Faith And Faithfulness Are Not the Same Thing

written by Hiram Diaz (Involuted Speculations)

The Necessity of Distinguishing Faith from Faithfulness

In every age, the same old heresies can be spotted in one form or another. Most recently, there have been two very popular heresies that have been built upon the conflation of two sets of theological truths, viz. (1.)Law and Gospel and (2.)Faith and Faithfulness (Works). These two heresies are (1.)the Federal Vision heresy[1] and (2.)the New Perspectives on Paul heresies.[2] These heresies are not truly novel; however, their popularity warrants a rebuttal of its central confusions. This will be a very brief rebuttal of the conflation of Faith and Faithfulness.

I. Faith and Faithfulness Differentiated in Hebrews 11

Those who advocate the heretical idea that faith is synonymous with faithfulness typically point to Hebrews 11:4-40 in order to justify their heresy. The problem they face, however, is that the first three verses of that chapter militate against such understanding of faith, as they describe in no uncertain terms the essence of faith. The apostle tells us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for,” i.e. the firm assurance that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do. In the second place, the apostle tells us that faith is “the conviction of things not seen,” i.e. the conviction that God’s Word is true. This definition already completely debunks the idea that faith and faithfulness are synonymous, but we can go even further than this and state that faith is defined as “understanding.” The apostle writes: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God…” This should close all further misinterpretation of what follows in vv.4-40, seeing as “faith” is not presented in acts per se, but is defined as understanding, and this understanding is only given by God.[3]

Faith and faithfulness are not the same thing; the one has respect to one’s assent to the divinely revealed propositions of Scripture, the other has respect to how one behaves in light of that revealed truth. The two are not opposed to one another, but they are not the same thing, and the conflation of faith and faithfulness is deadly heresy that will damn all who believe it to Hell. If we go on in this chapter, we might ask the faith = faithfulness heretics why verse 6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. You see, if faith is equivalent to faithfulness, then how can one attempt to please God without faith? The text tells us that Cain attempted to do so by offering a sacrifice, i.e. by an external act of obedience. One can be faithful and lack faith, in other words, and yet the faith = faithfulness heretics don’t seem to realize that the very text they attempt to utilize in favor of their heresy completely undermines any such notion. Faith, of course, is evidenced in one’s responses to God’s Word and this is exactly what follows in the remainder of this chapter.

Those who believed God are those who obeyed Him. Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent because it was made in faith. Abel believed the promise of Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium, and accordingly offered up a blood sacrifice, the typological substitute that was promised by our Lord Himself to our first parents. The second example given by the apostle is that of Enoch. There are two reasons why the heretic cannot use this passage to justify his heresy: (1.)the apostle states that Enoch was “taken up” by faith and (2.)he shows us that faith is antecedent to one’s works. Regarding (1.), we may boldly ask the heretic: If faith and faithfulness are equivalent, then how is Enoch “taken up” by faith? Genesis 5:24 tells us that “God took him.” So, again, I ask: How was Enoch taken up by his faithfulness? This is just absurd. Enoch’s faith was evidenced in the fact that he pleased God, the apostle explains, because pleasing God consists in acting in faith. And what is this faith? It is assent to the propositional truths revealed in Holy Scripture. In the apostle’s words: “…whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Note that coming to God is conditioned upon faith; therefore, faith and faithfulness are not equivalent.

The apostle continues by pointing us to Noah who is said to have built the ark by faith. Again, faith precedes Noah’s building and is, therefore, distinct from his building of the ark. Moreover, the text of Genesis 6 tells us very clearly “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”[4] Why did Noah find favor in God’s eyes? Was it because he was faithful? Or was it, rather, because God had chosen him specifically for the task of building the ark, replenishing the earth, and executing justice by the sword? According to Genesis 5:28-29: Lamech had a son and “called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Was Lamech accidentally correct about what Noah would do? Or was Lamech prophesying about his son? I find it very difficult to believe that Lamech was simply guessing that Noah would bring relief from the curse. It should be plain that Lamech was prophesying, foretelling what Noah would do as God’s agent of redemption and replenishing. Therefore, Noah’s entire life of faith and obedience were not only foreknown, they were predestined according to God’s plan.

