Is Faith the Same as Trust or Belief?

Without faith we are as weak as the mighty oak whose taproot dies in the soil that feeds it.

Todd Beal

I want to thank Lance Ponder for stoking the fire yet again with his post, “Faith: Sell, Tell, or Do?”, an excerpt from his excellent book, “Ask James one”. It was Lance’s statements about faith in action that prompted this post, which then pulled me deeper into the inner workings of faith. Ever since I experienced faith I just cannot stop thinking about it. It is so fundamental to a right relationship with God, yet sadly, very few actually talk about it other than in passing. Faith is not an elective, it is crucial, and unfortunately we mostly sidestep it in today’s religious lollipop cultural approach to Christ.

Faith is necessarily action-oriented; not that faith itself is action, but that it compels one into action for its rock-solid, irrevocable assurance. Of course there exists the possibility for someone to receive faith and yet not act on it, but if a person truly does receive faith, his heart is necessarily already open to acting on its guarantee of outcome. I believe it would require blatant conscious disobedience for someone to receive faith and then say, “No, I will not act on it” – a most hard to process anomaly, but reminds me of Satan’s willful act of disobedience despite his ultimate knowledge of truth.

So what happens to our faith if we refuse to act on it? Faith without works is dead, dead in that the enablement we receive through its assurance, or title deed, goes away; hence no more faith. One could think of dead faith as the equivalent of salt that has lost its flavor. The existence of salt and the flavor of salt are mutually inclusive, if one goes away, so too does the other. The same goes for faith. Faith and its empowering essence of spirit-compelled action are also indivisible; if one exists, so too does the other. So, if I claim that I have faith, and at the same time lack the spiritual power to act on that faith, I am equivalently saying, I have salt that has no flavor. Faith, absent the spiritual power to act, is human-based unfounded belief, not divinely-given spirit-filled, Faith.

This is why I have a very big problem with statements like, “Have faith. Just increase your faith. Trust God. Exercise your belief in God’s promises.” These types of statements are certainly well-meant by the person who speaks them, but in the end, they are merely vague unsubstantiated notions that do nothing more than facilitate spiritual impotence. Spiritual faith is not belief, nor is it trust, but rather it facilitates the very belief and trust required of us to keep that faith alive. We can believe all day long that God is who he says he is, we can believe all day long that God’s promises are true to the very last detail, but until – through an open and obedient heart – we receive faith concerning these things that the Bible speaks of, we are limited to believing only the Bible’s trustworthy information about them. We cannot act upon them because we have no faith concerning them, and therefore cannot believe in them, only the information about them – rendering them dead to us. Furthermore, once we do receive faith – and thereby have something substantial in which to place our belief and trust – we must then act on that faith or consequently lose our ability to do “what” its assurance is compelling/empowering us to do. Faith without works is dead, and consequently, spiritually, so are we without faith.

The more I dive into this subject, the more I realize why most of us don’t understand it, let alone authoritatively teach it. Discerning between the various elements that faith involves, requires an undistracted, and carefully laid out, spiritually in-tune, subtle, discerning train of thought. We use faith, trust, and belief so interchangeably, and so commonly, that except we divorce ourselves from commonplace teaching, and spiritually retrain our mind to distinguish their separate meanings, we really have no basis for understanding them. I think we naturally sense that there is a distinct difference between them, but the required mindset for consciously grasping the essence of their separate meanings is so subtle, so non-blatant, so unusual to normal human thinking, that we either give up prematurely or simply don’t go there, and decide instead to elementarily lump all three together – as if they are slightly the same thing.

I have a long way to go in my understanding of the various subtle complexities and intricacies faith involves, but I know enough to know that faith is not only real, it is powerful, and without it we are as weak as the mighty oak whose taproot dies in the soil that feeds it.

see related Truth Behind Reality article: Why Won’t God Answer My Prayer?

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About Todd Beal

I love truth and its facts. I love thought-provoking conversations that give both the other person and me a better understanding of a particular topic. I love to find answers to life-long questions; answers that let me see things for what they are instead of what they seem to be. I truly enjoy being in the midst of a group of people where all individuals are joining in, where everybody is enjoying the company of each other. I relax in the company of individuals who are competent yet humble. I like to catch myself doing or saying something ridiculous and then laugh my head off. I enjoy my church and being involved.
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16 Responses to Is Faith the Same as Trust or Belief?

