What Is Scriptural Faith?
by Christine Egbert
Due to the influence of a Greek (Constantinian) mindset (instead of a biblical Hebrew mindset), many Christians see faith as a mental construct, something they merely believe. When they read verses like Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not based on deeds, so no one can boast.” They wrongly believe that salvation by faith through grace frees them from God’s expectation that after they are saved by grace through faith, they will obey Him. They can just recite the sinner’s prayer and voilà, they are eternally saved, regardless of how they live afterward. But that is not what Scripture teaches.
That famous American humorist and writer Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that’ll get you in trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” So will living by the dangerous motto that declares, “Don’t confuse me with the facts! I’ve already made up my mind.” Instead, we need to examine—precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little, (Isaiah 28:10)—what Scripture teaches about faith.
In Hebrew, the word for saved is yashá (יָשַׁע H3467). According to Strong’s Bible Dictionary, this primitive root means: “To be open, wide or free, that is, (by implication) to be safe; causatively to free or succor, and can also mean: avenging, defend, deliver or deliverer, help, preserve, rescue, be safe, bring (having) salvation, save or savior, get victory. The third time this word appears in Scripture is in Exodus 14:30. “So the LORD (Yahweh) saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians. . .”
Though most often translated in the King James version as saved, yashá appears some 205 times in the Old Testament and is also rendered at times as: avenged, delivered, defended, helped, preserved, rescued, salvation, and savior. Now Hebrew has only about 4,000 words, unlike English, in which there are over 100,000.
Words in Hebrew are packed full of meaning. Take the word shema (שָׁמַע – H8085). It is translated 405 times as hear, and 43 times as obey. But I’ll bet you don’t know that just as in Hebrew the word shema links hearing to obedience, there is a Greek word that links unbelief to disobedience.
That word is apeitheo (ἀπειθέω – G544).
Thayer Bible Dictionary Definition:
Apeitheo means “Not to allow one’s self to be persuaded, to refuse or withhold belief, to refuse belief and obedience.”
The King James translates the word apeitho as “not obey” in Romans 2:8 – “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath…”
It is translated as disobedient in Romans 10:21 – “But to Israel He saith, all day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.”
It is translated as disobedient in 1 Peter 2:7-8 – “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious, but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient…”
It is translated as obey not in 1 Peter 3:1 – “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that, if any obey not the word…”
It is translated as disobedient in 1 Peter 3:20 – “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah…”
It is translated as obey not in 1 Peter 4:17 – “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them who obey not the gospel of God?”
Yet, that very same Greek word that is translated as “disobedient” and “not obey” in the above verses is translated as “not believed” in other places in the King James.
Romans 11:30 – “For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief…”
Acts 17:5 – “But the Jews which believed not…”
Hebrews 3:18 – “And to whom swear He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not?”
Just as the Hebrew word shema means hear with obeying, the Greek word apeitheo equates disbelief with disobedience. With that in mind, let us look at Hebrews 3:18-19 in the Literal Translation:
“And to whom did He swear they would not enter into His rest, except to those not obeying (apeitheo)? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.”
Here Scripture makes it clear that God does not separate belief from obedience. In the ASV, BBE, CEV, ERV, ISV, and TLV versions on my e-Sword, the word apeitheo in Hebrews 3:18 is translated as disobey, disobedient, or disobeying. But in the King James it is translated this way: “And to whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest, but to those who believed not? So, we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
Did you catch that sleight of hand? By translating apeitheo in verse 18 as “believed not” instead of “disobeyed”, which is clearly the better choice based on verse 17, it turns faith into an activity of the mind only. Believers, who have not studied the meaning of these important words could easily think the Bible is referring to mere mental activity. But that is not the case. Scripture always links Biblical faith to obedience.
1 John 3:4 tells us that sin is transgressing (disobeying) God’s law. Hebrews 3:17 talks about those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. They were the ones God swore would never enter His rest—the ones who willfully disobeyed—which is the same as unbelief to God.
Now let us look at some other attributes of Biblical faith.
Acts 14:22 teaches that one’s faith must endure: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:7 says we walk by faith, not by sight.
In Luke 22:32 Jesus (Yeshua) prayed for Simon’s faith not to fail.
In Hebrews 11:8 we learn that Abraham obeyed by faith, and by faith in verse 11:17, he was tested and offered up his son Isaac.
James 2:24 tells us that a man is proved righteous by his works and not by faith alone, again making it clear that the two are linked in God’s eyes.
In Acts 6:7 it says a great crowd of the priests obeyed the faith. If faith were only a belief, an idea not coupled to an action, how could they obey faith? The same applies to Romans 1:5 where it says: “by whom we have received grace and apostleship, to obedience to the faith…”
Why would 2 Corinthians 13:5 tell us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith if faith does not have an action component? Why would 1 Timothy 5:8 warn us that those who do not provide for their own family have denied the faith and are worse than infidels?
In closing, let us return to Ephesians 2, only this time let’s read verses 8-10:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yeshua) unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Paul was not teaching that faith is a mere mental activity. He was teaching us that it is based on God’s grace, not anything we have done to earn it, but once we are saved, we will walk in the good works that God has ordained – His Torah.
Can a true believer sin?
Yes! That is why Scripture tells us to confess our sins one to another. Only sin, for the true believer, is not willful and certainly not a lifestyle. True believers have hearts that want to please the Father. Those who only mentally believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is who the Bible says He is but have never had God’s Torah written on their hearts and in their minds, have never died to self and made Jesus (Yeshua) Lord. They do not want to obey God’s commandments and do not have the Spirit, which Romans 8:4 tells us was given so that we can fulfill the righteous commands of the Law.
Those, whose faith in Jesus (Yeshua) is merely a mental construct, are fooling themselves. They had better take to heart what Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) brother wrote: “If a man says he has faith and has no works, can that faith save him? . . . Faith if it has no works is dead . . . You believe there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble. But do you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . From these faith is made complete . . . You see then, a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”