Theology

Belief as Saving Faith

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Author Brett Kunkle Published on 06/07/2016

Yesterday, a Summit student asked me, “If Christianity is true, why do we need faith?” Mapping out the distinction between belief-that and belief-in provides a helpful way to answer this question.

The traditional conception of belief is reflected in the Scriptures by the concept of saving faith. The New Testament uses one particular word group to express the idea of faith. In the Greek, faith is conveyed by the noun pistis and the verb pisteuo. It is important to note that the New Testament writers make no distinction between “belief” over against “faith.” Indeed, they are both articulated by the pistis word group. Furthermore, when we examine the constructional variety of this Greek term we observe that pistis is used in conjunction with several prepositions (see chart below) that give us the full expression of faith, or what we refer to as saving faith.

Greek Usage English Equivalent
pisteuo hoti “believe that”
pisteuo en / pisteuo eis “believe in” / “believe into”

First, as the chart indicates, pisteuo is constructed with the Greek word hoti to express the phrase “believe that.” Hebrews 11:6 states that “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.” We see this construction again in Romans 10:9, when the apostle Paul instructs “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” According to these verses, one must (at the least) believe that God exists and that He raised Jesus from the dead for salvation. Additional passages throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 20:31, Acts 8:37 and 15:11, Romans 6:8, I Thessalonians 4:14) lend support to the idea that saving faith includes believing certain propositions to be true, or in other words, having certain beliefs-that.

Biblical saving faith is more than merely belief-that, however. Even if one believed the necessary true propositions about Christ, it does not follow that this belief would be sufficient for saving faith. The relevant biblical data reveal a second feature. In John 3:16, pisteuo is paired with the preposition eis and literally means “to believe into”: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

From these passages, as well as others (e.g. John 3:36 and 14:1, Romans 4:24 and 10:14), we discover that saving faith includes an affirming disposition toward, or trust in, the object (propositional content1) of one’s belief. The kind of faith that saves is marked by an attitude of trust in, or belief-in, Christ for all that salvation means. Hebrews 11:1 seems to indicate this pro-attitude associated with saving faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”