This paper was originally published in May 1997. It was produced using a word processor that didn’t allow me to use italics, footnotes etc. Now (July 2006) I’m scanning this paper into my computer to put on the internet. I am modifying the paper a little at this time. And I am improving this paper a little in October, 2011, at the time I am preparing these excerpts..
I used the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition, unless otherwise noted. I frequently make comments in brackets in the middle of quotations [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(These page numbers go with the complete version of this paper.)
More on the Question Whether Saving Faith Is Just a Gift of God..... 5
More on the Meaning of Faith/Believe..... 8
Some Passages that Help Show that Saving Faith Is Our Part:
Some More Passages that Will Help Us Understand Faith:
Luke 18:1-8..... 49
Acts 26:18..... 49
Romans 4:16-21..... 50
1 Corinthians 2:5..... 51
2 Corinthians 5:7; 4:13..... 52
Ephesians 3:14-21..... 53
Ephesians 6:10-20..... 55
James 1:2-8..... 56
James 2:14-26..... 58
Some Passages that Exhort Us to Pray/Ask/Look to God in Faith and Not Doubt in Our Hearts:
Mark 11:20-25..... 59
Matt. 21:21, 22..... 61
Matt. 14:25-31..... 61
Matt. 6:30-33..... 62
Matt. 17:14-21..... 62
Luke 17:5-10..... 64
1 John 3:16-23..... 65
Some Passages that Speak of Healing Coming Through Faith
Matthew 8:5-13..... 66
Matthew 9:27-31..... 67
Matthew 15:21-28..... 67
Mark 5:25-34..... 67
Luke 5:17-26..... 68
Luke 17:11-19..... 69
Luke 18:35-43..... 70
Acts 14:8-10..... 70
James 5:14-26..... 71
Mark 6:1-6a (Matthew 13:54-58)..... 72
Romans 12:1-8..... 72
Ephesians 2:1-10..... 77
Romans 14:1-23..... 80
Luke 8:4-18..... 83
A Chart that Will Help Us Understand the Meaning of the Words Faith/Believe and Other Key New Testament Words..... 86
Galatians 3:1-29..... 87
Galatians 5:2-6..... 92
Acts 15:1-11..... 94
Meaning of the Words Baptism [or, Immersion] in the Holy Spirit..... 96
A Discussion of Acts 19:1-7..... 98
A Brief Discussion of Acts 8:4-24..... 99
INTRODUCTION. I have several reasons for wanting to write this paper. For one thing, in my last paper (“Once Saved, Always Saved?”), we discussed the influential view of Augustine, which was followed by the Calvinists, and others. He taught that man is so fallen, so totally depraved, that he cannot respond to, or cooperate with, God’s saving grace; God must do everything, including giving faith to the ones that He chooses (the elect). In that paper I mentioned that it seems clear to me that the Bible clearly shows that faith is something we do (as we respond to and cooperate with God’s saving grace in Christ), but that it was beyond the scope of that paper to discuss this topic. In this present paper, we’ll deal extensively with this important topic.
I feel it’s important for me to say that I don’t want to be seen as attacking other Christians. I sincerely respect, for example, a great number of Christian leaders who hold the Augustinian/Calvinistic viewpoint, and I have learned a lot from them. However, I believe it’s very important for us to make every effort to find the balanced truth of what God says in His Word. What we believe will very much affect our Christian walk, and we pay a price for every error. The primary loyalty of each one of us must be to God Himself, and to the truth (His truth). We desperately need the balanced truth. Most of us have plenty of room to balance out what we believe. I’m making every effort to present the balanced truth in this paper (and in all my teaching). I’m trying to be fair to viewpoints I disagree with, including fairly treating the verses used to back up those viewpoints.
The noun “faith” and the companion verb “believe” are certainly two of the most important words used in the New Testament. These often-used words are all the more important for us to understand because, probably more than any other words, they show our role in God’s salvation plan. We certainly need to understand our role if we are going to fulfill it. However, there is much confusion in the Body of Christ regarding these words. I wish the confusion were limited to these key words. There is also confusion regarding other key words like grace, righteousness, holiness, redemption, and justification.
