That was touching story. And it kind of makes sense. But I’m still struggling with how any of that is “faith”! To me, “faith” is what you believe.
Welcome to the 16th Century. It’s time to learn what’s been learned since then.
N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “faith” was used by First Century Jews. He refers to a story told by Josephus regarding a Jewish rebel named Jesus –
I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me … ; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.
(quoted by Wright at p. 250.)
Wright notes that the Greek translated “prove his loyalty to” is found in the New Testament, where it is translated “believe in.”
Josephus asked Jesus the Galilean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.
The confusion results from the fact that the Greek word translated “faith” also can mean “trust in” or “be faithful to” (or be loyal to). And we find all three uses in the New Testament.
For example, the Greek word for faith, pistis, is translated faithfulness in —
(Rom 3:3) What if some did not have faith [pistis]? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [pistis]?
(Gal 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
You see, we begin our readings by assuming “faith” is somehow divorced from repentance, when in fact “faith” means faithfulness as well as belief.
And we find “trust” as a meaning in such passages as —
(Heb 11:6 ESV) 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
To believe that God rewards those who seek him is to trust God to keep his promises. That’s faith.
English can be the same. “I have faith in my son” could mean “I expect my son to honor his promises” or “I expect my son to be obedient” but not really “I believe my son exists.”
We want to use “I believe in Jesus” in the sense of “I believe in ghosts,” rather than “I believe in the Tea Party,” which means “I’ve committed to support the Tea Party” or “I trust the Tea Party’s principles.”
You see, we don’t have to know Greek to get this.
James uses “faith” in an ironic sense, meaning a false faith that does not produce works. He intends a scathingly ironic challenge to those who take faith to not require faithfulness and trust. I do not for a minute disagree with James.
But this means that “saved by faith and not by works” does not mean “saved by believing that Jesus exists and not by doing anything.” No, it means we are saved by meaning our confession of Jesus as Messiah (=King) and Lord.
When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we bring nothing to the table other than our loyalty and trust. Obviously, we must believe he exists to be loyal to him and to trust him. But he demands much more than acknowledgment of his reality!
Thus, we are saved by our faithfulness and our trust. Not that “faithfulness” means we must attain to perfection or some secret standard. It’s about the heart.
Let’s return to the story of the adopted child from the last post. I do estate planning. I’ve more than once written a will where a child was cut out — disinherited and disowned. It’s rare, and the parent is always deeply uncomfortable with such an anti-natural decision.
It always turns out that the child rebelled. Not in the teenage, sneak-out-at-night sense, but in the sense of refusing any obedience at all and bringing great shame on the family. And it’s always after many, many warnings and pleadings. No parent does this easily. It always hurts nearly as much as the death of the child. No parent makes this choice if there is any other choice available.
But it happens, because some children rebel despite the free gift they’ve received. They turn away from their parents in rebellion, reject all pleas to return, and usually wind up dead before their parents.
Does the fact that an adopted child might be disowned mean that he has to earn his adoption? No, but he can lose it — if he works hard at it. Not for just any act of disobedience. All children disobey. Not for any act of rebellion. All children rebel. But if the adopted child refuses to love his parents, despite their generosity, the relationship will end.
But if he loves them, he’ll obey them. There is no love without obedience. It’s not a law; it’s the nature of love.
Loving your Father enough to be an obedient child of his, following in the footsteps of your brother Jesus, is faith — even if your obedience is as flawed as that of a child, so long as your heart is as open to your Father’s love as that of a child.