Belief vs. Faith

I recently visited Italy, Spain, and France and was reminded of the religious contrast between America and Europe.  In Europe, large numbers of people consider themselves agnostics or even atheists.

In America, something like 95% of the population “believes in God.”  Nearly as high a percentage also believes that there is a life after death and that people are rewarded or punished by God in the next life based on how they lived this life.

So does that mean that there is a higher level of Christian faith in America than in Europe?  Not necessarily.  Because true faith entails a whole lot more than belief.

Hebrews 11 is one of the classic places in the Bible that discusses the nature of faith.  “Without faith,” says the author, it is impossible to please him.”  Certainly such faith includes and presupposes convictions about things that can’t be seen or proven.  “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb 11: 6).

But mere belief can be objective and detached.  I’ve never been to China, but I believe it exists.  I don’t plan on going any time soon, and my belief that China exists has no impact on my daily life.

True faith is much more personal than this.  The New Testament authors actually came up with a new and very strange grammatical construction in Greek to try to convey the personal nature of Christian faith.  It is not about just believing that Jesus is the Son of God, or that he died for our sins or that he rose from the dead, but believing in him, or even into him.  Faith is a dynamic journey in Christ, a plunge into the depths of God.  If you have conviction that God is omnipotent and all loving, then you must entrust yourself, your loved ones, and your future entirely to him.  You take a risk, assuming that he indeed is trustworthy.  In fact, that is the origin of the Hebrew word “amen” which is connected to the word for rock.  To say “amen” literally means “it is reliable, I can stand on it.”

Lovers who say they “believe in” their beloved show it by making a public pledge to be faithful to each other til death do them part.  This is the covenant of marriage.  The act of Christian faith is a lot like this.  It is a conviction that leads a person to entrust themselves in love to God in Christ and commit themselves to an exclusive relationship to this God come what may.  In fact the verb “to believe” in Latin is “credere” which is related to the Latin words “cor” and “dare”, to give one’s heart.  Even in the English language the verb “be-lieve” is related to the German/Saxon verb to love.

So true faith can’t be cool and aloof.  It must move from conviction to confidence to commitment for it to be authentic and mature.  Do you believe that a supreme being exists and that he knows you better than you know yourself and loves you better than you love yourself?  Than it would make sense for you to surrender yourself completely to him and do whatever he tells you.

That’s why Abraham is the prime model of faith in the Old Testament.  He did not have that full revelation of God in Christ that we are privileged to possess.  In fact he did not even know God’s name.  But when this Unknown God called him from the comfort of Mesopotamian civilization to wander in an unknown land, he packed up and left (Genesis 12).  And when this God required the sacrifice of his only son, the son he had waited for all his life, he did not hesitate to comply (Gen 22).

Abraham had the courage of his convictions.  He acted on what he believed.  As for the countless Americans who believe in God  . . .  if their belief was true faith, there would not be millions of unborn babies legally murdered in this country year after year.

It is easy to shine the searchlight on our neighbors.  But how about us?  Does the way we vote, spend, work, plan and play reflect what we say we believe?

Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For info on his resources and pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 800.803.0118.

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  • lkeebler

    Many people don’t take the actions that Christ wants us to take because they know the world will hate them, they don’t speak the Truth in Love because they know they will be rejected – even as Christ was hated and rejected. But this is exactly what Jesus asks us to do, and He forewarns us that we will be rejected and suffer just like He suffers. So He says: lay down your life, love me more than the world, take up your cross daily and follow me, you must lose your life to find it… on and on through Scripture He tells us what to do to inherit the Kingdom of God. Not all will inherit the Kingdom of God but those who do His Will. As harsh as the Scripture below seems to sound, it is a warning to us in Love, Christ tells us the Truth… in Love, and He expects us to tell others the Truth in Love. Jesus talks about real Love, that we Love others enough to be subjected to hatred and rejection by many people around us and by the world,  to speak the Truth so that some might know Christ… not like those here who thought they knew Jesus but were only acting out of selfish ambition and will not “enter the kingdom of heaven”. I notice in this Scripture Jesus says, “I never knew you”, He doesn’t say… you never knew Me (as obviously they thought they knew Him). I think we can know who Jesus is, we can know of Him and about Him, we can say we believe but be fooling ourselves by following our own desires, and not be obedient to follow His commands. What does Christ require of us that He and the Father will dwell in our hearts – “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”. Sadly, I think many know Jesus, but reject Him by their continued disobedience, and so Christ says, “I never knew you”.  God help us.

    Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’