Tag Archives: faith

All God Asked of a Jailer in Philippi

Conversations About God 3:2

Seeing trust as a central issue in the universe helps explain Paul’s very brief reply to the jailer in Philippi. An earthquake brought down the doors of that jail (Acts 16:25-26). The jailer was afraid that the prisoners had escaped, in which case he himself would be executed. But when Paul called out to him, he ran in and fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:27-29). He then brought them out of the jail and earnestly inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” At least “What must I do to be safe?” Paul did not reply, “If you have the time, I have 20 lessons for you. As we sit here in the rubble of the jail, I’ll lead you through the doctrines of the church.” No, all Paul said was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” So we need to clearly understand what Paul meant by that word translated “believe.”

We often go to great lengths to explain the difference between belief and faith. Of all the illustrations I’ve heard to explain the difference, the one that impressed me the most was the story of the man who strung a cable over Niagara Falls. A preacher described how a crowd watched the man crossing over the Falls on the cable, pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Upon his return, he turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do that again?”
A man in the crowd replied, “Yes, I believe you can.”
“Then climb into my wheelbarrow.”
“Not on your life!” said the spectator.
The preacher telling the story would then say, “You see, he believed he could make it across, but he didn’t have faith.”

The difference between belief and faith matters in the English language, but there is no such difference between belief and faith in the Bible. There is only one word for both and that word is pistis. You see, the original conversation between the jailer and Paul was in Greek. And that’s the reason these Bible versions read differently.

Let’s look at Acts 16:30, 31 in several versions. The first reading is from the King James Version (KJV): “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'” But in the New English Bible (NEB) it reads, “Put your trust in the Lord Jesus. . . .” The Berkeley version has; “Have faith in the Lord Jesus. . . .” All three translations are based on exactly the same Greek word. In English the word pistis means belief, faith, trust, confidence. And the versions vary, just for variety.

Among these options, we’re most familiar with the word “faith.” As Christians we talk about it a great deal. But what is faith? What do we mean when we say to a person “Have faith,” or “You should have more faith,” or, “We’re saved by faith,” or, “Righteousness by faith”? Faith means so many different things these days that we almost need another word. The most notorious definition of faith is the one given by a small schoolboy. He said, “Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.” You see, in some people’s minds, if you’re prepared to believe what “you know ain’t so,” that’s real faith.

Now, most of us wouldn’t go that far. But we might say, “Faith is believing something for which you have insufficient evidence,” because if you had sufficient evidence, you wouldn’t say “I accept that by faith,” you would say, “I know.” Does that mean that the more we come to know God, the less faith we’ll have? When we actually stand in His presence will we say, “God, I see you now, and that’s the end of my faith? I’ll never believe in you again, because now I know you”?

What Sin Is All About

Conversations About God 2:2

A crisis of distrust developed in God’s universal family. As we reviewed earlier, our heavenly Father has been accused of being unworthy of our trust. Specifically, He has been accused of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And thus sin entered our universe for the first time. For the Bible, sin is much more than a mere breaking of the rules, serious as that might be. In its essence, sin is a violation of mutual trust. It is a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness, a stubborn unwillingness to listen to the One who is so eager to help us in our predicament.

Doesn’t the Bible specifically state, however, that sin is breaking the rules? How about the key text we’ve learned from childhood up, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV)? Actually, that’s a rather free translation. The Greek word that John used is anomia, and it means, literally, lawlessness. “Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, Williams). In other words, sin is described as a state of mind, an attitude. And anyone in that state of mind is a continuing threat to the peace and security of the universal family. Sin will not have been truly dealt with until our lawlessness has either been changed or eliminated. Sin begins with a lawless, rebellious state of mind.

The hazard of regarding sin primarily as breaking the rules is that such a mindset tends to encourage an impersonal, even fearful relationship with God. If we regard sin as primarily a breaking of the rules, God’s commandments may be misunderstood as arbitrary regulations designed to show His authority and test our willingness to obey. If we obey, we’re rewarded. If we disobey, we’re destroyed. Do you want to live under those circumstances?

Since we all have sinned, should we be fearfully awaiting the execution of the sentence? Or have we been spared because God found some legal way to give us yet another chance? And if we turn down that second chance, will He punish us with even greater severity for our ingratitude? Would such an understanding help produce the peace and the freedom from fear that God desires so much in His universal family?

Actually though, if rightly understood, there is a sense in which one can say that sin is a breaking of the rules. Let’s look again God’s commandments, particularly the Decalogue. All those Ten Commandments ultimately require is that we love God and we love each other (Matt 22:36-40). And if we really did that we would have peace and freedom. In fact, in the tenth of the Ten Commandments it says that we should not even want to sin. If we lived in that state of mind, not even wanting to do anything unloving, we would have freedom to be sure, and all kinds of peace and good will.

But can love actually be commanded? Or produced by force or by fear? To put it vividly, has God said to us children, “You either love Me, and love each other, or I’ll have to kill you. Do I make Myself clear?” Have you husbands ever tried that on your wives and children? Did it work? Imagine your wives and children trembling in front of you and saying in unison, “Oh, yes, daddy. We love you very much.” Would you be pleased? Would you be satisfied? If so, then you’re a brute. And the God some of us worship would never settle for that.

Having said that, we all must admit that the Bible is full of references to law, discipline, punishment and rewards, even final fiery destruction. And since our purpose in this series is always to look at the Bible as a whole, not just “here a little and there a little,” we must look at all these other passages seriously. In fact, several chapters of this book will be devoted to God’s wide use of law and why Jesus indeed had to die. And we will talk about how, in reality, God’s law is no threat to our freedom! To understand that is really the truth that sets us free.

Going back to the beginning, sin entered our universe when angels ceased to trust. As a consequence, they themselves became untrustworthy. James 4:17 offers a familiar definition: “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (RSV).” It is rebellious to act that way. It is lawless to act that way. Anyone who behaves like that is certainly not trustworthy to have around in a free universe.

Look at Romans 14:23 in several, different versions: “Any action that is not based on faith is a sin.” (Moffat) “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (RSV).” “When we act apart from our faith we sin (Phillips).” In a text from the book of Ezra (10:2), the Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity are confessing that they have done several things that they should not have done. But they describe their misbehaviors in these words: “We have broken faith with our God (RSV).” “We have been unfaithful to our God (NIV).” These texts underline that the essence of sin is a breach of faith; it’s a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness.