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Faith and Believing

By David A. DePra

The Greek word translated "faith" in the NT is "pistis." It means "A TRUSTING." It carries the notion of BEING CERTAIN. The verbal form of the word, "pisteuo," is usually translated, "to believe" in the NT. It speaks of putting my faith into action. It means not only, "to trust," but also "to obey." To be unconditionally committed. It is to move ahead in the "certainty" OF my faith.

We must get this established. Faith means, "a trusting certainty." To believe means, "to exercise my trusting certainty." The word is the SAME in the Greek, the first being the noun, and the second being the verb.

Now, it is absolutely vital that we see that "to believe" is the same word "faith" Ė but as exercised in action Ė as our motivation. We must see this, because in English, things donít quite work that way. In English, "to believe" doesnít necessarily mean faith in action at all. Indeed, it may not have anything whatsoever to do with trust or obedience. It may mean nothing more than we agree with the fact that something is true.

This causes problems for us when we read the Bible. For instance, we read, "Whoever believes on Jesus will be saved." If we interpret this along the line of what we usually mean in English by "believe," we may end up thinking that all we need to do to be saved is agree with the fact that Jesus died for us. We could therefore say, "Yeah, I believe Jesus died for me," and that never surrender to Jesus Ė and yet be saved.

The fact is, agreeing that Jesus died for me is NOT saving faith. Indeed, if I believe and agree that He did die for me, I may be condemning myself out of my own mouth! Why? Because it is one thing to believe something is a fact. It is another to surrender to the reality of it. It is one thing to believe that Jesus died for you. It is another to do what the Bible means by believe: Place your whole trust, certainly, and very LIFE, in the hands of the One who did die for you. In other words, if I have "faith" I will unconditionally COMMIT myself to the One in whom I trust.

Biblical faith is not intellectual assent. That is not what the Bible means by the term, "to believe." In the Bible, "to believe" means to be so certain of the One who saved me, that my trust in Him motivates me to place my entire self in His hands. I rest and rely upon what He has done for me.

Now, obviously, true faith can start with intellectual assent. We do need to understand Jesus died for us, and intellectually agree to it. We arenít likely to trust Christ with any level of certainty if we are intellectually DISAGREEING that He died for us. But "to believe" go much further. It is to be so committed that I GIVE MYSELF to Christ as the outcome of that certainty.

We find out in a hurry whether our faith is only intellectual assent once our faith in God is tested Ė and the nature of faith is that it must be tested. If we have only intellectual assent to certain Truths, we will never stand the test. It is only if our faith is in God that we will overcome. Our faith is only as strong as the One in whom we place it.

True faith is not in doctrines about Christ, but in Jesus Himself. True faith is not intellectual or emotional. It is MORAL in nature. Because I am sure of Christ, I believe. I commit myself to Him in an unconditional devotion. And because I believe, I am motivated to live like it. I give myself to Him as Lord.

Faith is Never Merit

There have always been certain teachings around Christianity which suggest that if we say faith is necessary for salvation, that we are allowing fallen man to have credit for "contributing to his own salvation." Instead, some even teach that it is impossible for fallen man to have faith. They claim that faith is the result of salvation, rather than the prelude to it.

There are others, however, who go to the opposite extreme. They suggest that fallen man has the capability of contributing to his own salvation. Thus, they say that, yes, we are required to have faith, and faith IS our contribution. But they see nothing wrong with this. They consider this acceptable in Godís plan. So what is the Truth about this? Is faith a contribution to our salvation? Can fallen man believe?

The objection that man cannot have faith because this would mean he is contributing to his own salvation is a "straw man." Likewise is the notion that we are required to contribute to our own salvation by believing. Why? Because both arguments presuppose that faith IS a contribution to our salvation. Thus, the argument endlessly bounces back and forth as to whether man must contribute to his own salvation by believing.

The Truth is, faith, as defined in the Bible, is never merit, or any contribution I make to my own salvation. Once we see this, it clears the air of confusion. It immediately means that, yes, man must choose to believe. But it also means that in doing so, he is NOT making a contribution to his own salvation.

Biblical faith, rather than be merit, is the result of seeing I have NO merit. Rather than be a contribution to my own salvation, Biblical faith is the outcome of seeing I have no contribution to make. Biblical faith is never a matter of me, "giving God permission to save me." Rather, it is the outcome of me surrendering to Him as a sinner.

Faith is IN Christ

All of this becomes plain once we return again to what we saw the Greek words for "faith" and "belief" mean. They mean TRUST and COMMITMENT. I am not going to put my trust and commitment in Jesus Christ if I continue to think that I am self-sufficient enough to merit anything from God. Indeed, if I think that my faith in Christ is a contribution to my own salvation in the sense of merit, then it is questionable that I am really putting my trust in Christ. I may want to consider that my faith is really in MY FAITH, rather than in the Person of Christ.

