The crux of our saving faith

The following quote describes a richness lying within the word “faith” that challenges popular thinking. What are we to make of this claim about faith within the Greek New Testament?

The noun pistis offers a range of semantic possibilities for English translators. It can be rendered as ‘faith,’ ‘faithfulness,’ ‘fidelity’ or ‘trust.’ It probably does not, however, mean ‘belief’ in the sense of cognitive assent to a doctrine; rather, it refers to placing trust or confidence in a person. The cognate verb pisteuō can be translated as ‘believe’ or ‘trust.’ English, regrettably, lacks a verb form from the same root as the noun ‘faith.'” – Richard Hays’ commentary on Galatians

While Hays’ purpose in summarizing the linguistic evidence involves arguing for a particular interpretation regarding the expression “faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16; 3:22) and “faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20), that is not the focus of my inquiry. Rather, my interest lies in considering what this Greek idea of faith would mean for our faith in Christ (Colossians 1:4; Ephesians 1:15, Galatians 3:26, etc.).

Such an enriched view of faith in Christ would require us to rely upon, that is, place our trust in Jesus according to whatever way(s) the gospel might demand.  Is this distinction significant?

Yes. This could involve a paradigm shift in how we might think about saving faith.

Whereas a popular notion regards faith as excluding any action, this richer understanding could include actions in order to rely upon Christ. If faith means trust and is not linguistically limited to just believing, then in whatever way the gospel calls a person to initially trust in Christ and subsequently continue to place his or her faith in him, this is what would constitute faith.

To state it bluntly, if the gospel teaches us to receive Christ by being baptized, then baptism would constitute a part of what it means to trust in Jesus, that is, to have saving faith.

In this case, those questions designed to dismiss baptism’s role in salvation such as, “Are you justified by faith or by faith plus baptism” become absurd. Why? For faith in Christ would require baptism!

So which is it? Does faith in Christ simply refer to our belief in Christ or does faith describe, as Hays’ observation suggests, whatever is required of us to place our confidence in Christ and to trust in him?

I am aware of several lines of reasoning defending the idea that faith is limited to belief. When examined, all of them fail.

1. Since Romans 10:9 states that the person who believes in his or her heart will be saved, some assert nothing else is required. This line of reasoning assumes Romans 10:9-10 provides an exhaustive prescription for faith.

However, if we start reading in Romans 9:30, we discover Paul’s focus was upon identifying why Israel had not been justified. She had not responded in faith. Using a text which even Israel would recognize as authoritative, Deuteronomy 30:14, Paul identified Israel’s barrier to faith being her failure to believe and confess. Paul claimed this belief and confession had to be rooted in Christ.

The text limited how Paul described the faith response. Yet, if Israel would overcome these barriers so that she would call upon the name of the Lord, she’d be saved.

Paul himself called upon the name of the Lord and was saved at his baptism (Acts 22:16). Furthermore, within Romans Paul described that transformative moment of being released from sins to begin a new life serving God as involving baptism (Romans 6:3-8; 6:17-18).

2. The claim has been made that Galatians 3 and Romans 4 define what constitutes faith, namely just believing.

However, both contexts reveal that Paul’s goal involved defending the principle that justification comes through faith against the notion that justification can come through the works of the Law. To achieve this goal, Paul needed to identify any situation where faith led to justification. He found one in Abram.

In the context where someone has a made a promise, to rely upon the one promising just requires believing the promise. When Abram believed he was justified by faith.

As such, Paul did not outline the details regarding how to rely upon Christ. He simply defended the principle of faith. Other contexts reveal what constitutes a faith response in those situations (Hebrews 11). Accordingly, to understand how to rely upon Christ people must first hear the gospel (Acts 2:36-40; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12-13).

3. Since Acts 4:4 describes conversion in terms of believing, some claim this is all that is required for faith.

However, Acts 4:4 functions the same as Acts 6:7, “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Both summarize. Neither provides details regarding what was involved in trusting in Christ.

On the other hand, many stories in Acts do include the details of conversion and these mention baptism (Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 16:30-34, etc.).

For some people to perceive that faith entails trusting in Christ, not just belief, will require a paradigm shift. However, the rewards are great. Suddenly a unified message arises out of the New Testament causing all of those “difficult” verses, such as Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21 and Titus 3:5, to magically move over to the easily understood category.



One Reply to “The crux of our saving faith”

  1. I decided that the original excerpt I posted needed to be extended to its current length in order to lend support to my subsequent comments about “believe.” You can find this quote in Richard B. Hays, The Letter to the Galatians (The New Interpreter’s Bible: 2000), p. 240.

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