In Hebrew, the word faith is emunah… Transliterated, that is. It comes from the root word “aman” which means, “Something supported or secure”. It is used in Isaiah 22:23 to describe a nail that is fastened to a “secure” place. Derived from “aman” is the word emunah which means firmness, or a person that is firm in their actions. It is a strong and purposeful word.
When we, with Paul, list the Patriarchs in the book of Hebrews, we see Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses as being compelled to act. According to a Hebrew definition, it was their actions that were seen and remembered as faith. An external, tangible action equated to them as righteousness.
That’s not exactly what I was taught in Sunday school. I was told my private faith was enough to grant me G-d’s pleasure. I was told my imperfect, sinful behavior did not define who or Whose I was but rather I was to find consolation and hope in the sum total of my good intentions and heart felt, if rarely acted upon, G-dly desires. All that mattered was that I paid some sort of lip service to a Belief. It was all about the semantics.
We see a much different perspective when we apply a belief thatour actions define our faith. These were men of purpose who determinedly led lives of obedience to G-d’s will. This active pursuit is the definition of their lives. Their faith shaped their perceptions and colored every aspect of their experience. But it wasn’t a mystic, blind faith. It was active and concrete. Determined and decisive.
According to this definition, you cannot have blind faith. Action requires vision. Planning. Purpose.
We, in our Western/Greek culture, have reduced faith’s meaning to a philosophical, nebulous, esoteric “feeling”. The Greek word from Hebrews 11:1 is pistis. This word is defined most succinctly as “conviction”. Whether this conviction is inspired by the divine or corporeal is irrelevant. An internal experience is valid regardless of external behavior.
After all, it’s what’s in your “heart” that matters. Right?
So which is it? Upon which do I base my life? Feelings or actions?
Can you have conviction without action? Can you have action without conviction? Is impotent conviction sin? Is falsely motivated action sin?
I state firm belief in many things. For example, I believe my car will start. I believe my children are healthy. I believe my husband loves me. I believe Yeshua is my Messiah.
I base my life on these convictions and many others. Yet, I believe (ha!) I am more than the sum total of my convictions. I see that I am more clearly defined by the sum total of my actions than the sum total of my beliefs.
James spoke it best in 2:26 when he said, “faith without works is dead”. According to our traditional Greek understanding, we would understand that to be “belief without productivity is without life.” And that is true, to a degree. However, it is not simply an acknowledgement of G-d’s power and Divinity which saves us. It is not simply acknowledging that Yeshua is Messiah. Demons do that and tremble. It is the subjugation of our free will, on a daily basis, to the plan, purpose and love of a gracious Father through the sacrifice of His Son which saves us, continues to save us and eternally redeems us. And lest we think that we have arrived simply by making a statement, it is furthermore the resolute willingness to live in a manner closely resembling the lifestyle He requires and has been faithful enough to write out clearly in His word.
I started this little essay with the definition of the word “faith” in Hebrew. Don’t forget that James was first a Hebrew. He spoke Hebrew, thought as a Hebrew, communicated as a Hebrew. Therefore, is it much of a stretch to desire to interpret his written words and exhortations from a perspective that most closely conforms itself with his world view and not mine?
Faith. An action. Tangible. Definitive. A personal and proactive alignment of our purpose to conform how we are to what we understand of G-d’s will. Does the heart matter? Yes. In it’s proper context. Our heart is not an emotional quagmire to be avoided at all cost lest we become trapped and become unable to think clearly and rationally. Our heart is that inner strength which motivates and shapes our conviction. It is the “man behind the curtain” in most of our lives. It is not our hearts that guide us, though we should always be mindful of its voice. It is our will, our awakened and living spirit which ought to define us and behind which our motivation and our emotional well being should be aligned. It is our spirit that helps us to understand that what matters eternally and what G-d desires is obedience. For as Samuel said to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”
The word obey is shamah which means “to hear, to understand and to answer.”
In summary, let your faith (your obvious response to the Truth) be shown by the sum total of your life. May your conviction match your actions for the harvest of a life lived falsely will always show its true colors the closer you get to Eternity.