What we see here is that "faith" isnít worth any more than the Person which is itís object. If I trust Christ, then the reason my faith results in salvation is NOT because of my faith. It is because of the One in whom I have placed it: Jesus Christ. In short, my faith Ė as a thing Ė never saves me. Jesus saves me. By faith, I embrace Him.

Faith is never merit because it cannot save me. All I do when I believe and trust Christ is place my faith in Him Ė for HE saves me. But rather than be "a contribution to my own salvation," by faith I do nothing more than open myself to the contribution Jesus has made to my salvation Ė namely His own life. I am simply receiving His free gift.

We see this aptly illustrated with Abraham. God appeared to Abram in Genesis 15. Once again God promises Abram a son, and to make of him a great nation. It is during this visitation that the Bible says, "And he (Abram) believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6)

What does this mean? Well, it means that Abraham believed that God was faithful, and because he believed it, God counted Abramís faith AS righteousness. Donít misunderstand. Abram did not have any righteousness of his own. Rather, Abram had faith Ė reliance -- upon GODíS righteousness. Thus, God said, "Your faith in MY righteousness makes it possible for Me to impute to you MY righteousness."

It is really vital that we see exactly what is going on here, because it is precisely what happens today when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Abrahamís faith did not make him righteous. Neither was Abrahamís faith, as a thing, righteous. No. There is NO MERIT here Ė no righteousness on the part of Abraham. Abraham simply put his faith in Godís righteousness Ė Godís faithfulness. This accrued to Abraham the very righteousness of God in which he had put his faith.

Notice something else: When God "imputes" to us the righteousness of Christ, it is not merely in a legal sense. He doesnít just call me righteous, even though Iím not. No. He imputes to me the righteousness of Christ by making me one with Christ. In effect, God makes me righteous Ė by giving me a life within that is righteous.

This is such a basic Truth Ė so simple, yet so profound. God does not expect us to be righteous enough to please Him. But once we put our faith in Christ, He puts His righteousness in us. We are as righteous as the One in whom we have put our faith Ė because we actually have his righteousness.

Here is another way of saying the same thing: My faith is NOT righteous. No. My faith is in the Righteous One. The OBJECT of my faith is why God is able to reckon to me His righteousness Ė not my faith itself.

You will notice that when Abram believed God, that it does not say, "Abramís faith entitled him to a son." No. It simply says that God reckoned to him a righteousness because of his faith. In short, Abramís faith made it possible for him to receive a son, because he believed the God who promised him the impossible. And that is much different.

"Abram believed God." His faith in God was reckoned to him as righteousness Ė not because his faith was righteous Ė but because his faith was in Godís righteousness

One Reason For Faith

There are reasons WHY people believe what they believe. Just as truly, there are reasons WHY people place their faith and trust in Christ. Understanding some of these reasons proves further that real faith and trust in God carries no sense of merit.

It is a fact that the Father must draw us to Christ, or we cannot come to Him. (see John 6:44) But notice that "to draw," and, "to come," are not ONE thing. Rather, the Father draws us to Christ, that is, brings us to the place of choice. But we must COME to Jesus. We must believe Ė rest our whole selves upon Him Ė once the Father draws us there.

The fact is, we arenít going to do this unless we see our need. We just wonít. Therefore, part of the Fatherís drawing of us to Christ is to show us we are sinners without hope. He does this by exposing us as sinners through His law, and our conscience. He sometimes uses trials. But all of the Fatherís drawing is geared to getting us to realize that we have no hope except the grace of God. Then, and only then, are we able to trust Christ.

Man is made dependent. That is our nature. We donít have to work at it, it is the way God designed a human being. Thus, right now, whether you realize it or not, you are dependent upon something or someone. Your faith is in THAT.

God wants to bring us to the place where we begin to see that our sole hope is His Son. Once we see that, then there isnít going be any thought as to whether our faith is merit, or whether we are giving God "permission" to save us. Rather, we will do what Hebrews says: "That we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast." (Heb. 6:18-19)

Imagine if you were one of those people, during April, 1912, who was aboard the Titanic when it struck the iceberg. Those who did not get into a lifeboat ended up, if they survived the actual sinking, floating in the icy waters. Suppose you were one of them. Now imagine if a person in an empty lifeboat came up close to you and extended you his arm. What would be your reaction?

Obviously, you would need have a grasp of your desperate condition. If you didnít really believe you were in trouble, you might say to him, "I am just fine, thank you. I am comfortable and need not be bothered by your offer to save me." This might seem silly, but in the eyes of God, this is exactly what people are doing when they take the Truth of the gospel lightly, or neglect it. He is trying to say to them, "Look around you. Donít you realize that you are dying? Grab my arm!" But some wonít accept the possibility that they could be a needy sinner. They just wonít come into that Light.

Ok. But suppose you did realize your condition. Suppose you knew that this fellow and his lifeboat were the only hope for you. If you grabbed his arm, and he pulled you into the boat, you would certainly be thankful. You would know that he saved you. Now imagine the nonsense of turning to him and saying, "I gave you permission to save me. Now, you owe me." Or the folly of saying to the man, "You do realize, donít you, that you could not have saved me unless I had helped? What do I get as a reward?" I think we can be sure that none of the people who were saved from the waters that night said such things. They knew they had been saved through no merit of their own.