The Greek noun “pistis” is used 243 times in the New Testament. In the NASB it is translated faith 238 times and faithfulness 3 times. The Greek verb “pisteuo,” which was derived from pistis, is also used 243 times in the New Testament. In the NASB it is translated as follows: believe (118), believed (73), believers (3), believes (29), believing (10), entrust (1), entrusted (6), entrusting (1), has faith (1). Pistis is also translated pledge (1), proof (1); and pisteuo do (1). (These numbers were taken from the “Greek Dictionary” in the back of the “Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible” for the NASB. A Concordance like this is one of the most important Bible study tools available.) In general there is no difference in meaning between saying “have faith in God/Christ/the gospel” and saying “believe in God/Christ/the gospel.” For one thing, different writers of the New Testament sometimes prefer one word over another. The Gospel of John, for example, uses the verb believe (in some form) 98 times, but it does not use the noun faith one time.
The best place to learn the meaning of Bible words (like faith/believe) is the Bible itself (using an Exhaustive Concordance), studying the words in their Biblical contexts. In this paper we’ll look at more than a hundred verses that use faith/believe, including quite a few verses that are (from my point of view) often misinterpreted. Sometimes I’ll mention the wrong interpretation, but often I’ll just give what I consider to be the correct interpretation. This study will not be limited to the meaning of faith/believe; we will be discussing the overall meaning of some very important Bible passages. (All the passages use the words faith/believe.) For many years most of my teaching has been verse-by-verse teaching of books of the Bible, or sometimes just Bible passages, and I want to get this teaching down on paper. Frequently I’ll refer the reader to discussions of Bible passages contained in my paper, “Once Saved, Always Saved?” or in my book, “Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
More on the Question Whether Saving Faith Is Just a Gift of God. It really is important to find the balanced truth regarding what the Bible says regarding this question. There is much confusion in the Body of Christ. At one extreme there are people waiting (sometimes even passively waiting) for God to give them saving faith. We are responsible before God to respond to His grace with repentance and faith (which includes making it a top priority to find out what He says in His Word, especially regarding the gospel of new-covenant salvation). We must always be seeking for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. FAITH INCLUDES TRUSTING GOD AND SUBMITTING OUR WILL TO HIM, HAVING A DESIRE TO DO HIS WILL. (See on John 5:40; 7:17.) TO NOT SUBMIT TO THE GOSPEL IN FAITH IS REGARDED AS DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD. (See on Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8.), AND IT IS TO MAKE GOD A LIAR (1 John 5:10-12).
FAITH IN CHRIST/THE GOSPEL INCLUDES HAVING A DESIRE TO BECOME/TO BE RIGHTEOUS BEFORE GOD (in accordance with what He requires of us in His Word). (See on John 3:19-21; 2 Thess. 2:10-12. In these verses we are informed that THE REASON [it is at least a big part of the reason] THAT PEOPLE DON’T SUBMIT TO CHRIST/THE GOSPEL IS THAT THEY LOVE/TAKE PLEASURE IN SIN AND THEY DON’T WANT TO CHANGE].) On the need for us to press on in faith to the end of the race, including the fact that this doesn’t just happen automatically, see, for example, on Rom. 11:19-23; 1 Thess. 3:5-10. I’ll have more to say regarding these issues as we continue in the Introduction and throughout this paper.
At another extreme there are people boasting in their faith. Saving faith (faith that results in salvation) is nothing for us to boast about any more than a drowning man could boast in himself for taking hold of a life preserver instead of drowning. No one who understands faith (whether it is saving faith, faith for holiness, faith for healing, faith for miracles, etc.) will boast in himself. When we submit to God and His saving gospel by faith, we glorify Him; however, to the extent we do not submit to Him and doubt His Word, we rob Him of glory. Having faith in God and His Word in our hearts, or doubting God and His Word in our hearts are things we do. But we do not have faith in God and His Word independent of His grace, and He must always receive all the glory.
For some background on the Augustinian/Calvinistic viewpoint, see “Once Saved, Always Saved?” (pages 20-24) and much of the Appendix of that paper. In his earlier days Augustine believed that man is able to believe in response to God’s call in the gospel. But in his later view, which was influenced in part by Romans chapter 9, he taught that faith is a work of God wrought in the elect. (The two preceding sentences were derived from “The History of Doctrines” by Reinhold Seeburg, Vol. 1 [Baker, 1977], page 339.)
As we discussed in “Once Saved, Always Saved?” Augustine in his later view said that man is so fallen that he has no capacity to cooperate with God’s grace or to have faith and that if we did have any capacity to cooperate with God’s grace or to have faith then we would have something to boast about in ourselves and God would not get the full glory for our salvation, since it would not be totally of grace. However, the apostle Paul, for example, did not teach that our appropriating God’s saving grace by faith somehow detracted from the fact that we are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ (see Rom. 4:16, for example). We do not earn salvation by receiving God’s grace in Christ by faith. Rather we appropriate His grace through faith.
