First of all, I am so blessed that I received some great constructive criticism, as well as cautions in the past 2 weeks. It is always good to have a doctrine check, and it helps to focus the thinking as well. Specifically two comments in particular:
One publicly… on my most recent post, that I have responded to in context.
One privately… from a close friend I greatly trust and admire.
So first of all, if I ever say something that is actually damaging to your faith in the Gospel, then please let me know… I am using quite a combative style here because I am trying to reach people like me who were trapped in “Christian-isms” that no longer have any personal meaning and relevance, and thus had a block to a true understanding of the Gospel. However, if in doing this, I am causing others to stumble, then I need to know that, and adjust, or at least clarify my meaning so that doesn’t happen. So thanks for calling me out Ken! I hope my response was satisfactory. If not, I welcome more dialogue!
The other reason I welcome the criticism, is because it helps to re-evaluate my understanding, which will drive me deeper into my new understanding, or help me have a course correction. So a comment I received from a friend, really helped me clarify my thinking on the 2 posts I wrote on faith. In this case, it has driven me deeper into my perception of “faith in something”, and so I want to clarify my thoughts further, in case this might benefit others as well.
Here was the great criticism I received from a friend:
Let me sum up his argument:
First he said that the term “faith” stands on its own in the old and new testament, and doesn’t have to be directly tied to something. And I agree with his premise. For the 243 times that the word we translate faith (more on this in a minute) is used in the new testament, only 35 or so times, is it clarified with the idea of “faith in something”. I pointed out in my first post on faith, that all of these times it is talking about faith in Jesus/God. But because most of the time the word is used we don’t have that clarification, we must assume that the new Testament writers are implying that every time the word is used, it is referring to a faith as “a trusting belief in God that leads to action”. How do we know this? Because never are we ever told to have faith in anything else, and every time that the noun faith is used, it is a positive thing. So far so good.
However, my friend’s point was that because we are never told to have faith in anything else, that we can’t have faith in anything else. He went on to say that,
“I couldn’t comprehend using the term “faith” other than the context of trust and belief in God. When Paul says that, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23), it’s an all-in statement. There is no option to have faith outside of God….
…So when I read the specific scripture references of putting “faith in” Jesus or God, I don’t read it as presenting an option of a destination of faith but rather just making a further emphasis or clarification of the connection to God.”
And this is where I have to disagree with my friend.
Here I think it is very important important to differentiate the WORD we translate faith, with the DOCTRINE of faith.
We both agree that every time that the word faith appears in the New Testament, that it is referring to something that is connected with God. And in our culture today, our english word “faith” is used this way. But this is where I think our understanding of the doctrine of faith is hampered, because the word comes to not mean anything more. However, the word we translate faith is the greek noun “pistis”. (Strongs 4102)
Now here is where things get tricky, so bear with me.
I propose that the greek work “pistis” means “a trusting belief that leads to action”. The word itself does not mean “a trusting belief in Jesus/God that leads to action”. If it did mean that in and of itself, then the new Testament wouldn’t need to ever clarify that we should have “pistis” in Jesus, because otherwise it would be saying we should have “a trusting belief in Jesus in Jesus that leads to action”. Clear as mud? Ok good let’s move on.
So in summary, let’s simplify here and say the word “pistis” means “a trusting belief that leads to action”, however the new Testament usage implies that everywhere this word is used within the new testament that we could (and should) amplify it to mean “a trusting belief in God/Jesus that leads to action”. So I have started to (for my own benefit in understanding the word and doctrine of faith) replaced the english word “faith” with “a trusting belief in God/Jesus that leads to action”.
So now the tricky part… there is another greek word derived from “pistis” that is a verb, which is the word “pisteuo”. (Strongs 4100) So in the greek “faith” has a verb form. And this is where our translation fails us. I think that to have a proper understanding of the word “pistis” we would need to have a verb form of it. But we don’t have an english verb from of faith. We don’t say, I faithed in God, or I am faithing for my salvation, so we translate “pisteuo” as believing, or believed, trusting or trusted. And in the new testament, “pisteuo” can be a negative thing, and can be in something other than God.
This doesn’t change what I believe about the doctrine of “pistis”, that every time we are to have it in the new testament, it means we are to have a “trusting belief in Jesus/God that leads to action”. However it does show that our english word faith causes some issues with clearly understanding the doctrine of faith.
So I still hold that it is not wrong to use the english word faith (as a translation of the greek word “pistis”) as something that we do often have in other things. And if we don’t talk about the “trusting belief in other things that leads to action” then we can’t properly understand what it means to have a “trusting belief in Jesus/God that leads to action.”
All that to get me to this point… I believe it is so important to not put our faith in other things:
Many have a trusting belief in the security of government and monetary systems that leads to action. So they work hard, they save a little extra each month and they slowly build up a good nest egg. They have built their life on the hope that all of this will pay off. They are assured that everything is going to be all right. But look at how much faith they have:
- They have faith that the inflation rate won’t outpace their investments and leave them with less money that they saved.
- They have faith in the institutions that they are investing in, that they won’t go bankrupt and destroy all of their savings
- They have faith in a government that will still be functional to maintain a currency when they retire
- They have faith in their ability to remain healthy to live long enough to enjoy their investments
- They have faith in…. do I need to go on?
I believe this helps us understand Romans 14:23. If you agree with my definition of “pistis” in the new testament as “a trusting belief in Jesus/God that leads to action” then this verse reads:
Whatever is not from “a trusting belief in Jesus/God that leads to action” is sin.
Now this verse isn’t confusing anymore, but rather is working to broaden our view of sin! Sin isn’t just “bad things we do” but rather sin is building our lives on anything that is not trusting in God. That person or couple or family who is building their lives on their faith in everything but Jesus/God, are actually living in sin. Now it appears that they aren’t doing “bad stuff” because on the surface they aren’t breaking commandments 2-10, but in fact they are breaking the first one. They do have other God’s before him… those things that they are putting their faith in are idols that they are trusting in, building their lives on, and finding their identity in.
This is why “Whatever is not from faith [in God/Jesus] is sin.”
Whatever is from faith in government, whatever is from faith in monetary systems, whatever is from faith in wordily institutions… is sin, because it causes us to build our lives, and thus find our identity in, and give our worship to something that is not the life giving, sustaining person in charge of the universe. It’s taking good things, and making them ultimate things. (Sorry it wouldn’t be a good post unless I inserted a Keller-ism)
In a sense, I am agreeing with my friend’s statement that “There is no option to have faith outside of God”, because isn’t it foolishness to have faith in anything else? I have to steal a thought that this same friend shared with me in discussing this topic. In reference to the comparison of putting your faith in God, or putting your faith in the systems of this world…
“I would argue that the alternatives to God are not even part of the same sport. It’s not the option of a balanced, nutritious, delicious meal versus a pile of sugar. It’s the balanced, nutritious, delicious meal versus a nail in the eye.”
Build your house upon the rock, and not on the sand… and your house will stand. (Matt 7:24-27)