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What is faith?


Faith is essential because it is the means by which we can receive the grace of God and have eternal life (Eph 2:8-9). For this reason it is crucial to understand what faith is. The English word “believe” can be a little misleading. Perhaps “trust” is a better translation of the Greek word “pistis”. It conveys the idea of conviction after acceptance. In Greek several words are derived from Greek mythology. Pistis was the personification of good faith, trust, and reliability. In rhetoric it was used to convey the idea of proof.

Some people can hear the gospel and trust in it right away. Others may hear the gospel and only slowly come to trust in it. Still others may hear the gospel and consider it but never come to a point of trusting in it. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes to them all as if the were all believers calling them “brothers”. However, when instructing them to discipline their members, he does not tell them to determine who is and is not a true Christian, but to rather judge their behavior (1Cor 5:11). This is probably because there is no way to examine the heart of another to determine in what they truly trust.

None of the people Paul wrote were raised in Christian homes. They all had either trusted (faith) in the gospel of Christ or were considering it. There was another category of condition, those who were mistaken about their faith. We can see an example of this with the incident of the rich young ruler. When presented with the kingdom gospel for Israel, he was told that he should give away all his wealth and he couldn’t do it (Matt 19:22). There is an important lesson here even for those who are presented with the gospel of grace (without works) for the gentiles, what one trusts in more is important.

Paul tells those who trust in the gospel of grace that they are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). This indicates a permanent condition. However, if one assumes he is sealed and is not, he may find his future very different than he expects. That there may have been some that had not found saving faith in the various groups of Christians Paul wrote might be seen in considering that there were some who might be yet lost (Rom 14:15, 1 Cor 8:11, Gal 4:20). It can be difficult to tell the difference between weak or new faith and mistaken faith. Paul even writes that we should examine ourselves (2Cor 13:5) to be sure that we are in the faith.

Self-examination can be useful, especially if it reveals that we have been mistaken about that in which we trust. If we consider that we trust more in the things of this world, the teachings of a particular man or tradition, or what we have accomplished, we may want to consider in what we should trust in. It might sound shocking, but faith might be seen as similar to suicide. Letting go of everything else that one might trust in and throwing one’s fate, future, and life completely in the hands of God may be an act difficult to execute, but it can be liberating.

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4



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