Peitho: Faith that Is Pleasing to God
The Persuasion of God
The root of the Greek word used in the New Testament for faith is peitho, “to persuade, or to be persuaded.” When God persuades us of His truth through His Holy Spirit, faith would be the outcome. In other words, we are persuaded by Him and, therefore, believe the truth. With this understanding, we see the ability to believe is not dependent on our own endeavour but rather on God’s persuasion. From this perspective, we see that faith originates with God, since He is the one doing the persuading, and it culminates with those who have been persuaded or convinced.
The Bible says that without faith, we cannot please God: “…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Depending on which Bible commentary you read, the interpretation of this passage will vary. Since faith is the determining factor of whether we please God or not, in this study we will approach this passage from the root meaning of faith: peitho.
“Without faith it is impossible to please him…” (Heb. 11:6)
First, the word IMPOSSIBLE screams out at me. This means faith is the only way to please God. Nothing we do, no matter how hard we try or how high we jump, pleases God—unless it is by faith. This, by itself, is enough to take the wind out of our sails if we are trying to perform for God.
It’s a real temptation for us to focus on trying to please God through our efforts and to try to be like Jesus. We think, “What would Jesus do?” We tend to have a “stop doing this and start doing that” approach to pleasing God. This also tends to be the message too often delivered from the pulpits. The first issue with this approach is that controlled behavior is not of faith, and the second issue follows; because it is not of faith, it does not please God.
Someone may wish to remind me that “Faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26), but there are different interpretations of this scripture, depending on which commentary you read. However, using peitho as our filter for interpretation, let’s allow the passage to speak for itself.
Characteristics of Peitho-Faith
Before we go any further into what’s being said through James the Apostle in this passage, it might be helpful to list some of the characteristics of peitho-faith:
First, peitho-faith is present when the person who possesses it is persuaded by God of the truth. He believes because the Spirit has persuaded him of its validity in his heart. This is what the apostle was saying when he wrote about pleasing God:
“… we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (persuasion by God of the truth) so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Col. 1:9-12, parenthesis is mine)
Second, peitho-faith is not about doing something for God, but rather it is the outcome of having been persuaded about God’s truth. Notice the words “so that” found in this passage. We receive from God SO THAT we might reap the benefits. In this particular passage, these benefits are listed as walking in a worthy manner, pleasing God, bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened with power to attain steadfastness and patience, and being able to give thanks with joy. What a list! None of these things are self-accomplished but are only the outcome of God “(filling us) with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The point is, when we have faith (the persuasion of the truth within our hearts), works will follow.
Did you notice, too, that one of the outcomes of God “filling us” was the bearing of fruit? Too often we try to “do the fruit” as opposed to bearing fruit. The Spirit’s fruit consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. All of these characteristics may be expressed through works, but when this happens, it is not a genuine expression of the life of Christ. It would be unreasonable to suggest that an unbeliever could experience the fruit of the Spirit since they do not possess Christ, although there are many unbelievers who are loving, patient, kind, good, gentle, and so on. So it is possible to “do the fruit” and yet not bear it. Only those who are connected to the Vine can bear His fruit. It’s only when we possess peitho-faith—belief of the truth in the heart—that we can “bear fruit in every good work.” Only God bestows peitho-faith upon a person. He is the source of the truth we hold in our hearts.
Peitho-Faith Produces Good Works – the Fruit of the Spirit
When we have faith (heart belief), the fruit will follow. I believe this is what James was arguing in this passage. He was not telling us to go out and do good works to prove that we have faith, but to demonstrate that peitho-faith will bear fruit or produce good works, and this fruit affirms we do have faith. When I am persuaded (peitho) of the truth by God’s Spirit, the works that follow will be “good works” instead of “dead works.”
Now to return to the declaration made by James the Apostle, “faith without works is dead.” This is preceded by the following illustration, “… if a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (Jam. 2:15-17).
Here we see a problem: even though the person says “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” since there is no action accompanying the person’s words, it comes across as nonsense; there is no value in what he has said.
This is where it’s easy to confuse intellectual knowledge of the truth with peitho-faith. We can believe it is God’s will that we care for the needy and attend to the basic necessities of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but if we do nothing when we see them in need, we do not have heart-belief, but only mental assent to the truth.
This is also where it gets tricky. If I happen to feel badly about not doing the right thing and I just choose to do it, because the Bible “tells me so,” then this is not faith, but dead works flowing from a dead faith. God is not pleased with dead works. He desires we operate naturally and effortlessly from the truth He has given us within our hearts, which is an expression of Christ’s Spirit within us: the fruit of the Spirit.
