Belief, unbelief and faith

by Mike Ratliff

21 Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath; And a fire was kindled against Jacob And anger also mounted against Israel, 22 Because they did not believe in God And did not trust in His salvation. (Psalms 78:21-22 NASB)

Dealing with Emergents, pragmatists, and others who insist that they are Christians while what they say and do is marked as distinctly the fruit of unbelief, can be a very trying experience. I suppose that is why our enemy will never stop his attacks on those who are called by the name of Christ to discourage and confuse them. Several years ago while working with my friends Chris Rosebrough and the late Ken Silva. I became aware of a “discussion” they had with an Emergent named Doug Pagitt. Chris posted a link to Pagitt’s response to that conversation, which I read. Pagitt and his fellow Emergents came up with a concept that they felt described those of us who would be considered Orthodox Christians, which was that we are so because we are driven by fear. However, the one thing that struck a chord with me in this was Pagitt’s description of the differences in our faith and his was that they are nothing more than different “streams of faith.” I have never forgotten that.

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 color people, which are all equal and going to the same place. No, that is what the Emergents 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 pistis 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.

7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “ Today if you hear His voice, 8 DO not harden your hearts as when they provoked ME, AS in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw MY works for forty years. 10 “ Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘ They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know MY ways ’; 11 AS I swore in MY wrath, ‘ They shall not enter MY rest. ’” 12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said, “ Today if you hear His voice, DO not harden your hearts, as when they provoked ME.” 16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19 NASB)

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.

Faith, πιστις is not a feeling. It is not something that we have based our 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.

4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NASB)

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 ourselves. 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 Emergents 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, doubt, 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 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.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 NASB)

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 these Emergents are saying 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!

4 thoughts on “Belief, unbelief and faith

  1. The comment by Pagitt about “different streams” reminds me of a wretched video series we used in a church a while back – 1,000 years of church history, narrated by Prof. Timothy George. It was rather dull and full of the Roman Catholic perspective of history. And at the end, Prof George told us, with much enthusiasm that there were four main streams or paths or something of Christianity. I don’t recall all four, but Roman Catholicism was one of them.

    I fail to see how anyone can claim that church has any more claim on biblical Christianity than do Mormons, et. al. – and the emergents. As a group, they have major points of departure from the Word of God, on essentials.


  2. Well done, Mike. The nail is flush with the wood on this one.

    It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word that is translated ‘Faith’ is also translated as ‘Trust’, the two words are virtually interchangeable. Going back through the ’emergent’s’ statement of multiple paths starts getting holes in it when you use the word Trust. There is Trust and then No Trust. Several different ways of Trust doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. 😉

    It does seem to me that their assertion is very self-centered.


  3. Reblogged this on The love of God and commented:
    The definition of Faith: “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.”

    I had to reblog this one…


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