I received a handwritten letter (yes, some people still do that!) asking the question which is the title of this blog. The question concerned a November-December 2017 Grace in Focus magazine article by Bill Fiess and me entitled, “Saving Faith Is Not Heartfelt Trust.”
The article was not discussing trust per se, but heartfelt trust. This is an expression that Dr. Wayne Grudem likes to use in his book against Free Grace Theology. Grudem does not like talking about believing in Jesus (John 3:16). He thinks that is misleading. Instead, he prefers speaking of “heartfelt trust in the person of Christ” (p. 99) or “heartfelt trust in the living person of Christ” (pp. 105, 142). Those expressions convey the sense of commitment and a determination to obey. However, believing in Jesus does not suggest commitment or determination to obey.
So, adding the word heartfelt to trust results in an expression that is not synonymous with faith. Clearly heartfelt trust is meant by Grudem and those who use that expression to mean something more than believing.
But is the word trust, by itself, a good synonym for faith? The questioner gives some examples where he thinks the words mean the same thing:
I believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for my sins = I trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection for my sins.
I believe you will bring me the $20 you owe me = I trust you will bring me the $20 you owe me.
I believe my Momma loves me = I trust my Momma loves me.
Only in very rare cases, and never in evangelistic passages, does the Bible use the words believe or faith to refer to something one hopes will happen. In the Bible believing is being convinced something is true.
So, while the words believe or faith can in English sometimes refer to a desire or hope and not to something that one is convinced is true (e.g., “I believe I will catch a lot of fish today”), that is not what the Bible means by believing in Jesus and that is not what Bill and I were discussing. That is not what I’m discussing in this blog. I’m discussing the normal Biblical use of pisteuō and pistis as being convinced that something is true.
In some contexts the word trust is a synonym for faith (or persuasion, being convinced). But the overlap in meaning is so small that this is rare. More often trust refers to something we hope or wish will occur. Hoping and wishing are not the same as being convinced.
Believing that Jesus died for my sins may mean the same thing as trusting He died for my sins. However, the latter expression might mean that while I’m not convinced it is true, I consider it my best bet and so I choose to rely on that.
I’ve heard evangelists ask people to pray a sinner’s prayer that includes the words, “I don’t understand it all. But as best I know how I am trusting Jesus as my only hope of heaven.” That is far short from Martha’s belief in John 11:27. That is not a statement of belief. That is a statement of what you hope will happen.
Does “I trust my Momma loves me” mean I’m convinced that Momma loves me or does it mean I hope that Momma loves me? If it means “I’m convinced,” then trust in that phrase is a synonym for believing. But if it means “I hope,” then it is not a synonym for believing.
Trusting someone to pay me the $20 he owes me is not the same as being sure he will do so. He might forget, die, or simply choose not to honor his debt.
Here’s the point: Why use a word that rarely means the same thing as faith or believing, when you can simply use the word that Scripture uses? The very fact that people prefer to use a different word than believing shows that they consider that different word to convey something different. Otherwise, they would use the word found in the English Bible.
The Greek word for faith is pistis. Let’s say that I live in modern Greece and I speak Greek. What if I prefer to use the word elpis instead of pistis? In modern Greek elpis means something you hope will happen. A Greek speaker would object, saying, “Wait a minute. The Bible uses pistis. You can’t switch to elpis. They are not the same words and they don’t have the same meaning.”
Many people like Grudem are not convinced, that is, they do not believe, that Jesus gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it. So they don’t call for people to believe in Jesus. They call for them to put their heartfelt trust in Him, which they then define as turning from your sins and committing your life to serve Him.
Now to answer the question posed in the title. If trust is not a good word for faith, what is? Let me give you nine words or expressions that are solid synonyms for faith: persuasion, belief, being convinced, being assured, being certain, having certitude, giving credence to, being sure, and being certain. So to believe in Jesus for everlasting life is to be persuaded (or convinced, assured, certain, sure) that Jesus guarantees my eternal salvation (John 11:25-27; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16).