When we reflect on the beginning of faith, God’s covenant with Abraham, we have to add another nuance to pistis —
(Gen 15:4-6 ESV) 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
“Believed the LORD” means that he believed that God would keep his promise. It wasn’t about believing God to exist. Abram had believed in the existence of God since he left Ur and traveled to Canaan at God’s instruction. Nor was it about being obedient. In fact, Abraham had been doubting God’s word up to this point. Rather, Abram made a decision to trust God’s promises and to live in reliance on those promises — trust producing faithfulness. This is the meaning of “believed” in Gen 15.
In short, pistis has three elements —
* To believe that something is true. We might call this intellectual acceptance. Abram believes that God exists from the very beginning of the story.
* To be faithful, especially in the Bible, to be faithful to a covenant. Abraham reveals his faithfulness initially when he leaves Ur and travels to Canaan. Later on, when he offers to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, Abraham takes the ultimate step of faithfulness.
* To trust in promises made, especially covenant promises, enough to live in reliance on them. After all, if you won’t build your life on the promises, you don’t really trust them.
In short form —
Surprised? After all, we normally treat “repent” as a separate step from faith, but that’s because Walter Scott (who invented the earliest form of the Five Step Plan) took “repent” from Acts 2:38 and “believe” from Rom 10:9. But in Acts 2:38, Peter called on his audience to repent of their unbelief, that is, their failure to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
In fact, in Paul’s use of pistis, “faith” includes repentance (a word he rarely uses) because “faithfulness” and “repentance” are essentially synonyms.
And for those of us raised in the Churches of Christ, “trust” is troubling because, well, it sounds so Baptist. But the Baptists are quite right to find trust in “faith,” although “faith” includes much more than trust, as we’ll see.