Belief vs Unbelief

by Mike Ratliff

Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. (Psalms 78:21-22 ESV)

There are only two groups of people in the world. There are Christians, the elect, and everyone else, the non-elect. What separates them? What is the difference? It is not that different streams of faith, as new agers and the “emergents” say, which are all equal and going to the same place and color people in different ways. No, that is what universalists of every variety are selling, but that is most definitely not what God’s Word explicitly says. No, the difference between those in Christ and everyone else is that the former are possessors of faith, which is the Greek word πιστις, which is transliterated as pistes. It and it’s many grammatical forms are translated as “assurance,” “faith,” ”belief,” et cetera throughout the New Testament. Before we define “unbelief,” let us define biblical faith, πιστις, so that we can see very clearly what marks the true believer from the false professor.

Carefully read the following passage my brethren.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV)

What do those who have πιστις that those with unbelief, απιστιας, apistias, do not and visa versa? The Greek word translated throughout the Bible as belief or faith, πιστις, is actually a technical rhetorical term for forensic proof. That’s right, the faith that Christians have that brings Him glory and is exhibited by those who believe God and obey Him is rooted in believing the proof He has given. As we can see in this passage, those with πιστις obey God because they have not hardened their hearts and rebelled, which is exactly what those with απιστιας, instead, do. In this passage, those who died off in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land died in their απιστιας, their unbelief. On the other hand, those who did enter in did so because of their obedience, which was the fruit of their πιστις.

Πιστις is not a feeling nor is it mere intellectual assent. It is not something that we have based on faith in ourselves in any way. No, our Lord said it well in the discourse He gave to the Eleven the night before His crucifixion.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 ESV)

No, the faith of those who walk in obedience to God is based in and focused entirely on Christ. It is never based in or focused on self. When we make that huge mistake, we are setting ourselves up for a nasty fall. Faith that produces a godly life that brings God glory is an assurance and belief in our awesome God and what He has done on our behalf already and what He has promised to do for us in the future.

Therefore, when we see the universalists, no matter what they call themselves,  attempting to blend together their different steams of faith we see people who are exhibiting nothing more than απιστιας, which is defined as faithlessness or uncertainty, distrust, and unbelief. In the New Testament, it is shown to be what marks those who do not acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour. These doubt Christ’s power and do not trust in the God of promise. Oh, some have a religion built around a Jesus of their own construction, but this is not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord, and Saviour. No, their Jesus is their buddy and has no problem with “sins” and even celebrates doubt while participating in the blending of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity because, hey, these are just different streams of faith, right?

Therefore, we must examine ourselves. Are we walking before the face of God in πιστις, in obedience to His revealed will in the Word of God, or are we walking our own way in απιστιας. The former is the walk of obedience of the children of God. The latter is the walk of rebellion and with faith in self with the elevation of uncertainty to the status of a virtue.

We teach that all those in Christ are so because of what God has done.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

Here are the bold verses in Greek:

8 Τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως· καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον· 9 οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων, ἵνα μή τις καυχήσηται. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NA28)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not of yourselves, it is God’s gift;  9 not by works lest any should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The faith that believes God is a part of this gift. Without this, no one believes. The best we can do without it is works, ἔργων. We are being delivered as we walk through our life down the narrow path of obedience, which is a product of this faith πίστεως, trust, or belief becoming manifest in us according to God’s grace, χάριτί. Those truly saved all go through this and these are the ones who cross over into God’s eternal rest, only them.

Now, is our faith, our πιστις, built on fear as many universalists say or is it a product of God’s good work in our hearts that enable us to see the truth, believe the truth, and walk accordingly?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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