Wow. What a post, and what a question. I started a comment, then it just got longer and longer. So I decided to give it a full post.
For my own part, I’m coming to see that “faith” and “belief” are two different things – though I don’t think I can separate them. To me, belief is what I’ve come to understand and accept about God. It’s not just knowledge, but how our whole experience leads us to God. This is not the same for any two people, because our lives are different. We each come to our own conclusions and beliefs about God, and come to an acceptance of his Fact (much like we come to an acceptance of the reality of the death of a loved one… the Fact hasn’t changed, but our perception does).
But it isn’t belief that saves me. It’s not knowledge, not even orthodoxy. James says, “even the demons believe.” The Gospels are a study in evolving understanding – people coming to terms with who Jesus was. The disciples had a harder time getting it than a woman who reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. But of all the people struggling to believe and understand, it was the demons who never had that problem – at nearly every encounter, they immediately call out his name and identify him as Son of God.
But that didn’t save them.
No, to me, it’s faith that saves us. And faith is how we REACT to what we know and experience. I may know that the fire is hot. But it’s only in reacting to that knowledge that I am saved from being burned (sorry for the overused illustration). I may know certain things about God, but it’s ACTING on what I know that is harder – and that leads to salvation.
The faith that saves is knowing that Jesus died for our sins – and acting on that knowledge by following what he said (not just talking about it). The faith that saves is knowing that God is powerful enough to provide – and acting on that knowledge by trying to live non-anxious lives and trusting in him to give us what we need. The faith that saves is knowing that God loves the poor – and acting on that knowledge by giving of what we have, no matter how little, to help those in need.
I said I can’t separate the two, and I can’t. Beacause to me, if we TRULY believe something, then we’ll act on it. I know this sounds like works-based theology. I solve that in my own mind by saying it’s not – for it’s in the acting on our belief that we find God strengthening us, and thus again it is God doing the “work” and not us. But to me, it’s the only way I can reconcile the dual ideas of belief and works in Scripture. In the end, my thoughts are just straw anyway.