“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
1 John 5:4 NIV
How many of us know the difference between faith and belief? That's a legitimate question with the way that we use the two terms interchangeably these days. And it begs questions like, "Can we believe and not be saved?" Throughout the Bible we see questions like this dealt with on a regular basis, but we still stumble over the exact difference between the two with regards to Christ and our salvation. For example, James 2:9 tells us that the demons believe, and shudder. So if belief is what is required for salvation, how is it that demons aren't saved?
That has to do with the fact that faith is how we are saved. And yes, you can believe and still not be saved. As I see it, Romans 10:10 breaks this out for us rather nicely.
"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified" which means you are judicially appointed worthy by God. God judges you and justifies your heart. This means that with God's drawing grace, he has brought you along to an understanding that you are in need of saving, that you cannot save yourself, and that only Christ can through your repentance and acceptance of his free gift of grace. That belief in your heart is what God can only see and know and weigh. That's why no one but God can judge whether or not a profession of faith is sincere. Well, God and the person making the profession, that is. Which brings us to the second part. When God justifies us in that judgment, we are then forgiven our sins, and imparted faith. "and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."
Heart belief pushes us into God’s righteousness and the impartation of faith to us - It is our mouth professing that faith that saves us. Simply put, it is relational interaction with God through Christ that imparts faith to us through our salvation.
That still doesn't exactly answer the question of what is faith. Very simply put, faith is the enabling power of God in the life of an individual. Faith comes from God alone and is the exclusive possession of the believer. So, while faith only comes from God, it is resident in ourselves as our possession. Nevertheless, you still can't boast on yourself as to your faith because you didn't make it available, and you cannot add to it on your own. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it is by grace alone through faith alone that we are saved, and this not by ourselves, it is from God. When you read that passage, the "it" isn't salvation or grace, but rather faith.
Difficult to wrap your head around
If you're not still asking, "Which came first? Belief or faith?" then you might be asking, "What do we do when we have it?"
Or, "Are we acting on our faith?"
Or "If we’ve overcome the whole world with faith, why don’t we act like it?"
If we get past the chicken or the egg aspect of belief and faith, there's a minefield of other questions to ask. There's a massive amount of uncertainty that surrounds faith inside a community of faith and the irony is so thick you need a commercial-grade chainsaw with which to cut it.
Let me ask you something. Have you ever had a decision that was difficult? I mean a real head-scratcher of a question. I'm not talking about where to eat lunch after church, I'm talking about questions with life-changing ramifications. Wouldn't it be great to get a cheat code for life when those come up? Something that could just get you past the issue with a little hint? Or for some of us older folks, it'd be like flipping the crossword puzzle upside down and taking a fast glance at the answer key to get around that one line we're stuck on.
Faith is that cheat code. Faith is that peek at the answer key, and the difference is, it's God giving it to us freely instead of us just taking it on the sly.
God’s perfect will is found in faith because faith is God's enabling power in our lives. Power to hear, see and act far beyond what we can do physically. What's more, if we don’t seek his will through faith, we won’t find it his will because through faith is the only way it is given to us. Look at it this way, without faith, we miss God’s will because we can’t hear it, we miss God’s blessing because we can’t see it and we have no communion because we can’t converse with him. We're literally deaf, dumb and blind without faith.
Faith is how God's purpose for our life is revealed because faith is the ability to hear God's word, communicate with Him, and act upon our instructions. Faith is about divine persuasion and revelation we receive by trusting God. The only way this comes about is via the Holy Spirit.
The primary difference between faith and belief
Belief or confidence comes from man and our fleshly nature, founded on tangible, non-spiritual experiences and facts. Faith is the spiritual side of that coin, and while faith is distinctly different from belief, belief is a component involved in faith. Hence all the confusion.
The Greek word for faith that is used outside a religious context means, "warranty" or "guarantee." When we apply it to our experience in sanctifying grace, faith can be described as God's warranty, certifying what He reveals to us will happen, because it’s actually already done. This is why it can be hard to step into God’s will because it relies on God's persuasion after a lifetime of our tactile sense of belief. For a believer, though, if we don’t step into his will through that gift of faith, we will continue to languish here in the belief side.
Languishing is not God’s plan. It never was. His plan was always to establish faith in us, and then grow it, expanding our reach among the mission field to which God assigned us. 2 Corinthians 10:15 specifically addresses this pattern of growth and purpose of existence, and it is only through the indwelling work of God's Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, the author, and perfecter of our faith. We are to be overcomers. Warriors. Victorious in power over the principalities of a dark authority coming to destroy and devastate God's children.
In short, we weren't called to stand still.
