Does belief include anything more than trust?
Belief or faith is of primary importance to a follower of God. The writer of Hebrews state, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Within this same chapter, we find both a definition of faith and a series of examples which illustrate what faith truly is to the child of God.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The word "substance" comes from the Greek word hupostasis, which refers to an object that is underneath and supports the object above it. In other words, faith is the foundation for hope. It is also called "evidence." The word "evidence" comes from the Greek word elegchos, which refers to something proved to the point of conviction. Of this word, Adam Clarke stated, that elegchos" signifies such a conviction as is produced in the mind by the demonstration of a problem, after which demonstration no doubt can remain, because we see from it that the thing is; that it cannot but be; and that it cannot be otherwise than as it is and is proved to be."
Some argue that faith is based on a religious experience. They look for a feeling, an emotion, or some they see or hear. They look for a vision, listen for a still small voice, or claim to see an angel or Jesus Himself. Yet this desire for experience is actually the antithesis of faith. Thomas looked for an experience to believe. "Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."" (John 20:29). Experience is not faith, it is knowledge. One day we will all see the Lord, but until that day "we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).
Others will claim that faith has no rational basis. In their view, if a person believes, he does so in spite of the evidence. It is as if the stronger the Christian's faith is, the more irrational he will be. Yet, this is not how faith is presented in the Scriptures. Evidence is presented to develop faith. "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). It is upon the written evidence that faith is produced. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Hence, when Paul taught the Bearens, they were praised because "they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Based on this research we are told, "therefore many of them believed" (Acts 17:12).
Perhaps the greatest difficulty comes from the erroneous belief that faith excludes any work or obedience to the law of God. James dealt with this specific problem when he warned, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17). A mere affirmation of trust is not what God had in mind when He told us we must believe. Unless there is sufficient trust in God and God's teaching to spur us into action, we truly do not have the faith God is looking for within man.
Consider this story: "There is a tight-rope stretched across Niagra Falls and a crowd gathers a young man as he pulls a unicycle out of a box. 'Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention! Let me see a show of hands: How many of you believe that I can ride across the Falls on this unicycle and safely reach the other side?' The crowd, being eager to see the feat, enthusiastically raise their hands and cry out, 'We do! We do!' The man replies, 'Wait! That's not all! How many of you believe I can ride safely across while balancing someone on my shoulders?' Again the crowd waves their hands and shout, 'We do! We do!' Then the man says, 'Great! Now, which one of you will volunteer to be the one on my shoulders?' All hands quickly drop and the crowd becomes absolutely silent.
Did anyone in the crowd believe? Perhaps in some form or fashion, but it was not biblical faith. They were unwilling to put their trust in the man. Saving faith in Jesus Christ is a faith that actively places his confidence in the Lord, even to the point of placing himself at risk in so doing.
When you read the accounts of the faithful recorded in Hebrews 11, you will notice that every instance of faith is demonstrated in what the person did.
- "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Hebrews 11:4).
- "By faith Noah ... prepared an ark for the saving of his household" (Hebrews 11:7).
- "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance" (Hebrews 11:8).
- "By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country" (Hebrews 11:9).
- "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac" (Hebrews 11:17).
- "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come" (Hebrews 11:20).
This is why Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5; 16:26). Faith does not exist without obedience accompanying it. Or as James put it, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).
There are some who shudder at the thought of repentance, confession, or baptism being a necessary part of a man's salvation. They boldly state that faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation. These other things will be done because a person is saved. In essence, they are claiming that salvation can come by a faith that is not demonstrated by any obedience.
However, this is not how the Bible presents salvation. Faith is necessary for salvation (John 3:16). But other things are also necessary. Jesus said, "unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Are faith and repentance the same thing? No, repentance refers to a change in a person's life (Acts 26:20). Faith leads a person to repent, but it is not the repentance. Repentance demonstrates the faith that a person has, but repentance is not the person's faith. A person who has faith is willing to confess Jesus. But without that confession, he cannot be saved. "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10). Confession does not come because a person has been saved. Confession is made unto salvation. It comes before one is saved. Because of faith, a person will make the good confession. Similarly, Peter said, "baptism now saves you" in I Peter 3:21. What causes a man to desire to be baptized? It is not because he was saved, because baptism now saves a man. Is it not faith in the word of God that spurs a man to obedience? Baptism then is "the answer of a good conscience toward God" (I Peter 3:21).
Consider Peter's command at the beginning of the church, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Where is the faith? It is their faith that would cause them to repent and be willing to be baptized. "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). Without faith, they would have no desire to obey the command of God delivered to them by Peter. But without obedience, they would have demonstrated that they did not truly believe. These people were saved from their sins because their faith leads them to obedience.
Belief is more than simple trust. It is the foundation on which the works of God are built. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Faith is a commitment to God. It is a trust that places the believer's life in the hands of God, willing to do whatever God commands, confident that God will deliver on His promises. "Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 1:12-13). Faith is not salvation, but it is the means through which salvation is obtained.