Justification By Faith, Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed how faith, belief, works, obedience, justification, and salvation are all dependent on love. The Greatest Commandment is to love God. Without a person first loving God, those other things are nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:2-3
If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love has primacy. It is only through love that our incorporeal sacrifices of our mind to God—our prayers, praises, thanksgiving—are truly acceptable.

You must love God to have a living faith. There is no other prerequisites. Now, before we can figure out how a man is justified, we must ask this question: what, exactly, is faith?

What Is Faith?

The Greek word for faith is the noun pistis (πίστις). It means trust, belief, faith, confidence, fidelity, faithfulness. It is the kind of belief that is grounded. It is not blind, but rather connotes persuasion: persuading and being persuaded.

The Greek word for belief is pisteuó (πιστεύω). It is just the verb form of pistis.

Except for being different parts of speech, the two words mean more-or-less the same thing.[1][2] Though the words are not equivalent in English, when speaking about the Bible, there is no meaningful linguistic difference between faith and belief. But in English, we usually use faith as a noun and believe as a verb. The King James Version does this, making it seem as if faith is not a verb.[3]

Faith, regardless of the part-of-speech, is action-oriented. Faith is not strictly something you have, faith is also something you do. It is trust and confidence. It is to believe. One does not merely possess faith, like you would a fancy vase or a bar of silver, but one’s faith is active. It is not merely belief, but confident belief.

Consider this standard English translation:

James 2:18-19 (NIV)
But someone will say, “You have faith (pistin); I have deeds.” Show me your faith (pistin) without deeds, and I will show you my faith (pistin)by my deeds. You believe (pisteueis) that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe (pisteuousin) that—and shudder.

Now let’s make the verbs and nouns reflect that they are the same word:

But someone will say, “You have belief; I have deeds.” Show me your belief without deeds, and I will show you my belief by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

By removing the English connotations that have been inserted into “faith”…

Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

…already the sense of the passage is perceptibly shifting. It becomes clear that James is talking about outwardly demonstrating one’s existing inward beliefs, proving by one’s deeds what the beliefs must already be. It is making faith action-oriented.

But, let’s keep going, this time translating ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ as what it is: ‘trust’:

But someone will say, “You have trust; I have deeds.” Show me your trust without deeds, and I will show you my trust by my deeds. You trust that there is one God. Good! Even the demons trust that—and shudder.

One does not trust the course of the waves, but one trusts the course of the sun. We trust what we know, and we do not trust the unknown. Trust is not blind, it is informed by one’s knowledge and experience. Tautological belief—blind faith—is invalid. Faith isn’t about holding the right viewpoints, it is about living what you know to be true. It is action-oriented.

Notice that the demons believe and act (i.e. shudder). We believe and have and act too (i.e. deeds).

Let’s make this even more explicit:

But someone will say, “You have confidence; I have deeds.” Show me your confidence without deeds, and I will show you my confidence by my deeds. You are confident that there is one God. Good! Even the demons are confident in that—and shudder.

When a man refuses to act on something he supposedly believes, he does not show confidence in it. Confidence cannot be shown by a cowardly refusal to act. By contrast, faith—living faith—is firm confidence and conviction in what you expect will actually be so.

If you confidently think a tree is going to fall on your exact position, you move without hesitation, because you know. If you are convicted that you will have a billion descendants, you will move immediately to sacrifice your only heir when God tells you to do so, because you know.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (REV)
Now trust [“faith”; pistis; πίστιςis firm confidence [hypostasis; hὑπόστασις] in things hoped for, a conviction [elenchos; ἔλεγχος] regarding things not seen.

The ancient Hebrews had an expectation, confidence, faith in what the Messiah would one day bring. This confidence was rooted in their trust that God would fulfill the promises that he made.

How can we describe faith? Faith is the full assurance that God will do what he said even when we do not yet see it unfolding. There is nothing blind—or unclear; uncertain; mysterious—about faith. Faith is about justified confidence. It is about what you know to be true.

How would you demonstrate your confidence in God? What would you do to proclaim that you were saved?

