In the Bible, the English words “faith,” “believe,” and “trust” are translated from the same Greek root words, pistis, and pisteuo. The context determines which is the more appropriate. These Greek words can even be translated with other English words. But in this article, we’ll concentrate on these English words.
What Words Does the Bible Use for Faith and Trust?
Faith is the usual translation of the Greek noun pistis, while believe is the standard translation for the Greek word pisteuo. The most common gospel passages use the word believe or believing, not trust. For instance:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). (1)
It also wouldn’t change the meaning of John 3:16 to use the noun ‘faith’ in place of ‘believes’:
“That whoever (has faith) in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Faith and Trust are Synonyms
So, it should be ok to use ‘trusts’ in place of ‘believes.’ For example: “That whoever (trusts) in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yet, in practice, some people have made it a problem by using the broader, expanded meanings of trust. How so, you ask? We’ll get to that.
But the Bible Uses Believes, not Trusts
Someone can trust in, have faith in, or believe in Jesus Christ—in context–and they’re all the equivalent. But the Bible never says, “He who ‘trusts’ in Me has everlasting life.” Jesus called people to ‘believe’ in Him, not trust Him. Since Jesus asked us to believe in Him, why would we use different words?
A Binary Process
Biblically, either not believing in Jesus’ Name or believing in His name has two possible responses. You either believe or you don’t; you have faith or don’t. How Much Faith do We Need for God to Save Us? There aren’t gradients of faith where it takes more dedication–a stronger belief in Jesus’ Name—to receive initial salvation. It neither asks for commitment nor obedience beyond believing the good news.
So, it’s Biblically wrong to question whether someone had enough faith to give the believer God’s promise of eternal life. It’s unjustified to question faith’s sincerity, i.e., whether it’s a true-believing faith or a saving faith–as if a person wouldn’t know whether they believed in Jesus or not! There aren’t any Biblical examples of people who had insufficient faith to save (the man who asked Jesus to help his faith in Mark 9:24 was not requesting faith for initial salvation), but only examples of those who believed and had life and those who didn’t.
Problems with Illustrations
In everyday English, ‘trust’ can range from certainty to probability. But using specific illustrations from the expanded meaning of the English word trust, which aren’t in the word believe, can be problematic. For example, the physical action of putting your money or valuables in a bank, sitting in a chair, or getting on a plane is a matter of an expanded meaning of trust in English. Those physical actions run into problems when they’re used to illustrate saving faith.
Using Trust to Add Requirements
In specific contexts, the English word ‘trust’ is a synonym for ‘believe.’ However, in English, trust can mean more than simply believing. We mustn’t use it to require a life of commitment and obedience. And then, if a person doesn’t have that—or even waivers in their thoughts–question whether that type of belief is enough. Enough to receive Jesus’ promise of eternal life to everyone whom Jesus says must only believe in His Name.
The faulty approach goes like this:
- Have you believed in Jesus’ Name?
- Ok, but have you trusted in Jesus?
- Ok, but do you trust Him enough to commit your life to Him, give up your desires, pick up His cross, and follow Him?
- If not, did you really believe?
Our gospel passage in John 3:16 becomes “that whoever believes in Him (gives up everything and follows Him) should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Do We Receive or Earn Eternal Life?
This process changes the gospel from receiving salvation from Jesus to earning our salvation. And people will never know if they’ve fully yielded their life in complete obedience to Jesus. When they fail, as we all do, they’ll wonder if their faith was sufficient to save. And people who teach this as necessary for salvation can always ask Christians to go back and revisit their conversion experience because maybe their belief was insufficient. This is an error.
- In our basic gospel message, Jesus tells us how to receive eternal life:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus uses the word ‘believes’ not ‘trusts.’
- Believing is not doing; it is receiving Jesus’ salvation work on our behalf (John 3:12; 6:29).
- Believing and trusting are synonyms, so it should be ok to use ‘trusts’ instead of ‘believes.’
- But the English word trust has a broader meaning. Some use it to require more than receiving.
- Some people use trust instead of believe to insist that believing is insufficient, and that changes the gospel message—the requirement for receiving eternal life.
We must use the Bible’s words—the ones that Jesus used—when we present what’s required to receive eternal life.
(1) This example from John 3:16 is taken from a Grace Evangelical Article written in 1991 by Art Farstad (The Words of the Gospel: Believe/Faith – Grace Evangelical Society (faithalone.org)
You can read our previous post here.