What is True Faith?
Everywhere in Scriptures we read about how important our faith is to God. Hebrews 11:6 says: “Without “faith” it is impossible to please God.” And having a viable faith is important to us too since Scripture says that we live our lives by “faith”. Romans 1:17 says that “The just shall live by faith.” These are just two passages out of many thousands in the Bible that deal with this all-important thing called “faith”. But what is “faith”? What does Biblical faith look like?
We Western Christians may have a problem understanding all that the Bible means when it speaks of “faith.” Are we missing something? Our modern day Western society puts a lot of emphasis on the individual doing his or her own individual thing. The Western Christian’s ideas of “faith” is something like a single person intellectually agreeing with a specific set of religious doctrines.
Believing the correct doctrines is certainly important. But perhaps this view of faith is not enough. Perhaps it is still incomplete. The legalistic Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel who persecuted Jesus, believed all the correct Biblical doctrines. They said long prayers and fasted and went through all of the many religious rituals. But they didn’t recognize their Messiah when He came to them. The Law without the Spirit is dead.
I am not saying that our Christian doctrines are not vitally important! They are. But it is what we do with them that makes the difference. The Word of God is living and powerful. Believing in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord has the power to change our lives. But we have to be willing to let it change our lives. This faith opens the door for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and make us new creatures. But true Biblical faith is not only an intellectual belief in Christ, but it includes a personal relationship with Christ, and a moral obligation to honor and obey Him.
The word “faith” meant something more than belief in the right doctrines to the Jewish people of antiquity. Their culture and all the cultures of middle eastern peoples back then were different from our Western democratic societies today. The land of Israel had what some might call an “honor-shame” culture when Jesus lived. So when God called ancient Israel to have “faith” in Him, the word “faith” meant more than just believing that God existed. (The devil believes that God exists and he trembles) Having real faith meant that they were to be committed to God to honor, obey and worship Him.
Honor-shame cultures place a high value on members being committed and loyal to the group and to the leader of the group. Leaders or kings provide safety and protection for their people. And in return the members of honor-shame cultures reciprocate by honoring their leader. And by pledging their allegiance and praise and loyalty to their leader. Life runs on relationships, reciprocity, and honor. These dynamics of honor and allegiance illuminate many aspects of the Bible. And they are considered to be part of what God wanted from His people when He asked them to put their “faith” in Him. And He still wants that out of His people.
God does not demand that we put our faith in Him. He asks for it. The decision is ours. He offers us eternal life through Christ. A free gift. But in exchange we are expected to follow Him. That is part of what “faith” looks like. In honor-shame cultures people perhaps understand this concept better. A person’s reputation is all important and he or she earns a good reputation (honor) by being trustworthy and loyal. By being faithful in his or her relationships. People who flake out on their relationships are shamed.
We visited our daughter and her family in Japan, which is an honor-shame culture. We discovered that the Japanese people do not steal from one another very often if ever. Our daughter was able to leave her expensive baby stroller un- locked outside her apartment for years without any concern of it being stolen. Expensive bicycles and other strollers and valuables were also left outside in public places in Japan without any concern, and were not stolen.
Japanese owners of small shops would leave their stores open when they were not able to be in the store. They would leave the merchandise out for customers to take and a basket for them to leave their payment. A Japanese citizen would feel a great deal of shame and lose face if he or she were to steal. The whole Japanese society seems to “help” their members do what they are supposed to do.
In these honor-shame cultures a person’s reputation as a reliable stable person that can be counted on is all important. There is a strong sense of family loyalty where a child’s obedience brings honor to his or her parents. Being reliable in their relationships is a supreme virtue. This sense of loyalty is spoken of as “pistos” in the New Testament, which we translate in English as “faith”. Servants in Jesus’ parables are called “pistos” which was the word for ‘loyal’, ‘faithful’, or ‘trustworthy’. (Matthew 24:45: 25:21: 1 Cor. 4:2)
This strong relational feeling of group loyalty is part of what Biblical “faith” looks like. God wants us to belong to Him and He expects our loyalty and obedience and love in return. We are not to run off to another! We read the first command of the Ten Commandments which says: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3) Our God is a jealous God so Scripture tells us. We are never to stray and give our attention to other gods.
When early Christians confessed that “Jesus is Lord” they were declaring Jesus’ sovereign provision and their allegiance to Him. They are to live for Him and not for themselves. “Jesus is Lord” was not just a statement of their personal devotion but a claim that Jesus is the One Way to the Father. That He is the King who provides salvation to the whole world. That we are never to bow to any other!
We Westerners often value our independence and freedom more than we value community since we must give up some of our precious independence and freedom to be part of a community. When “pistos” or family or group loyalty and respect are missing, the family or group falls apart. One in every four families are missing a father. Sexual relationships are often casual or recreational and couples fear marriage and commitment. Songs of true love and romance are no longer popular as they were in past generations.
All the rules have changed. Parents are discarded by some grown children. And children are abandoned by parents. Families members sue one another over any misunderstanding, real or imagined! And many of the younger generation today are afraid to marry or become committed to parenthood.
Teachers today often complain that the old relationships between student and teacher are gone. The teacher or professor is no longer respected. And the ability of the teacher to control the classroom has been replaced with anarchy. We wonder why public education is having problems! Violence on our streets along with the number of suicides have gone up astronomically.
There are still many strengths in Western society today, but individualism has replaced community in many areas of our lives leaving lonely desperate people. Is there an answer to all of this? Scripture tells us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) We may be trying so hard to compete for our own individual reputation that we find ourselves overwhelmed and unsatisfied with life. But God asks us to put our faith in Him. To give our allegiance and our lives to Him. And He will give our lives back to us. And so much more too!
Some of the thoughts in this blog were taken from Jayson Georges article, “True Faith” White Horse Inn