If we believe that caring for our brothers and sisters is God’s will and we believe this truth in our hearts, we will have no other thought than to clothe and feed them. The truth will produce the fruit of the Spirit of kindness, goodness, gentleness, etc. and we will act accordingly. It is easy to confuse bearing good fruit that comes from being persuaded of the truth and what some might consider ardent obedience that flows from an intellectual knowledge of the truth. Even unbelievers can obey the truth if they choose to, but they cannot bear fruit.
Does this mean that God is only pleased with me if my faith is perfected and entirely pure? Not at all. First, there is a difference between God being pleased with us and with what we do. We know that God is ultimately pleased with us because of the atoning work of Christ. Since God is pleased with Jesus and we are in Christ, then God is also pleased with us. However, he does find additional pleasure in our works that are motivated by faith that has been purified. Without question, we will never attain a perfected faith while on this earth, but only a faith that is being purified measure-by-measure. It is the works that are motivated by truth from the heart with which God is pleased. Works that are motivated from lie-based belief -though they look exactly like truth-based works- are not pleasing to God.
Maybe compare this all to parenting. I am always pleased with my children simply because they are mine and I love them in spite of what they may do. However, I am pleased in a different manner when they are acting in truth and with pure motive. For example, I would be very pleased to discover that one of them shared a toy with the other because he wanted to bless them with it. However, I would not be pleased if I discovered that the reason that he shared the toy was to manipulate them out of something that he wanted from them. Same behavior, but two different motivations. One was good and the other not. God is pleased with why we do what we do; that is, works motivated by purified heart belief.
Peitho Determines our motive
This brings us to another characteristic of peitho-faith: our motive. My motive is dictated by that which I believe from the heart. This is why anything that “does not proceed from [genuine] faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23) or “falls short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Too often we focus on our behavior without ever questioning our motive. Not all we do is from a pure faith. Unfortunately, many of the “good things” we do are influenced by our desire to counteract painful emotions arising from the lies we believe.
For example, if I believe I’m worthless and, therefore, feel rejected and unloved, I may try to compensate and soothe my negative feelings by doing good things. I might serve at the church, become involved in a helping ministry, or serve on a special committee for some worthy cause. If the reason I do these things is so I will be loved, accepted and appreciated rather than rejected, left out, and overlooked, then my motive is less than pure and driven by lie-based emotions. Even though this service would be beneficial to others, God would not be pleased since it does not flow from faith (truth). According to the Scriptures, if it is not from faith, it is sin, and God finds no pleasure in it.
God is not as concerned about the good things we do as He is about why we do what we do—our motive. If the “good things” we are doing are the result of our effort to “do the fruit” as opposed to being the fruit, we are not operating from faith, and God is not pleased—despite a stellar performance.
The Motive Question
Let me challenge you with a question you can practice asking yourself. Just before you choose to do something—as good as it appears to be—ask yourself, “Why am I REALLY doing this?” I accented the word “really” because the first answer that we tell ourselves will probably fall short of honesty. It will be the “right” and noble answer but not the truth. When we first ask ourselves that question, we will typically say such things as “I’m serving God,” “I love people and want to bless them,” “It is the right thing to do!” or “It is what Jesus would do.” I am not suggesting we always have less than pure motives, but you may be surprised at how much of what we do is not from faith.
I challenge you to slow it all down and look deep inside. Choose to recognize what you feel in the moment. Choose not to distract yourself from what you are feeling. Determine if there is an under-riding negative emotion present. If so, ask yourself, “If I choose not to do what I am thinking about doing, does this heighten this negative feeling?” Or, using the “De-Solution” question, ask, “If I consider not doing what I am about to do, do I feel any hesitation or resistance at the thought of not doing it?” You can follow this with the next two questions in the De-Solution Tool to get to the “solution belief,” if you desire.
If there is a negative emotion present or you sense some manner of resistance or hesitation, then you probably have a lie present; the lie’s corresponding emotion is probably driving what you are doing. The good deed that you are about to do is probably a vain attempt to calm down the bad feeling. This means there is a solution behavior in operation. What you are about to do (even though it’s a ‘good’ thing) is driven by an impure motive and does not please God because you have not been persuaded by God (peitho) of His truth. What will please Him is that you come clean about your motive, identify the lie-based belief, and allow Him to “open the eyes of your heart.” Then you will be persuaded by His truth, walk in freedom, and “bear fruit in every good work.”
Peitho-faith always produces good works. They are not contrived, forced, or an outcome of controlling our behavior. They are the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit. As James said, “the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26). Good works (the fruit) is always an outcome of peitho-faith.
The Fuller Passage
“But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works and, as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”