  1. Todd- Great thinking on faith. I like the way you focus on it as a gift that you receive from God. I’d like to know more about what you think motivates God to give a person more faith. What are the cause-and-effect things you can do to increase your faith? It’s certainly something we could all use more of. The obvious things to me are studying the word, praying for it, and doing charitable works that make us feel like we are assisting God in some small way with His work. Are there other things you’ve done in your life that have resulted in a substantial increase in faith for you, or daily things that help keep it strong? I love the analogy of the mighty tree with a dying taproot. I believe faith can wither and die without the proper attention and continued growth.

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Michael,

      | I’d like to know more about what you think motivates God to give a person more faith. What are the cause-and-effect things you can do to increase your faith? |

      | Are there other things you’ve done in your life that have resulted in a substantial increase in faith for you, or daily things that help keep it strong? |

      The very most important thing I have found that motivates God to give a person more faith is an open and obedient heart. I know this sounds like a given, but if we search the Bible from cover to cover, we will see this in God’s two main commands reiterated throughout: love God completely; and love others as our self. Of course loving our self is equally as important; we cannot love God and others if we are doing hateful things to our self, including in our attitudes and behaviors toward our self.

      Jesus reaffirms these commandments in Matthew 22:36-40 [NASB]: [36] “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” [37] And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ [38] “This is the great and foremost commandment. [39] “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ [40] “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

      In other words, this is what God considers right action. However, on the flip side, I have found that just because I am not doing something specifically wrong, does not mean I am also doing something specifically right – fight harder to do right than to not do wrong was the essence of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees. For instance, I can go my whole life without physically abusing my wife or children, but that does not mean I have given them love. The commandments above tell us what to do right, but there also exist many things that prohibit us from obeying these commandments. Something that I have to guard against is my internal motives and attitudes. I can feel a dark sense of anti-life instantly replace my spiritual strength when I allow myself to become judgmental. Being judgmental is not the same as critiquing or seeing the truth in a situation and calling the shots as they come. It is putting “me” above someone else by selfishly cutting that person down according to my ego/pride (even if doing so only in my mind). Being judgmental takes on different forms for different people according to one’s innate personality, but we each know what it means to feel that way inside. Being judgmental hurts our self before it hurts anyone else. It robs our spiritual strength the instant we engage it; it begins inside us first before it manifests outwardly toward others. We cannot be close to God while egocentrically judging someone else. This is just one thing that prevents us from loving God, but the lesson here is that we cannot be close to God, let alone receive faith, while engaging sin.

      Back to loving God, of course the first prerequisite to receiving faith is that Jesus must reside in your heart. Secondly, I have found that a great big open heart for receiving God’s presence is crucial to receiving faith: the more we open our heart, the more we say, “Your will be done God, not mine”. Thirdly, as I mentioned in my post Why Won’t God Answer My Prayer, and also in the attached comments, we must pray according to God’s will. What does that mean? How do I know God’s will? A wide open heart toward God receives God’s will, and when we receive it we will know it. There is no other way to explain it than that. If I forget that God knows all things, created all things, and reigns supreme over all things, and therefore has an ultimate plan concerning all things, I will pray according to what I want instead of what God knows I need – as you also similarly mentioned, Michael, in your comment on Why Won’t God Answer My Prayer. When we maintain an open heart and open mind for God, he will give us the faith we so desperately need. Then, and only then do we know what to pray for, and consequently grow in spiritual strength as we see God’s will manifest in real-life action, which then necessarily builds up the human aspect of our self also.

      The one thing I always do when requesting something from God, is number one, tune my mind, heart, and spirit to him. I don’t just rattle off a bunch of words and hope he will listen. I want to pray with my whole self. Number two, I never ask for something specific unless I absolutely feel clear on what to pray. If I am not clear, I ask for the faith to pray about that matter, and refuse to say another word in prayer until I receive assurance for what to pray. There is nothing more unsettling than praying a wishful prayer. I want to know that when I pray, his will is manifested in the words I speak. I’ll tell ya’ Michael, I have found that nothing produces a more rock-solid, unshakable, Christian walk than knowing we are praying absolutely according to God’s will. What a Powerful experience!

      Finally, studying the Bible as if one’s life depends on it, builds trust in God, which then opens the door to receive faith. The Bible shows who God is (his characteristics, his thoughts, his likes and dislikes, his passion, love, and awe-striking intellect, on and on), as well as how he operates (how does he respond to certain situations, how does he deal with sin in one particular scenario versus another, how does he respond to repentance, what types of spiritual gifts does he give to those who love and obey him, etc).