I’m not an expert on Augustine, and I don’t want to be overly critical, but I do want to mention two other areas where he changed his viewpoint in later years with (from my point of view) very negative results. The results were so significant because Augustine was so influential. The topic I have been the most interested in for the past thirty years is holiness and victory over sin (it’s about forty-five years now). It became obvious very early in my Christian walk and studies that the interpretation of Romans chapter 7 is of crucial significance. (I won’t get into much detail here, but see the discussion of Romans 7 in my book “Holiness and Victory Over Sin,” starting on page 104 and see my paper titled, “The Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 and Righteousness and Holiness.”) The wrong interpretation of Romans 7 (which has been widespread since the days of Augustine) tends to have enough power, in itself, to render faith for victory over sin essentially impossible, no matter how many other passages clearly teach victory over sin, and there are many.
In his earlier years Augustine held the almost unanimous viewpoint (of the Christian church up to that time) that Rom.7:14-25 wasn’t speaking of a Christian. But in his later years, Augustine adopted the viewpoint that those verses are speaking of a Christian. However, his new viewpoint included a very important qualification (a qualification that few seem to be aware of), but this qualification has typically been abandoned by those who have adopted his new viewpoint. His important qualification was this: If the person spoken of in Romans 7 is to be understood of Paul as a Christian, it speaks of him having sinful thoughts and desires, not of him actually sinning. This new viewpoint wasn’t original with Augustine; he mentioned that he learned it from others. The only pre-Augustine writers that I am aware of who taught the later viewpoint of Augustine are Methodius (AD 260-312); Epiphanius (about AD 315-403); and Gregory of Nazianzus [about AD 329-390]. Significantly, they all included the important qualification.
Another topic where Augustine changed his viewpoint in his later years dealt with eschatology. In his earlier years Augustine held the pre-millennial viewpoint, which was the dominant viewpoint in the early church, and I’m convinced is the correct viewpoint. In his later years Augustine abandoned the pre-millennial viewpoint. This also turned out to be very significant because of his extensive influence. I’ll quote from J. W. Walvoord (pages 47, 48 of “The Millennial Kingdom” [Zondervan, 1959]): “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Augustine in the history of theology. Not only did his thinking crystallize the theology which preceded him, but to a large extent he laid the foundations for both Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine. ...
The importance of Augustine to the history of amillennialism [meaning no millennium] is derived from two reasons. First there are no acceptable exponents of amillennialism before Augustine. … Augustine is, then, the first theologian of solid influence who adopted amillennialism.
The second reason for the importance of Augustinian amillennialism is that his viewpoint became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Church, and it was adopted with variations by most of the Protestant Reformers along with many other teachings of Augustine. The writings of Augustine, in fact, occasioned the shelving of premillennialism by most of the organized church.”
Augustine’s later viewpoint (regarding mankind being so totally fallen that God must do everything, including giving us faith) was followed by John Calvin and the Calvinists (and others). You can learn a lot from Augustine and the Calvinists, but it seems clear to me they miss the Scriptural balance here. WHEN YOU GO TO THE BIBLE TO SEE HOW THE WORDS FAITH/BELIEVE ARE USED, YOU FIND A MULTITUDE OF EXAMPLES (EASILY A HUNDRED VERSES) WHERE THE CONTEXT SHOWS THAT FAITH IS SOMETHING MAN DOES (IN RESPONSE TO, AND IN COOPERATON WITH, GOD’S GRACE). Quite a few pages of this paper are devoted to a discussion of many of these verses which show, quite clearly I believe, that faith is something we do (but not something we do independent of the grace of God). See the section titled “Some Passages that Help Show that Saving Faith Is Our Part.” I should also mention that many other verses discussed in this paper that are not included in this section are applicable to this topic, including verses where people are commended for faith and/or receive blessings because of their faith, and verses where people are rebuked for their unbelief/doubting. Another section is titled “Some Passages that Have Been Used to Try to Show that God Just Gives Us Saving Faith.” Although these verses will help bring some balance to the picture - thank God for the balanced truth! - none of these verses comes close to saying that God gives us saving faith.
We desperately need the balanced truth. If we understand faith in a way that gives man some glory, instead of giving it all to God, we’re missing the balanced truth. Faith appropriates (with empty hands) the salvation that God has made available to us at a very high cost to Himself. Faith isn’t a work of man; it doesn’t earn salvation in any sense. (I have heard Christians speak as if they earned/deserved the things they had received from God through faith. The more we truly understand, and walk in, Bible faith, the more we will be humble and thankful before God. There’s no room for pride, arrogance, or presumption.) And it’s very clear that we couldn’t have saving faith if God didn’t do His part first, and continuously.
