Faith’s Components

I don’t know what your church background is, but hopefully you attend a church that recites a creed every week. The question that precedes these sacred recitations is one that all Christians must consistently ask themselves: Christians, what do you believe?

I believe in the Trinity. I believe in the Incarnation. I believe in the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Yet belief, no matter how proper or orthodox it is, is not the equivalent of faith.

The Christian life is built upon a set of beliefs that revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ. But belief alone does not constitute saving faith. After all, we know that even the demons could properly identify Jesus and his relationship to the Father (Matt. 8:29; Mk. 5:7; etc.) and believe in one God (Jas. 2:19). And James is quite clear that faith must be accompanied by good works, for it is otherwise dead (Jas. 2:17). But what faith itself is is a significant question, and I’m afraid that too many Christians merely assume that it is just right belief.

After the last several months of my life, I have been forced to acknowledge that there is more to faith than belief. After all, I have spent the last 8 years of my life committed to learning what orthodox Christian beliefs are and how to properly articulate them to others. But faith is quite another thing altogether. Proper belief is only the starting point of faith, not its sole component. For belief to be faith, it must be accompanied by the following two things: trust and obedience.

No one lives life in a vacuum. Throughout all of life’s circumstances, Christian faith consists of proper belief, trust, and obedience. What good is proper belief if you don’t trust the one you say you believe in? What good is trust if you’re not willing to obey the one you trust? Belief, trust, and obedience all feed into and are incomplete without the other.

Adam and Eve knew God in the garden. They believed He existed, but they neither trusted nor obeyed Him. Likewise you and I in our Christian experience know God. We believe He exists and we (rightfully) affirm the creeds. But unless you are willing to trust Him in the difficult times and obey Him no matter what the cost, you do not have the fullness of faith that God desires from you.

The song* is old, but its message rings true:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

The fifth verse stands out the most to me:

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

What is lacking in your Christian life right now? Chances are it can be traced back to your definition of faith. Don’t rely simply on proper beliefs, as crucial as they are. Allow God to form in you a spirit that is both trusting and obedient.

*Trust and Obey, John H. Sam­mis, 1887.

7 thoughts on “Faith’s Components

  1. Sean,
    Good to see you posting again and I like your sites new look. I really enjoyed the post, it kind of reminds me of Dr. Oswalt’s three legged stool illustration.

    Obedience, Love and Belief.


  2. Thanks, Heath. Glad to see you here. I want to keep this blog updated, but this truly has been an unprecedented last four months for me.

    I don’t recall Oswalt’s ‘stool’ illustration. Where did you hear it from? Was it a sermon or a lecture or a class? Tell me more.

  3. Sean,

    Glad to be here. I first heard the illustration during my first year at Wesley College. Dr. Oswalt preached our Spring revival and I must say for me it was life transforming. But recently I purchased his new book On Being a Christian from FAS, in there he uses the illustration.

    The illustration is from when he was growing up on the farm and milking cows. He makes the point of how a 3 legged stool is better than a 4 legged on uneven ground.

    Now the book (really a series of messages)is based on 1 John and he says that John gives us three essentials ” evidences of the Christian life” and they are Obedience, Love and Belief. And just like a “three legged stool each one of those legs count” and if you lose one you are in ‘the stuff'”.

    He also says that one cannot say “I am genuine Christian because I have a really orthodox belief, even though I am not very loving, and I don’t really do what God wants very often.”

    It kind of goes back to what your post said, “what good is proper belief if you don’t trust the one you say you believe in? What good is trust if you’re not willing to obey the one you trust? Belief, trust, and obedience all feed into and are incomplete without the other.”

    Like all his books…it was a great little book.

    Did you know that John D Zizioulas has two new books coming out at the end of next month? Just thought you would like to know.
    1. Remembering the Future: An Eschatological Ontology

    2.Lectures in Christian Dogmatics


  4. Heath,

    It’s funny you mention it, but I just got Oswalt’s new book myself over the weekend. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but like everything else from him I’m sure it’s golden.

    Of course, his ‘three-legged stool’ idea concerns the Christian life in general, whereas I was attempting a delineation of the components of faith itself. With that said, is there room for argument against the components I listed or for any additions to them? Just curious.

    I was aware of Zizioulas’ book on remembering the future (a concept he mentions frequently in his other books–I’m glad he’s making a whole book devoted to the topic), but I wasn’t aware of his dogmatics. They should both be good. However, I’m still trying to finish his last book, Communion and Otherness, which is the sequel to Being as Communion. It’s an amazing book, just hard to get through when you’re busy.

  5. Sean,

    I not sure I would add anything to the components of faith you have listed. Well I might would add love and I will get back to that.

    Now the biggest problem I have is getting people to see that obedience is essential. Because for most people I encounter, they simple believe that saying “I believe in Jesus” is enough…no matter whether they really trust or obey Him.

    Because everyone knows that God looks at our lives through Jesus colored glasses.;)

    I am not sure that most Christians feel that right belief is important. I find all to often what people say about Jesus is not what the bible says about Jesus or the Father or the Spirit.

    And maybe that is why they have missed the other two components, they have missed Jesus.

    Back to Love, I find people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not love… and of course they find it hard to trust Him, much less obey Him. So I would maybe add love to trusting and obeying.

    “You can believe what God says,you can believe that God exists, and you can believe in Him, which means that you love Him so much that you want to do what he tells you. There are many evil people around who can manage the first two of these. They believe that God means what he says; and they are quite prepared to accept that he exist. But it takes someone who is not just a nominal Christian but who is one in deed and in living to love God and to do what He commands. Faith with love is Christian, but faith without love is demonic’ Bede, Concerning the Epistle of St. James (ACCS, Oden and Bray).

    Sorry for the long quote, but I figured it could say it better than I could.


  6. It is helpful to remember that orthodoxy means ‘right glory’ and so contains the idea of correct worship and not just correct belief. I think the Eastern Christians have a better concept of this than Western Christians. I like to think that orthodoxy equals orthopraxy.

  7. Polycarp,

    Thank you for visiting and commenting on this blog. While I’m not convinced your definition of ‘orthodox’ is entirely correct (for, etymologically, orthodoxy is a combination of orthos ‘right’ and dokeo, which can mean ‘judgment’, ‘estimation’, ‘view’, as well as ‘glory’), I do believe you make a good point about one of the differences between East and West. The East clearly begins their approach to theology with an act of worship — their theology emerges from their worship. This is a beautiful approach, and one that I would like to emulate more in my own theological endeavors. And while I’m also not convinced that orthodoxy equals orthopraxy, per se, I do believe that the two compliment each other in a way where one is incomplete apart from the other.

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