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Faith formulas

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015)

There are lots of "faith formulas" out there. It seems like people debate this way of looking at faith vs. that, and others are digging for some hidden secret or understanding that will "unlock" faith for them from the Bible, or trying to find someone to physically impart "faith" to them through the laying on of hands, or some other silly thing. But the Bible is really simple: "Faith is being sure of what you hope for, certain of what you do not see." (Heb 11:1, NIV'78) Literally, Heb 11:1 says

εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις πραγματων ελεγχος ου βλεπομενων
estin de pistis elpizomenon upostasis pragmatwn elegchos ou blepomenon
"pistis" (faith/belief) "estin" ("is" or "is being"): Put another way, That's as literal as the definition gets. My own paraphrase: "Faith is expectation based on understanding, conviction about things in practice that you aren't seeing (yet)."

There is one word (not two), the Greek word πιστος ("pistos"), and its various inflections, πιστ__ "pist__," that can be translated interchangeably "faith" or "belief" (if a noun), or "have faith" or "believe" (if a verb).

So to begin with, I'm sure you've heard people say that there is a "difference" between "faith" and "belief." That is technically not true from a scriptural point of view, since there is only one word.

That said, the English word "faith" has a stronger connotation than "belief." What people who say "there is a difference between 'faith' and 'belief'" really mean, and rightly so, is that there is a difference between putting your trust in something and mere intellectual acknowledgment about the fact that the thing they "believe" is true, which would just be a matter of "knowing" or "knowledge."

"Knowledge/understanding" in the New Testament would be the Greek noun γνωσις ("gnosis") or the corresponding verb γινωσκω ("ginosko"), which means "know." Now γνωσις is a sure and absolute knowledge or understanding about something. So that's what people often mean in English when they say "I believe that..."

On the other hand "faith" in English, and according to the various English definitions as usages, is far more loaded with various religious connotations.

So that should summarize the Greek vs. English span of word interpretations.

What you need to do is "just believe" (Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50)

You can see how action is tied into this, not by definition, but by consequence: You haven't seen it yet, but you are convinced it will happen and expect it to happen. So, if you are "convinced," if you "expect it to happen," then you will speak and act accordingly.

Obviously, scriptures make clear that "faith" is a decision and conviction that will naturally result in corresponding actions, if it is true that you really "believe" it, as James in particular elaborates on at length. (Also compare Romans 4, being justified in the sight of God, our Creator, by "faith alone," vs. James 2, being justified in the sight of all creation by "'faith'+works"). So you can find out what a person "believes" by what they do and other things they say.

So again, "faith" and "belief" are the same word in the scriptures. Since what you believe results in corresponding actions, it will become apparent what you "believe" by what you do. Obviously, "doing" isn't a part of "believing" and doesn't cause "believing." That would be "works" or "performance," whereas it is "faith" ("believing") that pleases God (Heb 11). That said, "believing" does cause "doing" if you really "believe."

Then there's "unbelief." Well, that's just απιστος ("a-pistos"), so you just add the prefix α ("a"), the negative particle meaning "without/apart" to it, which works just like in English. So it's the same Greek word in the negative.

For "little faith" (as in "you of little faith") Jesus actually either used "a-pistos" (lack of faith), or ολιγοπιστος ("oligo-pistos"), which literally means "few-faith" or "few-believing," which would be awkward to translate literally. But "few" is a measure of quantity, not magnitude; qualitatively "sparse." So a person with ολιγοπιστος has faith for (or believes) few things. There isn't actually "little faith" or "big faith."

Then there's that English translated word "doubt," which is from one of two or three Greek words (see What is "doubt" according to the scriptures?. But all of the "doubt" verses are just tied into lack of faith, some kind of thinking that contradicts what you are supposed to be believing in. So really, the point is to "just believe."

Then you hear people point out about the Word of God "nullified" by the traditions of men (Matt 15:6, Mark 7:13), which word is ακυροω ("a-kuroO" which means to invalidate (i.e. to consider "without" "validity") the Word of God. But that's just back to unbelief as well, if you hold traditions above the Word of God. So don't believe traditions, just believe the Word of God!

So, you see, we are back to "just believe." All the words, "believe," "faith," "unbelief," "doubt," and "nullifying traditions of men" boil down to whether or not you just "believe."

This stuff is very, very simple.

Some other "faith formulas" I've heard:

This uses the same word twice, so it is redundant. Faith is belief, so you could rephrase it "When your unbelief is greater than your belief..." Well, scripture doesn't say that. You either believe or you don't. So "just believe." The scriptures explicitly say, such as in James 1:6, Matt 21:21, Mark 11:23, that you should "believe and not doubt." The man who doubts should not expect that he will get anything (James 1:7). "Doubt" is just a form of unbelief. Right on the face of it, you can see that this is the same word used twice: "pist__" and "a-pist__" (with and without). So it is a self contradictory statement. Which is it, "with" or "without"?