God took the initiative. He sent His Son to die for us and raised Him from the dead; He kept the devil from devouring us; He kept the gospel alive on the earth and called us as individuals to Himself by the gospel; furthermore, there is a convicting, revealing, and drawing work of God. Our faith in Christ/the gospel is dependent on God’s grace, and He must receive all the glory. But, again, this is very different from saying that God gives us saving faith. The fact that we must respond to, and cooperate with, God’s saving grace doesn’t detract from the fact that our salvation is entirely of God’s grace, or rob God of any glory. On the other hand, we do deny God the glory He should receive when we fail to understand and to act in accordance with His Word by His grace through faith.
Although the Augustinian/Calvinistic viewpoint is the primary source of the idea that God gives us saving faith, there are many others who don’t hold the Augustinian/Calvinistic viewpoint who speak of God giving us saving faith. However, they frequently don’t mean very much by their assertions. They say things like God gives us faith by giving us the gospel. (There is no doubt that we couldn’t have faith in the gospel if God didn’t give us the gospel, but giving us the gospel doesn’t begin to equate with giving us faith. We still have to submit to the gospel in faith after hearing it. Many hear the gospel and reject it. [See, for example, on Rom. 10:16-18.] It is also true that we must continue to press on in faith [by God’s enabling grace] to the end of the race.) Those who say that God gives us saving faith typically appeal to a few verses like Eph. 2:8 and Rom. 12:3. In my opinion their understanding of these verses is clearly wrong. These verses are discussed in the Appendix of this paper. See the Table of Contents.
More on the Meaning of Faith/Believe. First I should say that when a word is used hundreds of times in different contexts and by different writers (as is true with faith/believe), you will find the word (almost any word) used with some breadth of meaning. The apostle Paul, for example, uses the word faith somewhat differently than James, but (once you understand what they are saying) they do not contradict one another. (See on James 2:14-26.) And Paul uses the word faith more than one way, depending on the context. Each word must be studied in its context before its meaning can be adequately discerned. Most people are not aware just how much the context in which words are used affects the meaning of those words.
FAITH IS AN ATTITUDE OF THE HEART WHERE WE PUT GOD FIRST (we love Him as required by the first and foremost commandment); WE TRUST HIM; WE BELIEVE (HAVE FAITH IN) WHAT HE SAYS, AND WE OBEY HIM. (Putting God first involves where we spend our time, our energy, our talents, our money, etc. Regarding the fact that faith/believing includes obedience to Christ and the gospel, see, for example, John 3:36, “He who BELIEVES in the Son has eternal life; but he who DOES NOT OBEY the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him”; and see on Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8.) However, and especially in the new covenant, when we speak of obeying God in our daily lives, we must emphasize that we are enabled to obey through His saving work and by His grace/Spirit. By faith we respond to, and cooperate with, God’s grace/Spirit.
By faith we stop rebelling against God and His divine order, and we humbly submit ourselves (our hearts; our entire being, spirit, soul, and body) to Him. We submit to Him as our Creator, our Savior, and our Lord. We begin to live in line with the fact that the God of the Bible really is God. We were created with the capacity for, and the need to continuously manifest, faith in God. Unbelief, along with pride, is at the root of sin and rebellion. By faith we stop acting as if God were non-existent, or just irrelevant and a liar, and we submit to Him and His Word. By faith we make God and His Word (especially the gospel) top priority. We must know the truth; we must speak the truth; we must pray in line with the truth; we must live the truth. Our goal must be to bring ourselves/our lives into divine order - God’s will must be done! If we’re not careful, we’ll be trying to use faith to bring our will to pass. We must make it a top priority to learn, and to submit to, God’s will for our lives.
Faith is of the heart. We are responsible for the condition of our heart. For one thing, what we were doing yesterday (and especially as related to the things of God) has helped establish the condition of our heart today. The good news is that we can get our heart fixed up by beginning to respond to God and His Word, especially the gospel. (See, for example, Luke 8:4-18 on the Parable of the Sower.) God, by His grace/Spirit enables us to be strong in faith and faithfulness (see Gal. 5:22; Eph. 3:16, 17).
