Spurious Faith

Spurious Faith (some call it ‘disingenuous faith’) is a label some use to identify those people who look and talk like Christians for only a while. Anyone who has been a Christian for more than a month has watched the deep spiritual convictions of a friend or fellow church member evaporate. Just as quickly as some people commit their lives to follow Christ, they give up on that commitment and turn away from being a genuine disciple.

Spurious is not a common word in contemporary American vocabulary, and in our culture, the word faith can invoke all sorts of meanings. Faith itself, many assume, has no need of such a limitation as intelligibility. Therefore, defining the terms will likely be helpful here.

Spurious simply means “not genuine” or “different from what it is claimed to be.”[1]

Faith means “trust” or “belief,” namely trusting or believing in something or someone.[2]

Spurious Faith, therefore, basically means a faith that is not genuine or a faith that is different from what it claims to be.  The question I would like to attempt to answer with both brevity and clarity is,

The question I would like to attempt to answer with both brevity and clarity is, does the New Testament of the Bible say anything about what we might call spurious faith?  Well, a word search will not be helpful to us immediately because the word spurious is not in the New Testament – not in any of the several English translations.

The concept of spurious faith does seem to be found in several passages in the New Testament (Col. 1:22-23; 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 1 Cor 15:1-2; 1 Thess. 3:1-5; 1 Peter 1:3-7). While a lengthier study of all these passages would be beneficial, I will point simply to James’s lengthy and direct address of the issue.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

James, in this passage, seems (at first glance) to directly contradict the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:4-13. There, Paul speaks of a “righteousness that comes by faith” and “apart from works.”  It is easy to see how confusing this can be upon initial contact.  If we begin from a humble submission to the Scriptures as God’s word, then we must recognize that there is room for growth in our own understanding and not a contradiction here.  It would do us well to ask questions of these two texts before we attempt to comprehend their respective messages and then harmonize the two.

The first helpful question is, “Are Paul and James speaking about faith in the same way?” In other words, do both writers have saving faith – genuine trust in Christ – in mind?

William Shedd says, “Paul in Rom. 4:4-13 assumes that saving faith is living faith and produces works, but he says nothing particularly upon this latter point because his object is to contrast faith and works and because the opponent with whom he was disputing did not claim to be justified by faith of any kind, true or false, but by works altogether.[3]

The Apostle Paul is contrasting saving faith with a wage that is accumulated by merit or works.  Therefore, the faith of which Paul speaks is saving faith alone, and that faith that is the medium through which righteousness is received; work or merit is not.

The second helpful question is, “What is James calling ‘dead’ faith?”

Shedd goes on to say, “James, on the other hand, not only assumes that saving faith is living faith and produces works, but speaks particularly and emphatically upon this latter point because he is not contrasting faith and works because he was contending with hypocrites who claimed that what they called ‘faith alone’ and ‘faith only’ and what James calls ‘dead faith’ is a faith that would save the soul.”[4]

James is speaking of two kinds of faith, namely one kind of faith that he calls ‘dead’ (v17) and another kind of faith that he says is accompanied by works (v24).  Understanding that there are two kinds of faith in the mind of James here is helpful when we try to comprehend what he is saying about them.

There were those who claimed or professed faith, but demonstrated no evidence that would show their profession to be true; they would not submit to the authority of Christ.  James calls them to account on the matter by saying that if you merely claim you believe and do not act upon the claim, then you think much less of saving faith than you should.  Saving faith, says James, is not merely the claim of faith but the actual trust in the person and work of Christ, which will necessarily produce affectionate submission to Him.

Therefore, it may be understood here that Paul is speaking about the basis of our justification before God, which is the person and work of Christ alone; the sinner need only believe, trust in, have faith in the promise of God to save.  James is contrasting that same faith of which Paul speaks – saving faith – with another kind of faith – ‘dead’ faith – which is merely a claim to have faith by those who do not show any signs of genuine faith.  Their faith would accurately be called spurious faith since it is not what they claim it to be.

Spurious faith is a real concept in the Bible. It is a sobering reminder that not everyone who claims to have faith (or be a Christian) will prove to be true in the end.

Spurious faith should not, however, be confused with small faith or lacking faith.  While ‘dead’ faith is indeed deceitful (even if the person is also deceiving themselves) and rightly labeled ‘spurious,’ it is not one’s works or one’s faith that powerfully brings about salvation.  God alone saves sinners, and He grants saving faith to any whom He will (Rom. 9:16).

Therefore, if you find genuine faith within, then it is sufficient faith. The object of your faith – Jesus Christ – is powerful to preserve and save all those who trust Him (Rom. 8:29-39).

 


[1] “spurious.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 08 Nov. 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spurious>.

[2] “faith.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 08 Nov. 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith>.

[3] Shedd, William G. T. Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Alan W. Gomes. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003. 806.

[4] Ibid. 806.

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