Faith vs. beliefs (Pt. 2)

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“When the disciples saw him they worshipped him, but some of them doubted.” That’s how the disciples responded to the risen Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (28:17).

So what were these disciples doubting? Nothing less than the resurrection of Jesus.

In my experience, this would be a deal breaker for most modern churches. Belief in the resurrection is a non-negotiable. Yet how does Jesus respond to these sceptics?

“Depart from me you doubters for you have no place in the kingdom of God!” Nope. Not even close. Jesus calls them into ministry.

Jesus gathers both the worshippers and the doubters together and sends them out as spiritual coaches to the world. Jesus charges them all with what we call the Great Commission, to go into the world and make disciples. In sending both doubters and worshippers to minister, Jesus is implying that doubts don’t disqualify them for ministry in the kingdom of God.

Now I think it’s obvious all the apostles eventually believed Jesus rose from the dead and were empowered to risk their lives and face martyrdom because of their unshakable confidence in the resurrection. There’s no question the resurrection of Jesus was foundational for the early church. In fact, Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians that Christians are fools if there is no resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless . . . if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (5:17-19).

Yet Jesus doesn’t make doubting the resurrection a deal breaker for following him and serving in the kingdom of God. So what did Jesus make a deal breaker?

  • If you don’t forgive others their sins, God will not forgive you.
  • If you judge others, you will be judged. If you condemn others, you will be condemned.
  • No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the Spirit.
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of God.”

These are some of Jesus’ non-negotiables in the gospels. What a strange salvation doctrine Jesus seems to have. Beliefs don’t even make his Top 10 list.

So where did the church’s hyperactive focus on beliefs come from, if not from Jesus? That’s a huge question that would take more than a short article to address. Some would point to Paul, others to the “Constantinian shift” of Christianity in the fourth century, and some would say the Protestant Reformation with its narrow emphasis on grace and “right beliefs” for salvation.

Regardless of how and when this shift occurred, it seems clear to me that Jesus had a different focus than the Christianity I was raised with. I really resonate with the Apostle Paul and his mystical, logical, philosophical faith. Yet I’ve found the teachings in the Book of James, whose author is believed to be the brother of Jesus, to be more consistent with Jesus’ teachings than the writings of Paul. I’m not the first to notice this, of course. The Book of James seemed so inconsistent with the rest of the epistles and the Protestant Reformation that Martin Luther called it a “book of straw” and tried to remove it from the Protestant version of the Bible.

For example, in James 2:13 we read, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” Is James saying that if you show mercy to others, but don’t believe the “right Christian things,” God will be merciful to you on Judgment Day? Or even more heretical, if someone believes the “right Christian doctrine” but doesn’t show mercy to others, God won’t be merciful to that person on Judgment Day?

Of course James is also the one who proclaimed, “Faith without works is dead” (2:20). James understood the difference between faith and beliefs. In fact, James gets sarcastic towards those who think beliefs are what makes someone a follower of Jesus: “So you believe . . . good for you! Even the demons believe and tremble. How foolish!” (2:19-20).

It’s not that beliefs are unimportant. It’s just that faith is different than believing and much more important than believing the “right things.”

To be continued . . . .

Troy Watson ( is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.

--Posted Nov. 19, 2014

See others in the series:

Part 1 (Oct. 27, 2014)

Part 3 (Jan. 5, 2015)

Part 4 (Feb. 2, 2015)

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In Response to Troy Watson's article Faith vs. Beliefs (Pt.2) On p.13 of Vol. 18, No. 23 Dated November 24th, 2014
In response to Mr. Watson's article on the matter of Faith vs. Beliefs, I would like to emphasize and/or point out a few matters that left me concerned; In his article Troy wrote that the main areas of emphasis in Jesus' teachings were the more social aspects of faith, and he used such examples as;
• If you don't forgive others their sins, God will not forgive you.
• If you judge others, you will be judged. If you condemn others, you will be condemned.
• No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the Spirit
• Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of God.
I would commend these Biblical and practical examples of Jesus' teachings, yet I was concerned that Troy seemed to have missed; a large part of Jesus' teachings are also focused on His character, His humanity, and His Deity. I would like to bring up the examples that Jesus taught in the book of John that I think are a little too critical to miss (unless one was to consider the book of John as not credible and dismiss it altogether). The examples I am speaking of are the "I am" statements of Christ;
John 6:35And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
John 6:51I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
John 8:12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
John 8:58Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 10:9I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
John 14:6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 15:5“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Another aspect of Biblical teachings was brought out from the book of James; Troy used the examples from verses where James writes "Faith without works is dead"(Ja 2:20), yet James goes onto use the example of Abraham in the very next breath "Was not our father Abraham justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?"(Ja 2:21). Whoa! Back up the bus, all of a sudden we have to look at the example of Abraham in what seems to be a barbaric act that God commanded him to do, and the ONLY justification for it happened when God saw the very faith of Abraham in who God was, and able to do (raise his son up from the dead to fulfill his promise), and then God provided "Himself a lamb" for sacrifice to foreshadow the sacrificial death of his Son in our stead (Gen 22:1-19).
So Mr. Watson, I believe that our faith in Christ does matter, and so do our works, to quote Jesus Himself in John 15:5b "for without Me you can do nothing". This generation needs the breath of the Gospel of Christ, and that is reason enough for us all to rejoice!
Thank you for the thoughtful article.

Your contemporary in Christ.
Ryan Carney

Faith in a good and merciful God is in us. But in order to strengthen that Faith we need The Word...Jesus was the Word made flesh. This can't be known without studying the scriptures of the Old Testament and The New. Anyone who just has faith could be believing in the devil. And Atheism and any other ism is demonic.

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