A devotional author I follow defined faith in this way:
“What, then, is faith? It’s a decision of the will to act on what the mind believes is true. The mind reads something in Scripture, and in our spirit, the Holy Spirit says, “Yes, that’s true,” and we say, “Yes, that’s true,” and then in our will, we make a choice to step out in that truth. That step is faith. There is no power in faith itself. The power is found in the object of faith: Jesus Christ.”
Do you see the problem(s)?
This is an excellent example of three common confusions when it comes to understanding faith.
First, he separates faith and belief. He says, “What, then, is faith? It’s a decision of the will to act on what the mind believes is true” (emphasis added). Apparently, you can believe that something is true, but that is not faith. That is a linguistic error. The problem is that English adopted different words from different languages, so that believe comes from the Middle English bileven, from Old English belyfan, down to Old Saxon gilobian. Meanwhile, faith comes from the French foi from the Latin fides. However, even though those sound like two very different words, they do not mean different things. Instead, in English, they are the verb and the noun for the same thing—being persuaded that something is true or taking someone at their word. In the NT, the Greek verb pisteuō is often translated as believe, while the related noun pistis is often translated into English as faith. If you believe, you have faith; if you have faith, you believe.
Second, he defines faith as a choice. He says, “It’s a decision of the will…” and “we make a choice to step out in that truth.” Although he is right that you can choose to act on your beliefs (I’ll address that in the third point), it is wrong to say that you choose your beliefs. No one can do that. For example, if you live in the United States, you cannot choose to believe that you live in Canada. You can imagine that you do, but you cannot choose to believe it. However, even though you cannot directly choose your beliefs, you can influence them indirectly. For example, if you want to believe that you live in Canada, you can choose to move there, and then you will believe it.
Third, he confuses faith with action. Though he initially defines faith as the choice to take a step, he also says, “That step is faith.” No, it is not. What you believe and what you do are two different issues. We are justified by faith apart from works (Gal 2:16). Would it make sense for Paul to say, “You are justified by taking a step apart from works?” No. If you believe that something is true, you should choose to act on that faith. But you might not. You might have conflicting beliefs, desires, or motivations and so choose to act inconsistently with at least some of your beliefs.
However, I strongly agree with the author’s last statement: “There is no power in faith itself. The power is found in the object of faith: Jesus Christ.”
That is right.
Faith is not powerful. Jesus is. And the fact that faith is not a work shows how utterly dependent we are on the Lord’s power for everything.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.