleeping! So, if we want to show we have faith in God, we must put our words into action. If we do not help, we should shut up.
Clearly, there were theologians even in the early church who taught that believing was sufficient for a Christian because he was saved by faith through grace. The emphasis was on theological reasoning.
In contrast, Scripture declares, “You believe in one God? You do well. The demons also believe — and shudder!” James 2:19
So in his letter, James counselled godliness and wisdom in Christ for the Gospel. We need to be godly when we believe in Jesus. God commanded this. Our good works are the fruit of the Spirit. Faith shows itself in our living. So it is written: “Show me your faith without works (deeds), and I will show you how my faith is “working” by what I do!”
I think this is something very practical that James gave us in Scripture. When we are godly, Jesus knows, and people also can see our faithfulness. We are walking with God and can claim Jesus’ promise. So we know what we ask will be given. God answers our prayers because God is faithful in His promises.
To this end, it is well to see how some of these relate in the Gospel for our blessings. Here is one account where Jesus said faith was present and “living” through the actions of the person.
The Healing of the Paralytic
In Matthew 9:1-8 and Mark 2:1-12, we have the account of a paralytic who was prevented from meeting Jesus on account of the crowd in the house. His four friends made an opening in the roof and then lowered the man on a mat to Jesus.
Jesus saw their faith, and said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5
Jesus’ remarks caused an outcry from the teachers of the law. For these theologians, they could only see that God alone forgave sins. Yet, what Jesus said is very important about faith.
It is because faith is the basis for us to be made right with God. We know Abraham believed (had faith in) God and this was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham acted by living as God commanded.
What Jesus said was that the paralytic has been justified before God because he sought God by acting in faith. Therefore Jesus forgave his sins, to attest that he had been made right with God. Jesus exercised this authority because He is the Son of God. This is more important than merely healing.
So Jesus assured the paralytic that he had been put right before God on account of faith. When sins are forgiven, a person is no longer separated from God. Then Jesus asked him to take up his mat and walk.
NB: Scripture texts are from NIV.
Note: Mr Yeo Teck Thiam is a retireer who used to work as a chemical engineer, specializing in food and perfume chemistry for an international food company and perfumer. His other main interest is astronomy and other mathematical matters, relating to the Biblical passages.