Do we see the Truth here? The kind of faith which is necessary for salvation is the result of realizing my desperate condition, and of realizing that I can do nothing to help myself. I therefore willingly and voluntarily relinquish myself to Christ. There is no merit involved. There is only surrender.

Herein we see one of the reasons for faith: I recognize my true condition. I see that Jesus Christ is my only hope. I therefore surrender myself to Him with the certainly and trust that He alone can save me.

Another Reason for Faith

Seeing that we are dying and need to be saved is a good reason to put oneís trust in Christ. But it is not the only reason. Another reason is that I see I am WRONG with God and need to be RIGHT with Him. If all there was to faith was yielding to the One who saves me, then there would not be anything moral about it. There would need be no repentance or coming to the Cross.

The fact is, if I am living for myself I am WRONG with God. If I am living on my own terms, to the disregard of the will of God, I am WRONG with God. If this is how I am living my life, then I am in the North Atlanticís icy waters. I may simply be too blind to realize it.

Man was made to be dependent upon God. Anything else is being wrong with God, and the result is death. In the final analysis, faith in Christ is being RIGHT with God. Unbelief is being WRONG with God. There are no third options.

So now we see another component to faith Ė to placing oneís whole trust in Christ. It means that I give myself to Him. I no longer belong to myself, but to Him.

This only makes sense. If I really and truly "have faith" Ė have the certainly and confidence that God Almighty merits my faith Ė then how can I not give myself to Him? Here we once again see how faith results in "believing" Ė according to the Biblical definition. If I "have faith" in Christ, then I am going to put that faith in to action by "believing" in Christ. I will totally surrender myself to Him.

We cannot have it both ways. Either we trust God or we donít. If we do, then we will give ourselves to Him. If we donít, we wonít. For how can a person TRULY trust God and not surrender to Him?

The Bible talks about no longer living for ourselves if we trust Christ:

For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; (2) That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1-2)

Living for Christ, rather than myself, is the outcome of faith. It IS "believing." That is what it IS! There is no other concept of faith in the Bible.

The sobering fact is, if I continue to live for myself, not only do I NOT have faith, but I am sinning. I am living in THE SIN Ė which is unbelief. "Unbelief," in NT Greek, is nothing more than the word for faith with the negative preposition in front of it. In other words, take the meaning of faith and make it the opposite.

Thus, "unbelief" means to not trust God, and therefore, NOT BELIEVE or surrender to Him. In means to live outside of surrender to Him. Just as faith is not intellectual or emotional, but MORAL at itís root, so is unbelief. Unbelief is never ignorance. It is the refusal or willful neglect to be accountable to God.

When everything is said and done, "to believe" means I am right with God through Christ. To be in "unbelief" means I am wrong with Him. It is upon these two possibilities that everything else in the Christian life is based, for each determines who it is that I belong to. Our destiny depends on which we choose.

The reality is, it is impossible for me to surrender to Christ unless I do so on a MORAL basis. God is a moral, holy, and just God, and I have been wrong with Him. The only way I can get right with Him is by coming to the Cross of Jesus Christ through repentance. And that is exactly what I will do if I truly believe.

Abiding in Him

Once I come to Jesus by faith, and relinquish my old life to Him, I have died with Christ; been crucified with Him. I am then raised with Him to newness of life, freed from the power of sin. I must then go on to walk in a progressive realization of that freedom. I do this by the same faith. Having COME to Christ by faith, I now "abide" in Him by that same faith.

When the Bible talks about "abiding in Christ," we are apt to dismiss this as some kind of unattainable, abstract Biblical concept. What exactly does it mean, "to abide in Christ?"

"To abide," means "to live in." So "to abide in Christ" means to live in Christ. Or we might say, "to abide in Christ," is to live as if Christ is our home or our life.

Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) This picture of Jesus as the Vine, and we as the branches, shows that there is to be no "disconnect" between our lives and our faith in Christ. Rather, once we surrender to Christ by faith, we are to LIVE in Him -- BY FAITH.

Paul says in Romans:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Rom 1:16-17)

The phrase, "the just shall live by faith," might just as well be rendered, "the just shall live from out of faith." This is what it means to ABIDE IN CHRIST. I do not live independent of Him. I live in union with Him.

Faith in Christ completely adjusts our "vertical relationship" Ė with God -- to where it ought to be. Then, and only then, will all of our "horizontal relationships" find adjustment. Never think that you can be right with God by first getting right with people. No. Get right with God, and you will be right with people. It may take time. But it will happen. The just must live from out of faith in God!

The real nature of faith is that it is in the Person of Christ Ė it rests upon His trustworthiness, faithfulness, righteousness, and finished work. And it has RESULTS: A life which reflects our faith. *

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