Noah’s faith is distinct from his obedience, moreover, in the very text of Hebrews 11. We read that Noah “being warned by God” constructed the ark in reverent fear. There is a clear distinction between Noah’s reception of the Word of God as true and his response to that truth. His response to the truth of God’s warning resulted in his faithfulness to the command of God to build and ark and to gather the animals, etc. How the heretics conflate faith and faithfulness in this passage is just evidence of their blindness which hinders them from seeing the obvious distinction between faith and faithfulness that the Spirit of God has revealed.

The next person in the list of the great cloud of witnesses is Abraham who obeyed God in faith. The heretics point to this example and shout: “There! Faith is faithfulness!” They don’t realize that they are missing something very obvious yet again. Yes, Abraham obeyed in faith; however, the apostle goes on to say that: “These all died in faith…”[5] Does this mean that they died in faithfulness? Was their dying somehow an act of faithfulness? Were these people existentialists who attempted to make a spiritual art out of their deaths? Or is the heretic missing the point here? How does one die in faithfulness? How is one’s death an act of faithfulness? Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is not confused as to His own meaning and He explains that they all died in faith “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”[6] Again, the emphasis is on the understanding, the acceptance of propositional truths revealed by God; the obedience of these people follows, as it is the inevitable fruit of having believed God’s Word. And this is what we read throughout the remainder of the chapter: Faith is evidenced in one’s faithfulness.

II. Peter Differentiates Faith from Faithfulness

The second point I want to make here is that faith and faithfulness are shown to be related yet different in 2 Peter 1:5-8. In this passage, Peter exhorts us to “supplement” our faith with (i)virtue, (ii.)knowledge, (iii.)self-control, (iv.)steadfastness, (v.)godliness, (vi.)brotherly affection, and (vii.)love. The distinction between faith and actions that fall under the general category of faithfulness to God, exhibited in one’s obedience to God in loving Him and loving one’s neighbor as oneself, is detrimental to the legalist heretic who falsely states that faith and faithfulness are equivalent. Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit, destroys that satanic notion. This is why we are commanded to define terms on the basis of God’s Word and not on the shifting sands of empirical research (which never yields certainty). If the heretics who promote the lie that faith = faithfulness would just read their Bibles, they would have a lot less blood on their hands. As it stands, however, they are guilty of denying the sufficiency of the Substitutionary Work of our Lord Jesus Christ and, thereby, condemn themselves along with their hearers. They want to be religious without honoring Christ for who He is: God the Just and Perfect Substitutionary Sacrifice for the sins of His elect people, chosen in Him from before the foundations of the Earth, justified by grace alone through faith alone.

Amen!

[1] The Federal Vision heresy conflates Law and Gospel in its belief in (i.)conditional election, (ii.)baptismal regeneration, (iii.)conditional security, and (iv.)dual stage justification (i.e. an initial form of justification whereby the individual is accepted into the  visible body of believers and a later justification based on works on the Day of Judgment).

[2] The New Perspectives on Paul heresies conflate Faith and Faithfulness by (i.)redefining Law to mean the national governing Law of Israel as a theocratic nation (i.e. the Law as nothing but divinely prescribed ceremonial rites by which Israel could be identified as God’s special Covenant people in contrast to their surrounding Gentile neighbors; (2.)redefining Gospel to mean the good news that Christ has conquered over the world powers and is now uniting Jews and Gentiles together under His political authority (i.e. the Gospel as the declaration that God is calling Jew and Gentile into fellowship with one another in the New Covenant, in contrast to the Gospel as the declaration of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as that which procures for God’s elect the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God); and (3.)redefining faith as covenantal faithfulness (i.e. faith as indiscernible from works of love toward God and love toward one’s neighbor, in contrast to the Scriptural presentation of faith as logically antecedent to faithfulness, the latter being supervenient upon the former, and the former only truly being present where the latter is evidenced).

[3] Cf. Colossians 1:9, for instance, where Paul clearly states that God is the One who causes individuals to have an understanding of the truth of His Word; this also very clearly stated, perhaps even more so, in 1 Corinthians 2:11-16.

[4] Cf. Gen 6:8

[5] Cf. Heb 11:13

[6] Ibid.

Advertisements