Verbs and Nouns

It’s stunning. Not once does John’s Gospel use the word “faith.” Never. Nowhere. Not at all. This word—this noun—that has become so familiar to us, never shows up in the fourth gospel. We’ll find it in the other gospels, and we’ll find it throughout the rest of the New Testament. But not in John’s Gospel.

What does show up in John’s Gospel—equally stunningly—is the word “believe.” Over ninety times!! It’s a verb; an action word. And John loves it.

We like to speak of “coming to faith” or “having faith” or “the difference that faith makes” or “joining the faith.” We like to speak with nouns because they represent items or objects with boundaries and limitations. A house is defined by its walls and fixtures. A car is defined by its shape and parts. And there’s always room in my life for another object. Indeed, I like to accumulate.

But the ancient Evangelist has no interest in accumulations. He writes with pinpoint intensity to jolt us into realizing that following Jesus means action on our part—constant action, daily action. “Believing in Jesus” is not a declaration of the head but a commitment of the life; it’s not something we agree to but action that we take.

I suspect that we’ve tamed even the well-known John 3:16 by reading it more through the lens of nouns than verbs.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

“Whoever believes in Him.” In my world of nicely ordered objects and items, I twist this simple clause to mean “whoever has the right belief about Jesus.” We diminish believing and make it belief, and nothing could be further from the biblical truth.

Believing means trusting. It calls us to live differently. If I trust Jesus—daily and moment-by-moment—then I won’t fear what lies around the corner. If I trust Jesus—completely and comprehensively—then I’ll look to Him with more regularity. If I trust Jesus whole-heartedly, then I’ll be bold and courageous for Him and because of Him.

The Apostle John calls us to live not with a noun (faith) but with a verb (believe); ninety times. There’s something very powerful about “doing words.” How are you doing today?

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10 Responses to Verbs and Nouns

  1. Judi Murdoch says:

    I love this. Belief turns faith into action which God reaffirmed to me this morning through 2Cor4:1 is our “ministry”. Every one of us has a ministry (Eph2:10). Thank you for being obedient to yours.

    • DT says:

      Yes, ministry is another one of those “nouns” that needs to grow into a verb for us. As we believe (trust) in Jesus we’ll minister differently. When I simply have “faith” and a “ministry”, I tend to live in my own strength.

  2. Melinda Hulse says:

    David, I love what you wrote about John. It is so true that people talk about their faith all the time, but how many people truly believe their faith? I believe sometimes people need to see to believe and that is unfortunate. With Jesus you need to open your heart and feel! I am currently reading Beth Moore’s book on John from Her Personal Reflections Series. What a beautiful relationship filled with love Jesus shared with John. It is no wonder John writes with so much love about his beloved Jesus. Blessings, Melinda
    P.S. I haven’t found the audio button yet. Because of Grace would be even more perfect if we could hear your voice reading it. Just sharing my thoughts again. ;D

    • DT says:

      “The audio button”? That’s a scary thought. As others have said, I have a face for radio and voice for magazine writing! 🙂

  3. David, you know how I tend to respond without thinking and this may be another case of not thinking this through thoroughly and I must confess I have not studied what I am about to propose, but it occurred to me reading your final statement that God’s side of this whole relationship thing is Faith and our whole side of upholding this covenant is Belief. Even Paul understood Faith to be a gift, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)

    I am not aware at this moment of belief being spoken of in the same way. Belief is not defined as a gift, but rather a response to the reception of faith, or as an action that makes room for faith, or both.

    What do you think?

  4. Replace belief with believing in my previous comment and I think that clarifies my question a little better. 🙂

    • DT says:

      Robert, I suspect that you’ll find in Ephesians 2:8 that salvation is the gift, not faith. Nevertheless, I think you can make the point from other New Testament writings that there is a gift of faith (from God). I’m just intrigued by John’s Gospel on this issue. While Paul uses both the noun (faith) and the verb (believe), John remains fixated on the verb. Seems that there’s something tucked in there for us to chew on with John. Thanks for extending the conversation!

      • Yes, you’re right…I knew I was responding too quickly. Salvation is the focus there. 🙂 Believe is definitely something we do that is not necessarily apart from God, and God could be initiating that response, but it is up to us to believe. God may increase our faith in order to help us to believe, or He may increase it after we believe, or both. The key is that God doesn’t believe for us, but I do think He believes in us in as far as what our potential can be as His Sons and Daughters. He believes that we can be light, and salt, and bring Jesus into the lives of people.

  5. Tim Ross says:

    This gets at the different positions that Catholics and Protestants have on salvation. I’ve had a few good discussions with Catholics who propose that we must believe every day and that if we don’t we are not saved. I say we are saved by our faith in Jesus who opened heaven’s door to us. But we get to the point where we start to say the same thing. How does someone know he is saved? By believing…and that involves a daily commitment to trust and have faith. If I focus on believing in order to be saved then I think we get off track and take on a non-biblical stance. If I know that I am saved, and I do good works out of love for my Savior, then I am focusing on the right person or thing…Jesus. When I believe in Him…active believing…I’m making Him my leader who determines my thoughts, my words, and my steps each day. This is a good discussion.

    • DT says:

      Tim, you make good sense. Faith (the noun) must ultimately become believe (the verb). I wonder if we replaced both words with the English word “trust” (which can be both a noun and a verb) if that would clear the confusion at times. Thanks for thinking through this a little with me.

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