In the New Testament, Jesus says some breathtaking things about faith and belief. He causes a fig tree to wither from the roots, and when the disciples are amazed he says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith (pistis) and do not doubt (diakrino), not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe (pisteuo), you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:21-22 NIV)
My reaction to the verses above has been: Have faith in what? Believe what? Faith in my ability to have enough faith? Faith in a perfect prayer – saying the perfect words at the perfect time with the perfect amount of faith? Faith in a magic formula? The answer lies in the meanings of those two Greek words, pistis (πίστις) and pisteuo (πιστεύω).
Pistis, translated faith above, means “conviction of the truth of anything … conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust … a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation … belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same … the character of one who can be relied on.”i
Pisteuo, translated believe, means “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in … to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something, saving faith … to entrust, especially one’s spiritual well-being, to Christ.”
Both words come from the root word peitho (πείθω), which means to trust, have confidence, believe, be convinced or persuaded, “to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person.” So, the belief or trust that Jesus is talking about here is not in how much faith I can dredge up or in my ability to say the magic words, but a deep confidence and trust in him and in his character. It is to have faith in the person of Jesus. It is to know Him and who He is. (By the way, the definition of the Greek word diakrino (διακρίνω) besides meaning, “to hesitate or doubt,” also means “to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend.” Sound familiar? See Hostile combatants and Hostile combatants two.)
Faith, Part One, talked about being fully committed to God in faith. “Abram believed (trusted, was certain of, believed in) the LORD, and he credited (reckoned, imputed) it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 NIV). Abram trusted, was certain of the Lord. He was fully committed. Why? I think it was because he knew God. He had conversations with God; he had been following God’s lead for a while now. He trusted God enough to leave everything and go off into an unknown place and future. And God knew Abraham too (Genesis 18:17-19). God even called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). They walked and talked together; they ate together (Genesis 18:1-6). Faith that goes beyond mere religious blind belief is one that has walked with God and experienced His love and so knows His character.
Matthew tells of a Canaanite woman whom Jesus praised for her faith (Matthew 15:22-28 NIV).
A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
I always thought that Jesus was impressed with her witty comeback about the dogs and the crumbs. Or, maybe it was her persistence – “she keeps crying out after us” – and that was part of it, I’m sure. But, look at what she says in verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” She didn’t call him Jesus of Nazareth, or rabbi, or teacher, but Lord, Son of David. To call him Lord, “expresses her faith in his power, dominion, and government, that all persons and things, and so all diseases were at his command, and control; and that being Lord of all, he could remove them at his pleasure: the other shows her knowledge and belief of him, as the Messiah, that being a name by which he was usually known by the Jews.”ii To call him Son of David was to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. She knew who he really was, what he had power to do.
Ann Voskamp has written that “[b]elief is a verb, something that you do.”iii In the same way, faith is not a noun, in that it is not something you have to capture, like a butterfly in a net, or a song you have to perform, technically correct, for a panel of judges. It is something you do; you believe in, you have faith in Jesus – leaning back on his chest at the table, reaching your hand out to grasp his catching yours, leaving all to follow. Fully committed. Faith that is fully committed is one that has walked with God and experienced his love and so knows his character, his ultimate goodness. So let us turn our eyes away from our puny selves and seek to know God. Let us press on to know him (Hosea 6:3)
“It is the faith that continually closes its eyes to the weakness of the creature and finds its joy in the sufficiency of an Almighty Savior that makes the soul strong and glad. It gives itself up to be led by the Holy Spirit into an ever deeper appreciation of that wonderful Savior whom God has given us—the Infinite Immanuel … there is something more necessary than the effort to exercise faith in each separate promise that is brought under our notice. What is of even greater importance is the cultivation of a trustful disposition toward God, the habit of always thinking of Him, of His ways and His works, with bright confiding hopefulness.” — Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ
“We do not think highly enough of this love of Christ. If we did, we would be more confident in it. I know I am far from alone when I say that I grieve that I do not trust his love more. It is most tenacious. It will never let go. Who can separate us from it? (Rom. 8:35).” — Douglas Taylor, blog Strong as Death http://worksworthdeclaring.blogspot.com/2011/11/strong-as-death.html (21 November 2011)
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69 NIV).
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day (2 Tim.1:12 NIV).
i All definitions in quotes come from Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament unless otherwise noted.
ii Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/gill/mat015.htm
iii One Thousand Gifts, p. 33