The concepts of faith and belief are difficult to comprehend because not only are they intangible and abstract, but they are so closely related and connected that many people use the words interchangeably. So, what is the difference and how do they impact one another?
Beliefs are convictions or understandings that are deeply rooted within us — in our hearts or (you could say) in our souls. A belief is so much more than a thought or opinion that might change frequently. As one writer put it, it is a “true heart belief — an affirmation or full confidence of something.”
This is based on the Greek word “pisteuōn” or “pisteuó” where we get our word “belief” in passages such as John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).
Belief requires commitment, trust, and personal investment. Beliefs are also so important that everything that we think, feel, say, and do stems from what we believe about life, God, ourselves, and everything else.
What Is Faith?
Faith is similar to belief in that it is a specific kind and deeper intensity of belief. While a belief can be based on something that you have seen or touched, faith is based on what is unseen and untouched.
The Christian faith is a conviction of several layers of beliefs, such as the belief that “the universe was created by the Word of God” (Hebrews 11:3), the Holy Scriptures were inspired by God, Jesus is who he said he was in the scriptures, and that our full trust in him will forgive us of our sins and give us the hope of heaven.
This is the kind of faith that we are referring to in this article. It is also the faith that Paul often talked about in passages such as Romans 10:17 when he said, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
However, faith can be seen as more intense than belief in the way that someone’s faith is not truly activated or expressed until they act on it. That is why James wrote in his book that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
One example of this might be someone that claims that a chair will hold their weight while being too scared to sit down in it.
Or in the context of the Christian faith, if someone claims that they believe in God and the Bible, yet they do not obey what God told them to do in the Bible is demonstrating that they do not actually have faith.
This is why James also wrote in his same teaching on faith that even demons “believe” in God, yet their belief is not coupled with surrender and obedience — which nullifies it.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:18-21).
The writer of Hebrews eloquently states that faith goes far beyond a simple belief in that it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). Then in the rest of the chapter, he gives quite a few examples of what he means by this (such as Noah, Enoch, and Abraham) in what is commonly known as the “Hall of Faith.”
Can Beliefs Change?
So, if the Christian faith is based on several layers of belief in scriptural truth, then whenever a core belief is challenged and then changed, it sometimes loosens and destabilizes it.
Sadly, this happens way too often when teenagers graduate a church’s youth group and go to college where a professor makes statements that cause them to doubt or even change their beliefs about God or Scripture.
This can also happen when tragedy in someone’s life results in them changing their beliefs about the character of God. This process has recently been dubbed as a “deconstruction” of someone’s faith.
One author describes it as more of a “demolition” of faith because “…what remains is often a hollow shell of a faith, one lacking any external and fixed points of truth by which we can find orientation in a chaotic world.”
On the other hand, when someone’s beliefs are challenged and changed it sometimes deepens and solidifies their faith — which is what our Heavenly Father wants to happen.
The Apostle Peter (who knew what trials and tests were like) wrote: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire —may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
I remember a song from my childhood called “Rejoice in the Lord” by Ron Hamilton that said, “God never moves without purpose or plan, When trying His servant or molding a man. Give thanks to the Lord, though your testing seems long; In darkness, He giveth a song. O rejoice in the Lord, He makes no mistake. He knoweth the end of each path that I take. For when I am tried and purified, I shall come forth as gold.”
These lyrics communicate such a beautiful, Bible, and yet difficult truth that (as one author explains) while the trials, tragedies, and tests in our life may not be enjoyed or understood, God allows them or sends them “with purpose to shape us, cleanse us, and prepare us for greater things.”
Faith Remains Unchanged
So, in reality, our faith must change when our beliefs change because while salvation is the beginning of our faith in Jesus, no one starts with perfect faith.
Instead, we start with a young, immature, and shallow faith that needs to grow, deepen, and mature as it is challenged and we learn new truths about God, ourselves, and the world we live in. In this way, our beliefs and our faith are inextricably interwoven. As our beliefs change, our faith either strengthens or weakens.
This is why James wrote that we can actually be joyful in the midst of difficulties:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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