What *Isn’t* Faith?

Faith is not a recitation of the Apostles Creed.

Did you initially read James 2:18-19 and think that the “faith” and “belief” mentioned referred to a specific creedal statement that both you and the demons simultaneously affirm? Or did you read it actively, like a verb, where faith is confidence associated with action (e.g. “shudder”). See how the tone and meaning of the verse changes dramatically when you do that? I have confidence in God, and so do the demons. But we don’t put our confidence in the same thing. Our respective works reflect that.

Faith is not beliefs that one lacks confidence over. Faith is not a belief in things which one doubts. Faith isn’t found in things that are untrustworthy. Faith is not in doctrine, for doctrines are changing and uncertain. Faith is, rather, placed in persons, in God.

Objection: Faith and works must be combined, because if justification was by faith alone, you would get to act however you please.

This shows a poor understanding of James 2. The argument is this:

  1. If salvation is by faith alone, then you can be saved no matter how you act.
  2. You cannot be saved if you don’t have good works (James 2)
  3. Therefore, salvation is not by faith alone.

But this is unsound because premise #1 is a false loaded statement. Not to belabor the point, but there are different kinds of faith and not all faith is equal. This is made abundantly clear in James 2:18-19. What you might call “True Faith” will necessarily result in good works. But, this is causation. The faith produces both the works and the salvation.

If you have faith/salvation, then you will confidently do good works.

The converse is not true:

“if you perform visibly good works,
you must have confidence/faith/salvation.”

The inverse is not true:

“if you don’t have confidence/faith/salvation,
you won’t perform visibly good works.”

The contrapositive is true:

“if you don’t perform visibly good works,
you do not have confidence/faith/salvation.”

It is also does not follow that if you perform bad works that you must not have faith/salvation. We will discuss why next, in part 3 of the series.

If you always act however you please (i.e. your intention; your belief), how can it be said that you have faith in God? It can’t. How does this demonstrate your confidence in God? It doesn’t.

The two are mutually exclusive. You can’t always do both whatever you please and also do whatever God tells you to do. Regardless, if you just did whatever you please, it wouldn’t prove that salvation isn’t by faith alone, only that you didn’t have faith.

What Are Works?

And finally, what, exactly, are works?

Works—or deeds—are obedience to God and, by definition, repentance is a work of obedience to God. Repentance and belief go together (e.g. Mark 1:15), but they are not the same:

Sanctification isn’t justification,
Regeneration isn’t justification,
Repentance isn’t faith.

The gospel is told and it is believed. It is good news. The gospel cannot be done.

The biblical order is belief, baptism, and repentance. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) instructs Jesus’ followers to make disciples (i.e. those who believe; have faith), baptize them, and teach them to obey (i.e. works). In Acts 2, after the three thousand believed, they were baptized and then taught.

The biblical order is faith (for salvation), baptism (for Holy Spirit), and works. Unless James contradicts Jesus and Paul, works must come after faith and baptism.

Jesus explicitly stated the following:

Mark 16:16
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Why does repentance come after belief and baptism? Because it is the baptismal rite when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the Christian, enabling their works. Salvation is prior to works (except to the extent that believing and baptizing are themselves works of obedience to God[4]).

While the second gospel contrasts belief with unbelief, the fourth gospel contrasts belief with disobedience:

John 3:36
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

As we will see in Part 3, this difference is very important.


[1] The KJV actually translates the exact same noun as both “faith” and “believeth” in adjacent verses:

Romans 3:25-26 (KJV)
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith (pisteōs; πίστεως) in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth (pisteōs; πίστεως) in Jesus.

[2] Paul says that belief is required for salvation (Romans 10:9). James says faith is required (James 2:24). These are the same thing.

[3] There is no verb form of faith in English, so when one is required in the KJV some form of ‘believe’ is used ~200 times. When a noun is required, ‘faith’ is almost always used (The ratio of faith to belief is 247:1)

[4] This is not, generally, what we mean when we speak of ‘good works.’

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