Summary: “… faith (a human response to God) and faithfulness (a virtue of God and his servants).”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary has a pretty extensive entry under “Faith/Faithfulness.” You’d expect that. “Faith” and “faithfulness” are pretty big subjects in the Bible. But here’s the part in the Holman’s definition that caught my eye: “… faith (a human response to God) and faithfulness (a virtue of God and his servants).”
It seems like we keep coming back to the idea that these attributes (the fruit of the Spirit) that God wants us to have are really attributes of God Himself. We’ve lived under this idea (at least I have) that the Bible is a list of rules for human behavior: “God wants you to be good, to be faithful, to be kind, to be gentle, to love, to experience joy, to have peace.” But the bigger message is that God is good, God is kind, God is gentle, God is the author of love, joy and peace. God is saying, simply, “Be like Me.”
It’s a lot more personal than I had imagined.
So, in light of Holman’s definition, what’s the difference between “faith” and “faithfulness”? To me, it’s the difference between an act and a habit.
When I was first presented with the Gospel, the message of who God is and how He wants to interact with me; and I either had to accept that it might be true or might not be true. If I accepted that the message might be true I had to believe in it enough to act on it. When I acted on it, that was faith.
That initial act of faith may not have been too powerful on my account, I probably just raised my hand in public or mouthed a silent prayer; but it was sufficient as far as God was concerned … for the moment.
If you’re old enough, you remember what a “Red Man Writing Tablet” was. It had a red paper cover with a picture of an Indian on the front. The pages were a sort of wood-pulpy grayish-white and they had rows of lines printed on them. Each row consisted of a solid top and bottom line with a dashed line in the middle.
These were the tablets on which we practiced writing our ABC’s in first grade. We were taught to stay inside the lines and that the capital letters reached from top to bottom, but the lower-case letters couldn’t come above dashed line in the middle (unless they had little sticks like b’s and d’s). My six year-old intuition told me that that’s why they were called “lower-case.”
Technically, I learned to write when I was six. Upper-case, lower-case, Aa, Bb, Cc; I knew ‘em all, all twenty-six of them. That was my first act of writing.
As the years went by and I progressed through the first grade, second grade and beyond; I practiced and my writing advanced. By third grade I was learning cursive. By sixth grade I was writing stories. By eighth grade I had a pen-pal in Belgium. The older I got the more I learned what writing was all about.
Today I’m pushing fifty and still writing. Some days I do a lot better than those stories I wrote in grade school … some days I wonder. I know this however; I’m a lot better at writing today than I was that first day I put pencil to my Red Man tablet. I’m hoping that ten years from now I’ll be a lot better at writing than I am today. It’s a progression; a habit. The more I practice it the more I learn.
That’s about as close as I can come to explaining faith and faithfulness. For us, faith is that first act; like the first time I focused all my concentration on making that first “A a”. Then it’s on to the next act and the next. Each act of faith grows us just a little.
With each act of faith we become just a little more comfortable with acting out our faith. By persistence we get better; but then the challenges to our faith tend to get a little bigger too. That’s a good thing.
It’s like writing lessons. The lessons I faced in fifth grade composition were a lot tougher than those I conquered in third grade cursive. They planned it that way. It was a progression. I was supposed to be making progress with each lesson; tackling tougher problems as I practiced.
Faith is a progression. Each lesson is a little tougher than the last. When that progression becomes a habit, or as Holman says, “a virtue,” faith becomes faithfulness. Faithfulness is a kind of running record of acting on faith.
Another thing I noticed was that the Bible mentions God’s faithfulness several times, but never states that God has faith or acted on faith.