Faith isn’t a work, but true, saving faith cannot help but work (doing righteousness/the works of God, which includes walking in love) by God’s grace/Spirit. (See on Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:10; and James 2:14-26.) But didn’t the apostle Paul teach that it’s faith not works? He did, but he would be the first to agree that we must have the works that come with being a new creation in Christ Jesus (as the first two references just cited confirm). What Paul was against was works without faith in Christ (as was the case with most of his countrymen); he was against bringing the ceremonial works of the old covenant into the new covenant (as was the case with the Judaizers); against works of the flesh being done for the glory of man; and against works being done trying to earn what God had already freely given in Christ.
Our faith must have its proper object, namely God/Christ/the Word of God (especially the gospel). Our faith cannot be in man, in our faith, or in anything else unworthy of ultimate trust. Some Christians have gotten into serious error by disconnecting faith from its proper object: One danger (and some Christians have done this) is that of tapping into occult, demonic powers instead of the power associated with God’s kingdom. This, of course, will always work for ultimate evil, not good. God demands that we make Him and His Word top priority in our hearts, manifesting an undivided loyalty. Doubting God and His Word manifests a divided heart. (See on James 1:5-8.) Many Christians don’t seem to realize how important it is for us to reject doubt in our hearts. Having thoughts of doubt in the head doesn’t mean that we have doubted in our hearts. Thoughts in the head can come from many sources. We must, of course, resist doubt in our heads, but it is much more important to keep it out of our hearts.
We have every reason to have faith in God and His Word (the Bible); they are totally trustworthy and worthy of our faith. The more we know the truth about God the easier it is to have faith in Him. But Satan and this world (Satan is the god of this world [2 Cor. 4:4]) have as a top priority to attack the character of God and His Word before mankind; this started in the Garden of Eden. Satan and his hosts are committed to the task of trying to keep us from faith, or to get us out of faith. They use such things as lies and half-truths, and temptations to doubt, discouragement, and fear (that is, to fear other persons or things instead of God). They are always trying to get us to sin, to keep us in bondage to sin, and to keep us feeling guilty. We must make walking in God’s truth and His righteousness and holiness a top priority, and we must be quick to repent and ask for forgiveness if we should sin. Satan and his hosts also try to keep us busy doing the things of the world, so that there is no time left for the things of God. We must keep our eyes fixed on God in faith. By faith we can see the unseen. (See on 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1-40.)
The fact that we may be in trials and hard places doesn’t mean that we’re out of the will of God. We don’t have to panic, doubt, get discouraged, etc. We can trust God and rest in Him. He will guide us and bring us through every trial. However, if our sin is the cause of our trial/problem, the only answer is for us to repent and begin to do what we must do (by God’s grace). Standing in faith is not the appropriate response when repentance is required.
I would like to quote the last paragraph from the article on faith, by Leon Morris, in the “New Bible Dictionary,” Second Edition (Inter-Varsity Press, 1982, page 368): “Faith is clearly one of the most important concepts in the whole NT. Everywhere it is required and its importance insisted upon. Faith means abandoning all trust in one’s own resources. Faith means casting oneself unreservedly on the mercy of God. Faith means laying hold on the promises of God in Christ, relying entirely on the finished work of Christ for salvation, and on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God for daily strength. Faith implies complete reliance on God and full obedience to God.”
What do we receive by faith? Literally everything we need for this life and the life to come. According to God’s Word, it has all been provided for us in Christ Jesus by God’s grace. To illustrate: We are justified by faith (for example, Gal. 3:8); we are saved by faith (for example, Eph. 2:8); we receive the Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:2); our hearts are cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9); we become sons of God by faith (Gal. 3:26); we receive, and walk in, the righteousness of God by faith (for example, Phil. 3:9) [Having sought first for God’s kingdom and His righteousness in faith, we can be assured that the things we need for our daily lives, like food and clothing, will be provided by God – Matt. 6:33.]; we are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18); we live by faith (Gal. 2:20); we walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7); we preserve our souls by faith (Heb. 10:39); we overcome the world by faith (1 John 5:4); we please God by faith (Heb. 11:6); we glorify God by faith (Rom. 4:20); we gain God’s approval by faith (Heb. 11:2, 39); we are healed by faith (for example, Mark 5:34); we move the mountains that need to be moved and receive the things we need from God by faith (for example, Mark 11:22-24); and we receive the things promised for this age and the age to come (especially referring to full salvation now and eternal glory in the age to come) by faith (for example, Heb. 6:12). (Each of the verses listed here actually uses the word faith. Most of the verses listed are discussed in this paper.)