      The prerequisite for building my trust factor is discovering that truth resides within something. After several years of study, I told my father one day that if I can Biblically validate these concepts, I will know for absolute certain they are rooted in truth. Well, something happened in the mean time. I proved to myself that the Bible is true; but that wasn’t the end of it. I realized that because the Bible is true, so too is God, and therefore everything that he says in the Bible is true – one truth proves another, and another. No other collection of directly related historical documents exist that, across the board, not only do not contradict each other, but from beginning to end keep reiterating the same undiluted message without fail; the same theme runs both linearly and cyclically from one end of the Bible to the other. This realization truly laid the foundation for building my trust in God. The awesome part about it is that this process is still ongoing in my life today. Each time I understand something new in the Bible, it increases my trust in God’s promise to never leave me or forsake me, and proves to me yet again that God always does what he says he will do. This is why I am including Bible reading as a means for receiving faith. It’s not that Bible reading all by itself gives faith, but that in the wholehearted, truth seeking study of the Bible, we begin to trust God more and more as the Holy Spirit guides us into more and more truth. This trust is so crucial for receiving faith because without it we doubt God’s provision. We can think of it as our required end of the relationship. Just as you trust your wife to provide for your needs in a way that no one else can, likewise we trust God for his provision of faith, wisdom, etc., as no one else can. But, you will not be open to your wife’s provision of your personal human needs if you don’t trust her capability for doing so – the same goes for trusting God.

      I will end by saying this: the degree to which we love God in both our heart and actions, and then through our actions love others with that same God-given, non-human love according to the two great commandments, that is the degree to which we are open to, and therefore capable of, receiving faith. Lastly, if we don’t trust we will doubt God’s provision, thereby closing our self to that provision.

      Even the most stalwart soul doubts from time to time because of human weakness, but all we have to do is begin praising and thanking God for specifically everything he has done for us personally, and that doubt disappears as quickly as it came.

      I’m sorry to make this comment so long, but I wanted to give you a full answer based on how I have learned to operate. I hope this helps.

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  2. Thanks Todd, that tells me so much more about your thoughts on faith, and I have nothing to disagree with. Faith is not always built through the most pleasant experiences, and sometimes what builds faith in one will destroy the faith of another.

    Your comments made me think of a bishop of my church who lost his pregnant wife and two children in a car accident here in Utah a couple of years ago, victims of a careless drunk driver. Such trauma could have driven him to anger and bitterness toward God. Instead, he chose to accept the unexpected direction his life has gone in, and the unexpected separation from his loved ones as God’s will. Yes, he won’t see them for a time, but he has total faith in and knowledge of the family’s eternal nature and that they will be reunited someday. He also has been able to develop a relationship with and forgive the young man who caused the accident. There’s a powerful 8-minute video about this story here –

    To me, that’s faith. It didn’t just come out of nowhere, but was developed over many years doing many of the things you have outlined. To me, it’s a testament to how different, how much better a life of faith is compared to a life left to our own devices. Thanks again for your clear, scripture-based explanation of what faith is and how to develop more of it!

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    • Todd Beal says:

      You’re certainly welcome Michael.

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Michael,

      I just finished watching the video you mentioned in your comment, and as you said, it is a most moving and prime example of faith. This hits home with me on a personal level. My oldest brother, two years my senior, was killed by a drunk driver in January 2002.

      After purchasing groceries from a nearby store, my brother was riding back home on his bicycle when he was hit from behind by an habitual drunk driver. The man was released from jail just days earlier on his own recognizance, was travelling approximately 50 mph in a 30 mph zone at night on a dimly lit street, and was extremely intoxicated. My brother bounced off the bumper and into the windshield, which then threw him over the roof and onto the road behind the car. Witnesses said my brother laid there on the asphalt writhing and struggling to breathe like a dying animal. The driver sped off and hid for several weeks, and then unremorsefully smiled at my father during his court trial.

      I’ll never forget that hollow feeling when I arrived at the hospital and my family told me my brother didn’t make it. I felt nothing but the angst of being robbed of my feelings. I simply could not process his death. I cried but only because my mind told me to cry. I hugged my family members, but only because my mind told me I should do it. When I walked into the room where his body lay, I felt completely numb. I’ll never forget my mother’s crumpled body as she walked with my father, my younger brother, and me, to see my brother’s dead body. She was stooped over and staggering while holding her forehead and her stomach, crying a deep semi-audible sound from somewhere inside her soul. I don’t ever want to see that again. A mother’s grief is unbearably indescribable.