Catching in faith
We move in belief towards the cross, but once we’re past it, we’re running on faith. I recently gave an example of this in my church on Sunday morning. Before service, I asked an older member of our church to come up and to cup his hands together. That's it. Well, that and he had to trust me. He agreed, smiled and sat down. When the time came during my message for Bob to come up, I filled the whole congregation in on what I was going to do.
I said, "I will jump in the air, Bob will hold out his hands and catch me."
Needless to say, a lot of people looked at me like I had six heads and three were on fire. I asked Bob if he trusted me, and his response was priceless. "I'm willing to try."
That is powerful right there. Hold on to that a moment.
I circled back to the congregation and asked them if they believed Bob could catch me after I jumped in the air. They sized up the 180 lb. pastor in front of them and the 90-year-old congregant next to him and all but one said they didn't believe me.
So I got Bob ready, and then I jumped in the air ... and landed straight back where I was standing. Immediately I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small, wadded up piece of paper and dropped it into Bob's waiting hands. I asked Bob to unfold the paper and read what it said on it.
"Me," he read.
So, you see, I jumped in the air, and Bob caught, "me." There are two takeaways here. Three if you count the pastor who is a master of dad jokes. The first is this. Anything God asks us to trust him over will almost NEVER look like we expect it to look. God’s ways are higher than ours, and that is the very difference between our perceptions and His purpose. As John Eldredge once elaborated, we were never meant to understand God's ways, anyway. If we understood them, it would be because God explained them, and then we would be functioning on belief. We'd still be living in the flesh. We would still be living under death.
Re-read that and let it sink in, we would still be living under death.
But God's ways are higher. They are ways that provide grace for us as His people, faith for us as His children, co-heirs with Christ. We aren't called to live under the belief of our flesh, but to overcome the world through the faith that God imparts and perfects in our lives.
In our lives, we are or we know someone who needs Christ. We/they can be reached. We/they can be healed. We/they can have life more abundant. None of that happens through belief, and all of it happens only through the work of faith-building done by the Holy Spirit inside of us. That's how a new "authority inside" of us is created and our lives are truly renewed and a world is overcome.
If you are born again, you are past the point of belief. We are to move in faith, hearing God, being in communication with Him, being faith-perfected by Christ. With the Holy Spirit to guide us, we don’t have to mark the path for ourselves. We have a guide, a comforter, and we are never alone.
I told Bob ahead of time what was going to happen. If the church knew what I was going to do, they'd have believed he could do it, but that belief instead of faith would have placed them on the opposite side of where they needed to be. Because of their perceived circumstance most didn’t believe. Bob could believe just enough to have faith in me because I'd been persuasive enough during my request. That's how this works.
This is a map of the path to purpose. God’s preferred will is found in faith because faith allows us to hear God speak in us if we are actively listening like in Habbakuk 2:1. As a church, we’ve been missing the tremendous depth and power of this point of active listening in our faith. How long have we labored? How long have we hoped? How long have we struggled under our own power and belief? We need to stop laboring in the field of belief and go into the field of faith so we can hear God’s orders and do the work He has set aside for us. It’s there that we will find our work bears fruit because when we are there, it’s actually God’s work and God’s glory.
Done. Not underway, but actually already done and completed because God has always faithfully delivered on His promises. Anything He tells us via divine persuasion, that is to say, faith, will be revealed in due time as done. What is more, we will store up rewards for ourselves in heaven in the entire process.
Jumping, trusting and not seeing
When I asked Bob if he would do the sermon illustration Bob had a little understanding of what it was about, but not the whole. His comment was brilliant. "I'm willing to try." As believers, we're often living in the "try" much more than in the "do," and that is OK. This is God growing our faith, Christ perfecting it, the Holy Spirit molding and shaping it into a new authority inside us. Bob trusted what I had told him, but had to go on faith for the rest. He had to have faith that I had the plan all worked out from the jump.
That's us, ladies and gents. That is us.
The congregation didn't have faith because they weren't a believer from the beginning of this illustration. They hadn't been imparted faith/divine persuasion because they hadn't been part of the drawing aside, the convincing and the request for trust. They hadn't experienced what Bob had experienced, so they didn't they trust as he trusted, nor were they willing to try. That’s much like the world sees us, but still doesn't see God. They can't because faith is for those whose belief has been justified by God, and that gift is exclusive.
On the other hand, all Bob had to do was to rely on his faith in me, hold out his hands and receive what I had worked out ahead of time. That’s what God asks us to do. Rely on faith, hold out our hands, and receive what God has worked out ahead of time.
That’s the revelation that we find in our faith, and it is the path to our purpose.
Roland Millington is a United Methodist Church pastor serving Brimfield United Methodist Church in Brimfield, IL. He's the author of two books available digitally through our store, or as hard copies through LuLu Publishing.