Is a pat of butter the same thing as a cookie? Of course not. But is there butter in a cookie? Yes, it’s one of the ingredients. But there are other ingredients, too, like sugar, flour, maybe some white-chocolate chips and macadamia nuts. I’ll try to stop drooling now.
In exactly the same way, believing in God is an ingredient in faith, but not the only ingredient. There are more ingredients in faith than mere belief. The New Testament Greek word for “believe” (pisteuo; the related noun is pistis, faith) means
“to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted. In our literature God and Christ are objects of this type of faith that relies on their power and nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that their revelations or disclosures are true” (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. 2000. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature [3rd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press], p. 817).
Faith has several ingredients, one of which is believing, but notice that it’s not only believing in God. It’s believing that His revelations are true. God revealed that Jesus is the Christ (the Spirit-empowered King of Kings), the Son of God (Matthew 16:16-17) and Savior (Luke 2:11). Just believing He’s the Savior assumes a certain view of the world’s (and your) problems and the solutions to them.
Another ingredient in faith is total commitment to the one who is trusted. This is implied clearly when you confess that Jesus is Lord (per Romans 10:9-10). You are implying that a host of others are not lord or the most important thing: you, Caesar, the President, the Prime Minister, humanity, money, pleasure, sex, fame, etc. And saying Jesus is Lord while flouting his commands is meaningless. Confessing Jesus as Lord and meaning it is like saying, “Your wish is my command.” That is why James says faith without works is dead; it can’t save you (James 2:14-17). He says even demons believe in God—and shudder (2:19). Doing good things for others demonstrates that your faith is real (2:18-19).
Another ingredient in faith is dependence. When you entrust yourself to God, you are depending on His ability and compassion for help that you know you can’t get any other way. Imagine falling out of a boat in the ocean only to see a massive shark fin coming straight at you. In falling out of the boat, you broke your leg, so you can’t swim your way out of this mess quickly enough. But a friend on the boat immediately throws you a rope and tells you to grab on and he will pull you out. I’m pretty sure that believing in the existence of your friend and the rope won’t be enough to get you out of that water. Depending on your friend by grabbing the rope and holding on till you’re out will.
When we talk about how a person can enter God’s Kingdom, we say, “By faith.” But we must understand what that means. When I was a senior in high school, our principal said he would give us $20 for doing 30 push-ups. I dropped and did the 30 and then stopped, though I could have done more. But then he dropped and did 60 and said we had to do more than he did. He had not made the condition upon which we could have the money clear. I thought I had done enough, but hadn’t.
In the same way, I’m concerned that many people think they will have eternal life because they think they have met the condition; they think they have faith. After all, they believe in God. They believe the gospel is true, even if they are not doing as Jesus said. But they have only one ingredient of faith, and that won’t save them. That could lead to a rude awakening someday that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
That is why I am clarifying what faith means. Faith is made of belief in, dependence on and total commitment to God. And that kind of faith, real faith, always produces good works and obedience in increasing measure. To receive eternal life, make sure you have real faith.