What is the difference between faith and belief?

In the English language, there is only slight difference between the words faith and belief. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines belief as "a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing" or "something that is accepted, considered to be true, or held as an opinion" or "conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence" (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belief; accessed 30 May 2023). The same dictionary defines faith as "allegiance to duty or a person; fidelity to one's promises; sincerity of intentions" or "belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust" or "something that is believed especially with strong conviction" (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith; accessed 30 May 2023). Often people make the distinction that belief conveys mental agreement that certain facts are true, while faith implies a deeper personal reliance on or trust in those facts. For instance, a person may believe a certain boat can safely cross a lake, but they have not exhibited faith in that boat until they have boarded the boat and ridden it across the lake. So to some, belief means mental assent whereas faith means exhibited trust. The more pressing question, however, is what the Bible means when it uses the words belief and faith.

In both the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, belief and faith include the idea of action that exhibits trust by living out one's faith or beliefs (see Strong's H539 and G4102). These concepts closely relate to the covenant of a Suzerain-Vassal relationship in Hebrew and the Patron-Client relationship in Greek. In ancient cultures, a person would declare faith in a king, governor, or patron by swearing fidelity, embodied loyalty, and allegiance to that authority. This allegiance would then be expected to be expressed in obedience. Deuteronomy 26:17 says, "You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice." Placing their faith in Yahweh (the LORD) as their God meant that the people planned to loyally obey Him in all that He commanded. In the New Testament, John the Baptist equated belief and obedience when he said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). And James famously wrote, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). Faith and belief in the Bible always include the idea of loyal obedience.

James pointed out that mere mental assent to the fact that Jesus is God's Son who died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, is not salvific because even the demons know those facts to be true and yet they are not saved (James 2:19). Salvation, rather, comes from aligning oneself under God's authority and swearing allegiance to Him. These are the concepts conveyed by the words faith and belief in the original languages of the Bible. Paul expressed the importance of the lordship of Christ in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5, emphasis added). Placing one's faith in Jesus means submitting to Him as lord or master with intention to obey His commands. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Keeping Jesus' commandments is not a way to earn salvation, instead, it is a way to express one's love and loyalty to Him (cf. Ephesians 2:1–10). This attitude of love and loyalty (that results in obedience) is the belief and faith that brings salvation according to the Bible.

May we be like those Jesus desired "that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18).

Related Truth:

What is the gospel?

What is faith in Jesus? What does it mean to have faith in Jesus?

Is it possible for a person to believe in some way and yet not be saved?

How are good works the result of salvation?

What is the relationship of faith, works, and security in salvation?

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Truth about Salvation

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