      My brother was just making strides to put his life back together before he died. He was an alcoholic and would oftentimes act out in violence while under the influence. He didn’t want to be violent, but the violence forced upon him by various persons during childhood compelled him to lash out when he drank, and even sometimes when he was sober. On the other hand he was so incredibly kind-hearted and full of compassion. He would literally give his very last dollar to help someone in need. Children loved him because he made them feel important and worthwhile, and after his death people would testify to how his kindness changed their life.

      He and I had a rocky relationship throughout the years – sometimes good and many times bad – beginning with childhood. He physically beat me, and I taunted him. We both wanted to love each other, but during the years he was alive neither one of us were mature enough to wisely communicate our heart and mind to the other. I so wish I could tell him in person, “I am so sorry for my part in the wrongdoing against you.” I never wronged him with physical violence, as did others in his earlier years, but I wronged him with demeaning verbal attacks against his logic and reason, and also with my period of adultery with his former wife while fresh out of high school (which, actually, was a form of physical abuse against him). Even though he personally invited the initial act, I continued it on my own freewill. When he confronted me years later, telling me I screwed him over, I refused to apologize, saying, “That was a long time ago” – even though he had years earlier apologized to me for his actions against me. I have since told him and God that I am sincerely sorry for my adultery with his wife and for my verbal abuse against him.

      A couple of months before he died, I went to his house and saw an open Bible. I asked him a question while traveling together to my parents’ house; he told me, “That’s between you and God.” One cannot give his life to Christ and not notice true signs of another’s submission to Christ. Just before he died, his attitude changed, his drinking grew less and less, his selfless compassion grew more and more, and his spirit was becoming increasingly Christ-like. He was strangely different from his previous years.

      I worked through my grief from 2002 until 2009, looking for every possible way to both rid myself of guilt and receive faith that indeed he made it to heaven. Finally, after all those years of asking for forgiveness of my sins against him and God, my grief ended. I broke down and said, “God, he was trying; he was truly trying. Isn’t that enough!!” I sobbed from my belly out loud as wave after wave of grief swept through me. Right then and there, every bit of angst, guilt, and remorse washed out of me.

      I can say this; his heart was in the right place when he died, and I have left his eternal residence in God’s hands. God is a just and loving God; he looks at the heart whereas man looks at the external. I still ask forgiveness as my memory freshly recollects my unaddressed past deeds against my brother, and I am learning to forgive myself as Christ also forgave and presently forgives me. I now rest in the hope that God – in his infinite mercy – saw fit to say to my brother, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant. Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me” – all of which my brother did – “Welcome to my eternal life. Enter into my rest.”

      I have forgiven my brother’s murderer, and my hope is that this man will someday too accept Jesus into his heart as I did. I have forgiven myself for my deeds against my own flesh and blood, God’s Creation, because through my redemption Christ first forgave me.

      I say all this to publically confess my 22 year old sin against my brother and God, to say also that I love my brother, and to say that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins whatever they are. I have sinned against my brother; I have sinned against my redeemer Jesus Christ, but Jesus says in scripture that because I have confessed to him the sin I committed against my brother and others, he forgave me of my sin and will someday personally welcome me into eternal life, just as I hope he did for my brother.

      I want you to know that my sights are set on heaven, I have not so much as romantically kissed another woman since 1998, and my desire and passion is to share the gospel of Christ’s Truth with all who care to listen.

      Todd

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      • Todd – I am in awe of the tremendous courage it must have taken to share that here. As for your brother, a powerful feeling of peace overcame me when I read his story and yours. I believe 100% that the momentum he had started in his last days carried him straight into a loving Father’s arms. I am speechless at the thought of Christ’s power to change human nature.

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  3. In complete agreement Todd. I couldn’t add anything.

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  4. Lance Ponder says:

    Well, I’m overwhelmed to be credited as the catalyst for your wonderful post. As I so often do, I’d like to throw a curve ball at this and consider it from another direction.

    “Faith and its empowering essence of spirit-compelled action are also indivisible; if one exists, so too does the other.”

    You are 100% right. While the things you said about how it is misunderstood are true, let’s turn back the clock a bit and consider what this has done to history. The apostles dealt with “Judaizers” who tried to apply the gospel truth to the law and make it subject to the law. We read about in various letters from Paul, though his arguments are supported by the other NT writers also. Still, what Paul and the others had to say does not divorce us from action, it reveals that action wells up from faith in the living God rather than adherence to created law.

