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Faith

I like simple solutions that work. Occam’s razor states, “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, ‘plurality should not be posited without necessity’.” This means that the simplest answer is probably the correct one. Discussions about Faith trigger my Occam’s razor meter. They seem unnecessarily complex.

Problems exist in reading the Bible today when we encounter the word faith. The modern use of the word has drifted from the meaning of the original Biblical Greek word pistis. Additionally, there is disagreement on how we get faith. Is faith a gift? Is faith the result of regeneration? Is it something else?

A verse in Ephesians is used to support the idea that faith is a gift that comes after regeneration.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emp. added).

If you believe the “that” and “it” in this verse refers to “faith” then you are reading this in English and not Greek. In English, the “it” and “that” would refer to the closest preceding noun, which is indeed “faith.” However, this is not the referent in Greek. In Greek, you look for a word having the same gender. “That” and “it” in this verse are neuter while the suggested referent “faith” is feminine. This disagreement in gender identifies a special case where one must obtain the referent from a broader context. I will let Eric Lyons make the argument for us here. He concludes that the gift in this verse is salvation not faith. Even Calvin agreed with this conclusion.

Faith is not a gift nor will you find a single verse in Scripture where it clearly states that faith follows regeneration. Faith is something else. Something that is very human and very accessible to everyone.

If faith is not a gift, then how do we get it? The root for the word faith is “believe” and the root for believe is the primary verb for persuade, peitho. Strongs gives the following definitions:

 Peitho (verb) translated persuade means, be persuaded, to trust, have confidence, be confident.

Pisteuo (verb) translated believe means, to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.

Pistis (noun) translated faith means?

Our word faith is derived from the Latin fides which is close in meaning to pistis. However, the word faith has, over time, changed in meaning and taken on a lot of baggage. The word has become a magic word that we use to manipulate God to do our bidding. It is suggested that our faith opens the door to God’s spiritual gifts. Faith is described as equivalent to holding a set of prescribed beliefs, a belief system. When talking about faith in God, some say it is a leap, implying that we must allow our minds to grasp something well beyond our capacity to know or understand, or that is beyond our senses.

Faith has taken on a power and mystique never intended.

Pistis is an abstract noun. Nouns often describe tangible things, a person, place or thing, but a noun can also describe an abstract, like honesty, or truth. These are things not detected with our senses, but are concepts that often describe a state of mind, or of being. Pistis describes a state of mind. This state is arrived at rationally after careful consideration of facts, thus it is a state of mind in which we are persuaded, in which we are confident, in which we have a belief. Often, Pistis is a state of mind in which we are persuaded to take an action.

I look at a ladder and I read the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings. I set the ladder against the wall and check that it is properly aligned. I consider the situation and come to a state of mind where the instructions and descriptions convince me that the ladder is safe to climb. In this settled state of mind and confidence, I climb the ladder. I return to the ground having put my trust in the ladder.

The ladder did not make me trust it, nor did my trust in the ladder do anything to make the ladder function as it was designed. My climbing the ladder was not a leap into the unknown. In fact, just the opposite is true. The qualities of the ladder make it trust worthy and reading about those qualities convinced me to place my trust in the ladder and to climb it.

Our understanding of faith is often upside down. We think we can influence the object of our faith if our faith is strong enough. The opposite is true. The trust worthiness of our faith object changes us and when our faith object is God the potential for that change is well beyond our own doing. Our faith object strengthens our trust. My understanding the ladder caused me to be confident enough to use it. Pistis means trust. This is consistent with its related words belief and persuade. In Greek mythology, Pistis was the personification of trust.

It fascinates me that the Gospel of John never uses the noun pistis where as Paul uses it extensively. John uses the verb pisteuo, believe. It is difficult to think that the two writers have something completely different in mind as though believing in God and trusting Him are two different things.

(John 20:30, 31 [ESV2011]) Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(1John 5:13 [ESV2011]) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

John clearly links the one who is believing to one who is saved. He presents his gospel so that the hearer, or reader is informed, persuaded to believe, producing salvation. John uses a verb to emphasize the act, the process of coming to and maintaining a relationship with Christ while Paul by using a noun emphasizes a believer’s state of being in trust, which saves. The object of both men is trust in Jesus Christ and the totality of who He is.

You hear both writers in the following well-known verses written by Paul:

(Rom 10:15-17 [ESV2011]) And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Coming to know Christ, coming into salvation is a rational process. A sovereign God does not force it on us. He offers salvation to us by His revealing Himself to us. He speaks the Good News to us. The Holy Spirit is very active in that process, but in the end, it is a process of persuasion. We hear what God is saying and we have the capacity to respond positively to His good news. He forces no one into the Kingdom. He calls everyone to trust, to believe and we are persuaded to accept His saving grace into our lives.

Trust is a simple concept that we can all grasp. As I use my ladder repeatedly, I grow in my confidence in it. I grow to trust it more and more. We grow in trust relationships with other people as we get to know them and they over time earn that trust. In our relationship with Christ, we have as our trust object the most trustworthy person who ever lived, God Himself. He will not lie to us, or deceive us. His promises are sure. He is truth.

Why then is it so hard for us to put our trust in God and in His good news? The answer is simple. We place more trust in ourselves more than any other thing in our lives. How sad that is. This is even true for Christians who walk with the Lord on a daily basis. How do I know that? I watch my fellow Christians hold dearly to their own works as the basis for their standing before God. Teach them the freedom of grace, the rest found in grace, the inner perfection of grace, and they say yes that is all very nice, but then they cling dearly to their works as markers for their standing before God. Doesn’t grace and freedom from the law set me free to do what I want and sin to my heart’s content, they ask? The answer is no. The fact is that their clinging to the law, to a performance based life before God, makes them more susceptible to sin not less. Even so, they trust their own efforts more than the work of the Spirit of Christ in them.

It takes time to grow in grace. It takes time to learn that Christ is not just a concept, a grand ideal, a hypothetical that is nice to believe in, but a scary place to trust for anything real in our lives. We trusted Jesus for our salvation and now God asks us to trust Him for our sanctification. That is what we hear from Scripture. That is what God is telling us. Trust comes by hearing and that by the word of Christ. We need to allow God’s word to persuade us once more.

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [trust], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also obtained access by faith [trust] into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Trust is not a complex idea. It is simple enough for any of us to grasp and to do. The benefits are beyond our imagining. The promise is Christ in you the hope of glory. We place our trust in the Lord and receive His glory. We do not need to fully understand to respond to God’s grace. We simply have to understand how trustworthy our God is and to place our trust in that reality.

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