This actually comes from a quote from the father of the demon-possessed boy that the disciples couldn't heal: "I am believing; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24). This is a statement coming out of the mouth of a desperate and distraught father of an afflicted child, not Jesus. The father's words are not authoritative. They don't even have to make sense. They are just a record of what he said. All he was focused on was getting his son healed. First he was asking the disciples to do it, then when they couldn't, he brought the boy to Jesus. He said to Jesus, "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Does this sound like a statement of faith? Jesus rebukes him, saying, "If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes." To which the father of the boy responds, literally, "I-am-believing master be-you-helping of-me to-the un-belief." Then Jesus, not the father, kicked the demon out of the boy. Later the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn't do it, and Jesus said "Because of your unbelief." (Matt 17:20). So we are back to "just believe."

The concept here is that Jesus has perfect faith, Jesus is God, so if we are in Christ we have the faith "of God." But you have to believe that, and believe and apply it in each situation that you encounter. If you have to "believe" that you have the "belief" of God, then we are back to, well, just "believe." Yes, authority and identity in Christ are very key principles we emphasize and keep at the forefront of our understanding. That is very, very important, for sure. However, you have to believe that you have the authority and identity in Christ in each situation that you encounter, and that it applies to any particular situation in question. So we are back to "just believe." Note that Jesus says "faith as a mustard seed," not "faith as small as a mustard seed." The Bible doesn't talk about "small faith" vs. "big faith." It just talks about faith. It says to believe. Mustard seeds have everything they need to grow and do big things out of an exceptionally tiny seed. The seed is "small" (about 1 mm) but the seed's "faith" is not. By "just believing," so to speak, it grows into a huge, tree-sized plant that birds can nest on. The different "mustard seed" illustrations are in Matt 13:31, 17:20, Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19, and 17:6. It also uses the word "if." It says "If you have faith as...then you can..." So we are back to your simple choice to believe. Do you believe as a "mustard seed"? This is from Rom 10:17, quoted out of context, and in another article I re-examined the translation, because the word "comes" is not even in the original text. It does not say that you "get faith" by "hearing." The context is about "the beautiful feet of those bringing the good news" (verse 15), and it asks how anybody could believe if the gospel isn't preached. The verse 17 "...hearing through the declaration (rhema) of God" just means that you need somebody to preach it if anyone is going to hear it. So it is talking about the people preaching, not the people listening, except to point out that not everyone believes the message preached (verse 16, 18-21). Verse 16 quotes Isaiah 53:1 "Lord, who believes the message?" So we are back to the simple choice to "believe." This is from Rom 12:3, used out of context. Even so, if you believe God has given you "the measure of faith" then you still have to believe that, right? Put another way, you have to believe that you have the "measure of belief." So we are back to, well, "just believe." However, the word before "measure of faith" is more literally "parts" (i.e. divides or apportions into "parts") not "imparts," used in the context of the next verse and discussion about "one body, many members, different parts (i.e. functions)." (Rom 12:4-8). The Greek phrase is "emerisen metron pisteos" ("parts measure of-faith"). Various translations use the word "has dealt" or "has distributed" or "has divided" or "has allotted." So the context is about the different things we do as "part" of the body. You still have to "believe" in each situation, or else nothing is going to come about. This verse is sometimes used in the "Faith is a gift" definition below, and I discussed it in more detail in the associated scriptural analysis. This is, in it's extreme, most formal sense, Calvinism. The "TULIP" principle of the "doctrines of grace" is that we are Totally depraved, Unconditionally elected, the atonement is Limited to the elect, the elect saints are compelled by Irresistible grace, and therefore there is nothing stopping the saints from Persevering to the end. "Faith" does not fit into this formula, because if it did, it would imply we have a personal part in affecting and effecting an outcome, which they suppose would threaten "God's sovereign will," so it is claimed that faith must be a "gift" from God. The theology gets really complicated and convoluted, way too much to deal with in a paragraph. What a mess! I posted a scriptural analysis about predestination and Calvinist proof-texting.

The principle behind "faith" is very simple. "Faith is being sure of what you hope for, certain of what you do not see" (Heb 11:1). People try to make it complicated, or religious, or dig and search for some "hidden secret" that will unlock the key to understanding faith, when there is no such secret or hidden meaning. It is just right there in plain view, in terms that a child can understand. "Just believe." And keep believing.

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