    Now fast forward to the reformation. The Roman church suffered corruption to various extents over the centuries. In the early 16th century Martin Luther sought to reform the heart of the bride of Christ. He never intended to tear the Roman Catholic church apart. That was the objective of a greater enemy. In many ways the Roman church was (and largely still is) works oriented. The protestant movement propelled by Luther, Calvin, and others of that era flipped the coin to focus on faith as the catalyst. There were other major differences such as authority of and access to God v authority of the Church, but the faith v works debate was the biggest single defining component of the reformation.

    I bring all this up because both sides of the coin are incomplete without the other. Faith is of the heart, but the heart exists to pump blood to the hands and feet and brain. The life is in the blood. Why would God put a heart of flesh into man if not to pump life into action. We are created for a purpose and that purpose is manifest in action. The protestant church has turned its back on its purpose, thinking that seeking God is the end rather than the means. The Roman church looks at the end and forgets the means. Both suffer delusion. Your statement, quoted above, simply and succinctly illustrates where the institutions of religion have gone so far wrong in their teaching and thus our broad stroke failure as a people to understand.

    I’m sure I could throw a host of scriptures at this to reinforce the point, but the discerning mind will realize these elements of truth and so I trust you to hear my heart in this. I grieve for our failure. I used to wonder that the prophets would lament on behalf of the people and speak as though they personally were guilty of the sin of the people. I am growing my understanding of this now. Lamenting is a step. We should experience this step and walk through it as we take that narrow path that leads to life eternal, don’t you think?

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Lance,

      I’m glad you brought this up. I cannot understand how some can feel justified in separating faith from works. The two really are indivisible. I also cannot understand how someone can see a contradiction between Romans 3 and James 2. One can have works apart from faith but not faith apart from works. The human ego compels works just as Faith compels works. The difference being, ego-compelled works manifests our will; faith-compelled works manifests God’s will. Ego-compelled works says, “My will be done”; faith-compelled works says, “God’s will be done”.

      I have noticed that when it comes to the foundational scriptural doctrine of the gospel, we inevitably try to divide the indivisible, and always because of our ego, not truth. The ongoing debate between Arminianism and Calvinism is a prime example of this. The more I study the similarities and differences between these two theologies, the more I sense that each represents an artificial side of an indivisible core scriptural doctrine. There are so many areas in which the Church artificially divides itself, and to find them one needs only google, “difference between X Christian religious/doctrinal group and Y Christian religious/doctrinal group”.

      If two or more beliefs contradict each other, then at least one is not true with a maximum of all. The two contradicting sides of this faith/works debate cannot equally stand on the authority of truth while saying, “The Holy Spirit led me to believe this” – at least one side necessarily stands against truth with a maximum of both. As you pointed out in your comparison between Protestants and Catholics, Protestants lean toward faith apart from works, while Catholics lean toward works apart from faith. However, according to James 2, faith without works is dead – the two are indivisible. Based on this scripture passage alone, I agree with you that both sides contradict truth in their faith/works doctrinal belief.

      Paul, James, and the author of Hebrews would be so angry at our willful slaughter of scriptural truth. It would be frightening to read a personal letter from Jesus addressing today’s various Church groups/doctrinal divisions. I suspect it would be exceedingly more condemnatory than his letters to the seven churches in Revelation. In our haste to serve our will, we forget that Jesus Christ is God almighty, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that he is as all-powerful and eternally alive today as when he defeated death 2,000 years ago, ascended into Heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father in all his glory and majesty. Our days are numbered; I want to be numbered with the saints, not the apostate Church.

      Lance, I could not agree more with your entire comment, including your statement about personal lament for the wayward Church. Until we each feel the weight of this burden both for our self and the Church at large, and consequently then allow it to change our heart, we will continue down this avalanche of desecration against absolute Truth, and all in the very name of Jesus Christ, the author of truth, the Living Truth, God Almighty. Let this stand as public record of my personal testimony, I praise and give honor to his Holy Name – Jesus Christ, the Name above every name – for it is eternally due him. For there is coming a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

      Philippians 2:9-11 [NASB] “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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  6. TC says:

    Todd, great post. It certainly makes you think. I know the Reformers use to talk about three levels of faith, if you will: (1) notitia, the content of faith; (2) assensus, mental assent to the content; and (3) fiducia, personal trust and reliance on Christ, and affections to act.

    Often, it’s that third aspect of faith that is missing, going beyond mere belief.

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    • Todd Beal says:

      TC, I have been studying faith from both real-world personal experience and scripture since 2010. You are the first person to point out these three elements. Thank you! This means a lot to me. I have been trying to find an ‘in’, a ‘one and only nugget’ that puts what I have experienced into a formal truth. Your comment; that’s the nugget I’ve been looking for.

      Thank you again TC!

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