The Connotation of Faith

Therefore, we hold the view that a person comes to be considered righteous by God on the ground of trusting, which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of Torah commands.

Rom 3:28

Paul calls this—righteousness by trust—another way, independent of law. A few verses earlier, Paul tells us that we are called righteous because we believe in Christ:

… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction.

Rom 3:22

Today, I want to look at the words faith and believe. The main focus will be on the connotations of those words.


Connotations? Think of this as all the words you would note with (co) the words faith and believe if you were ask to tell us what you think when you hear those words.

First a word about the English language. English prides itself to have a clear distinction between believe as in “I believe it will rain tomorrow” and faith as in “my faith in Christ is strong”. That is great, and most western languages should be jealous of this, as most of them do not have this possibility. German, French, Italian, Spanish only have one word, as does Greek and Hebrew. Wait,even Greek and Hebrew? How then do we know when to use to have faith, and when to use to believe? You don’t, and it is entirely up to the translator that decides based on context, personal favor, and his own belief system. So relax.

In German, we have another problem—which can easily be replicated in English. I believe can mean so many different things. The two I am going to state span a very wide field.

  • I believe, it is going to rain tomorrow. Thus, I am not certain, but lean towards the possibility.
  • I believe. These two words include all this: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born by a virgin, who became man, died at the cross, rose, and lives. He died for my sins and will come back. This I am absolutely certain of.

The second point can vary, depending on the upbringing of the Christian, and include things like

  • God made this creation in 6 days and rested on the seventh.
  • Christ will return soon. But first, everything will turn bad.

You see what I have done here: even between two Bible believing Christians, the connotations of the phrase I believe can differ. They even might include very questionable pieces of interpretation, theology, and tribal pet subjects.

A German Bible translator therefore translated the Hebrew and Greek words using treuen. Treuen is a made-up word, stemming from treu and vertrauen. Those stand for trusty and to trust. As both trusty and to trust in English stem from to traust, why don’t you try to use traust instead of believe and have faith. Just to build a new connotation that is not as worn and well-known, thus sparking new ideas instead of well trotted associative paths.

A biblical approach

When I was in boarding home, we had several hours of additional study time daily. In those study times we were allowed to do our home work or to read the Bible—it was a catholic boarding home. As I was not the most faithful in doing my homework, but, if I did, was very fast, I read through the Bible several times in those 6 years. But the Bible at the time was but a story and history book, more or less interesting—depending on the chapter—and more or less historically and scientifically accurate. But when I later read it with the help of the Holy Spirit, it sprung to life. What happened?

So the law has been a servant to take us to Christ, so that we might have righteousness by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a servant.

Gal 3:24-25

Other translations use teacher, guide, tutor. But servant is interestingly enough quite accurate. The word is paidagogos, a servant of the rich that took the students to school and back, made their homework with them, and reminded them of all that they had learned during the day. That was the duty of the law: to lead us to God, to remind us of His ways, to help us with our part. Just as it is said of the Holy Spirit:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will be your teacher in all things and will put you in mind of everything I have said to you.

Jn 14:26

Thus, today the Holy Spirit will serve as our pedagogue. And he will do so bringing the Bible to life—as he did with me—, speaking to us with his still, small voice, and using others.

But both the law and the Holy Spirit are not a means to an end, but guides to another. And this other is Christ.

Therefore, to believe is all about a relationship, not a system. It’s all about a person, not a set of rules. It’s all about knowing Christ, not what he did and will do.

An example

We all know in part. God has so many more facets than we believe or even dare to believe. We know that He is savior, but fewer people see Him as lord. Some see Him as the child that came to save the world, other as man that gave his life. But how many see Him as King of kings and God, as He was revealed to John in the book of Revelation. It is called the revelation of Christ, isn’t it?

Back in the study times in my boarding home. We had pedagogues that helped us study. Three of them. They were monks. All of them walked through the rows and watched over our shoulders whether we were doing homework or reading the Bible. The three had very different views of the right dealings if not. One could say, they had different understandings of God’s ways to deal with trespassers. One believed that God punishes immediately, and dealt a clout. The other believed that God had patience, but detailed records, and that you had to carry the consequences. Thus he wrote letters to the parents or refused to let us go to the next party or cinema night. The third one believed that God was grace. A gentle touch on the shoulder, a reminder with a whispering voice, sometimes just his eyes guiding us. All three of them knew different facets of God, some more Old, and some more New Testament.

The law, the Bible, the Holy Spirit are all vital and instrumental in getting to know Christ, as is prayer, worship, spending time with Him.

But think of Abraham:

And he had faith in the Lord, and it was put to his account as righteousness.

Gen 15:6

Why did Abraham have faith that he would receive a son? Did he believe because God told him, or because God told him?

Faith in the Lord

There comes the time when we know God and we no longer believe that He exists and loves us because the Bible tells us so. But we start to believe the Bible because we know God, know his faithfulness.

If we are without faith, still he keeps faith, for he will never be untrue to himself.

2Ti 2:13

This does not render the Bible or the Holy Spirit unnecessary, by no means. But their role changes. They become what they were in the first place: pedagogues.

My first encounter is with the teacher, with the pedagogue. Only then he can introduce me to the subject I am to learn. That does not take from the importance of the pedagogue, on the contrary, but it sets things straight. It is not about faith in the Bible, but faith in the Lord. It is not about the gift, but about the giver. It is not about what I know, but who I know.

If I believe God, my understanding of the Bible even can be challenged without destroying my faith. Think of theology concerning healing. After the church had become a state church and its leaders were appointed by Cesar instead of God, the gifts ceased. The church needed an explanation, and it changed theology based on experience. We have been taught that God only heals when he wants, and that he used sickness to teach us. If now somebody comes and tells us that this is not true, even though a whole interpretative system has been devised to support this, we are shaken to our foundation. Especially if we have lost a loved one. That is, if we believe in our interpretation of the Bible. If we know God, we can step back and reevaluate our beliefs. And we find that Jesus healed them all.

Faith is a relationship

With all that was said in mind, it is easy to give faith the connotation of a relationship. I do not say that I will define faith as a relationship, because it is more than that—just think of Hebrews 11:1. But it certainly involves and entails relationship. A relationship between me and God and others. A trust relationship.

How strong is your trust relationship towards God? Will it hold if your pet subject is challenged? Let me know.