Saturday, May 15, 2004

Meaning of Faith/belief

I am teaching on very interesting subject tomorrow.

I have felt for the longest time that having faith required action. Or there is an ethical implication in faith. So I spent some time in Kittle (TDNT) and Brown (NIDNTT). These are some excellent lexicons. I came across an interesting fact. In the NT world the word faith (belief is simply the verb form) had two meanings. There was a Jewish meaning where faith was simply intellectual. It was having knowledge of something. Faith and belief were separate and not necessarily linked to action. One could believe things about God, Israel was God's chosen people, and yet act in a manor that was contrary to this belief.

In the Hellenistic world however, Faith carried with it an ethical implication. Faith (no matter what kind) required ethical choices in line with faith. Actions should come out of and correspond to faith.

I think this might account for 1) the different ideas and uses of Faith. James (writing to Jews) felt an obligation to point out that "Faith without works is dead." Paul never made such a declaration. He said we are saved through faith. If his Hellenistic audience understood the ethical implications of faith then he did not need to repeat himself.

Faith in the gospels hits both ideas. Jesus asks repeatedly "do you believe in me." To say I believe in Jesus meant that action was required. Following or obeying was part of faith. Faith and belief were not purely mental certainties.

A commentator in NIDNTT says "The faith of Jesus was directed towards reality. It was deeply involved in the act of living, and was on a completely different plane from hypothetical abstractions."

Faith and Belief requires ethical action. Since Luther Protestants have argued that we can not earn salvation. (I agree) Many have taken this to say that faith has nothing to do with action. Obedience to Christ is secondary to faith. Thus we spend much energy on defending orthodoxy and forgetting orthopraxy.

Faith divorced from its ethical implications is not faith. Faith requires ethical action. It requires us to follow Christ. It requires that we live Christ's example.

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