What is faith? The Greek word is “pistis” and it appears 244 times in the New Testament. In its basic form it means “to believe”… Therefore when used as a noun, it could be translated “belief”. Therefore when used as a verb, it begs the obvious question… what do I believe? When used as a noun, the resulting question is, in what is my belief placed. In both instances, faith is not a stand-alone, passive, abstract concept. It’s existence can be validated only by the action that results. At school I was taught the six characteristics of living things. Therefore if I want to determine whether or not something is alive, I check the following. Does it move, feed, excrete, grow, reproduce and exhibit irritability? If the answer is “No” to all of the above, then that thing is dead. Full stop.
Faith is not that complicated. There is only one validating criterion. Does it work? If the answer is “No”, then it is dead.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV). The KJV says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Each of the words – “confidence” or “substance” and “assurance” or “evidence” – makes a vital and valid contribution to the meaning of Faith. It is great to be “confident” or completely certain about everything, especially exams. But to be of value, that confidence must be powered by knowledge that you studied for the exam, and then actually sitting the exam; or, that Santa Claus has always brought your Christmas gift, and this year will be no exception.
From the word “substance” we derive “substantial”. The inference is, “great importance” and “large amount”. The Prodigal Son wasted his “substance” on riotous living, although a different Greek word is used in that instance. “Assurance” is one step short of a “Guarantee”, and when verifiably coming from a qualified authority, it is a guarantee. “Evidence” is real, or at least must be sworn to as being believed to be real. On the basis of evidence, judges determine guilt.
Everything about Hebrews 1 tells us that both the causes and consequences of “faith” are active and inseparable from the concept of faith. In fact, without these, the concept of faith would not exist.
Now watch this as James goes further. It is not enough for your faith to be alive. It must result in right actions, if it is to be credited for righteousness. The Devils have faith, and act on their faith. What do they do? They shudder. But what should they do? Repent, if possible. When we see a brother hungry, we have faith, believe and are confidently assured that he will be fed. What do we do by way of works? Pronounce a verbal blessing on him. But what should we do? Feed him. Abraham would still have had faith if he had initially attempted to sacrifice a ram instead of Isaac. His faith would have been accompanied by works… but not the right works. It would not have been counted to him for righteousness. May we better understand our relationship with our ultimately resourceful Heavenly Father. May we understand that we were not saved by our good works, but that we were saved by Him, to do good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
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