In this short sermon we look the separation of faith and belief. 

Faith and Belief

Let’s have some fun with words. In English, faith and belief have become somewhat interchangeable. I would like to pull them apart a little bit this morning to make some more room for what I believe it is a helpful distinction.

I want to decouple the two concepts.

Beliefs are often held as mental agreements like very strong opinions. We see this in things like doctrinal statements or the creeds that say things like,” I believe in God the father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son, Born of Virgin Mary…”

But we also use ‘believe’ to mean to trust in something. So for instance, if I ask you, “do you believe in the current administration?” And you said no… you would be telling me that you don’t trust in their project or program or character or truthfulness. You’re not telling me that you think they don’t exist.

This use of the word ‘believe’ actually comes to us through the Latin language that much of Christendom was couched in. Belief in Latin is credo – and it means something like I trust in or I give my loyalty to. It was much more akin to be-love that our current use of believe. The same would be true for the Greek (biblical) word doxa from which we get doxology and doctrine. It is a catalogue of strongly held opinions.

But words migrate and take on new meanings so our current use is much more of an intellectual assent or agreement. So if you told me you don’t believe in the current administration’s competence you mean that you don’t agree with it or trust it.

So I want to concede that newer usage and say that beliefs are ideas that you hold dear.

Faith, on the other hand, needs to be distinguished from that. Sometimes fate is used as a noun as in,”I have faith”. But since we are going to allow beliefs to be in noun– things you hold. Faith then should become a verb: something you do.

Having faith is an action. Sometimes we will talk about faith in action but Faith is in action! To make it over would be to say that we are ‘faithing’.

I think that this is an important distinction for two reasons:

  • The first is that in the biblical language of Greek, faith comes from ‘pistus’. It is both faith in something and the faithfulness to something. We are saved both by faith in Christ and the faithfulness of Christ.
  • The second reason is that we are a church where people are free to believe many different things. We do not require doctrinal agreement on every point. Exactly are trying to foster as a spiritual oasis a safe place to ask difficult questions.

Faith is not about agreeing on all of the answers but living into the better questions.

In American English, believe can be both things you hold dear–and those beliefs may change over time or adapt and evolve due to new information or evidence.

I find this distinction helpful because you can believe what the medical experts are saying about this virus like you believe in global warming or that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as humans… but that’s not what it means to be a person of faith. Those are more like strongly held opinions–and I am willing to concede that usage in modern English.

Is a faith that acts. To have faith is an action – it is faithing. It does something. It is active and we participate in it.

It would be like if you want door to door this Summer on behalf of a candidate and you said, ”I really believe in this person’s positions.” Your belief has propelled you into action ended his become the verb that I’m looking for – that is faith.

We can hold beliefs in our head but it is when it becomes a passion of our heart and moves our body into action–in word and deed–that we become people of faith.