The fruit of faithfulness, or the fruit of faith?

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May 2019

Where Paul lists the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, a lot of bibles translate one of the words he used, πίστις/pístis, as “faithfulness.” But that’s not the usual way pístis gets translated in the bible. Typically it’s translated “faith.”

And that’s what I believe Paul meant: Faith. Not faithfulness. Not that faithfulness isn’t an admirable trait; not that good fruitful Christians aren’t faithful to God—and faithful to fellow Christians, even when we mess up or sin against one another. But then again, nontheists, pagans, and people of other religions, are frequently faithful to their beliefs and principles, and notoriously stick to them even tighter than Christians will to ours. Heck, dogs are faithful. Loyalty doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Misbegotten loyalty proves that.

Whereas faith is obviously the product of the Spirit: When people don’t have the Spirit, we won’t trust the Spirit. We won’t believe the bible. We’ll invent all sorts of reasons why we needn’t believe it, shouldn’t believe it, ought never take it seriously, don’t gotta obey it. Our unbelief will overwhelm any chance for us to listen to him, step out in faith, and do the unlikely or impossible. And Christians who don’t trust the Spirit are seriously hindered in their Christian growth. Don’t practice much of the other fruit of the Spirit either.

I’ve written plenty on TXAB about faith, and expect to write plenty more. It’s a practice we always need to strive to do. It helps us grow like nothing else. Even small increments are profoundly powerful; like Jesus pointed out, mustard-grain faith can shove mountains over. Mt 17.20 But never be satisfied with that little faith! God always wants to grow our faith. So let’s follow him.

How does it grow? Simple: Practice. We step out in faith. When tells us something, we act on it. We don’t just leave it untested, in fear nothing will happen and we’ll look stupid. Those who lack faith, will never challenge their faith. This is why whenever they encounter real challenges to their faith—a loved one dies, or they suffer loss, or a cherished belief gets shattered like so much idolatrous pottery—their so-called “faith” bursts like a soap bubble. Untested faith, as James described it, is faith without works. And faith without works is dead. Jm 2.17 It’s fake faith, easily exploded.

So you wanna grow the fruit? Look for the faith-stretching opportunities the Spirit gives us. Step out. Watch him act. Watch your faith grow.

“Faithfulness” is how we fake the Spirit’s fruit.

It’s way easier to be faithful than to step out in faith.

I’m faithful to my country, fr’instance. I never cheat on it with other countries. No treason for me! Because I’m not even tempted to do so. Not by spies who wanna get state secrets out of me (as if I even had any; I don’t work for the government). Not by foreigners who wanna undermine us by sowing discord and spreading lies, and figure I can help them out by passing around some rumors—I chide fellow Christians for falling for that. Nope; I’m a loyal American… although I’ve publicly pointed out more than once my first loyalty is to Christ Jesus, and when he invades I’ll be in the clouds with him, not standing on earth worrying, “Now what’ll happen to my status and my stuff?” And even when that happens, it’s still kinda being faithful to my country… ’cause Jesus will be the best thing that ever happens to it.

No doubt you too also have your loyalties. You’re faithful to your family. Your football team. Your church. Your job. Your favorite stores. Some of those loyalties are easily shaken: If Walmart offers you a better deal than Amazon, you’re buying it from Walmart; and vice-versa. Others are a lot harder. And some people are only faithful to themselves; they can always be trusted to look out for number one. Even the president can be trusted to do that.

But like I said: Everybody, anybody, can be faithful. Doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Even Satan can do it.

So… how is faithfulness a fruit of the Spirit? Well it’s not. But try telling that to someone who’s unwaveringly faithful to the English Standard Version.

Galatians 5.22-23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Why’d they translate pístis as “faithfulness”? Because you’re gonna find various Christians who insist faith isn’t a fruit; it’s a supernatural gift. Because Paul elsewhere said so.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
9 To someone else, by the same Spirit, faith. To another, by the one Spirit, healing gifts.
10 To another, powerful activity. To another, prophecy.
To another, the ability to judge spiritual things.
To someone else, families of tongues. To another, interpretation of tongues.
11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.

To their minds, fruit is either a gift or a fruit; it can’t be both; there’s no overlap. I’ve no idea why it can’t be both; I think their reasons why not are ridiculous. But there we are.

Yes, faith’s a gift. We don’t come by it naturally, because the sort of faith the scriptures write about have to do with our response to something God does supernaturally. He acts; we respond; faith. It’s never gonna happen without God initiating it. And if it does, it’s not real.

It’s because so many Christians have settled for the artificial stuff, we have weird, godless definitions of what faith is. We have pagan ideas of what faith looks like. To them, faith is the magical ability to believe goofy nonsense—and because it’s so hard to believe goofy nonsense, it must be supernatural in nature. So it’s a gift. Whereas the fruit of the Spirit must be some other thing; let’s say faithfulness.

And since anybody can be faithful, anybody can claim to have that gift. Especially people whose faithfulness isn’t towards God himself, but some doctrines and practices they invented, and think their devotion to those things is some sign of the Spirit’s activity in their lives. It’s not. It’s just more goofy nonsense.

Honor: Also not the Spirit’s fruit.

When non-Christians are faithful, it’s not because they somehow got it from the Holy Spirit. Usually it’s because they have a strong sense of honor.

Honor is defined as high respect or great esteem. The reason people are faithful is because they greatly respect those people or institutions. But just as often, they’re faithful because they respect themselves. They feel it’d violate their character, their integrity, their sense of self, if they were unfaithful to the things they oughta respect.

Honor’s a really popular idea. It’s found in every culture. But it’s a human idea. Cultures want to encourage respect and loyalty for leaders and elders and institutions, so they promote the idea that it’d be honorable to uphold these things, and dishonorable not to. Even when these things go wrong. Especially when these things go wrong—they don’t wanna be overthrown! So honor keeps society stable, and keeps people feeling good about themselves… even though they might be supporting some institutions which ought to go, people who ought to be fired, and ideas which are rotten at their core.

In the Old Testament people had כָּבוֹד/khavód, “weight” (KJV “glory”) if they were worth esteeming. Not just because they were elder, or had wealth, titles, offices, skills, or something else we coveted. They were weighty because they were wise, did good deeds, were humble, or loved others. God is weighty because he’s good. But because humans covet power, we often figure he’s weighty, or glorious, because he’s almighty. We give him honor and respect because he can smite us if he so chose. Not because he’s love.

And often, it’s power which gets us to be faithful. Not love.

Well, the other fruit of the Spirit are heavily connected with love. Some of them help describe love. Does faithfulness? Kinda; love is faithful in that it bears all things and endures all things. 1Co 13.7 But love is faithful because it also has patience, kindness, humility, self-control, and other self-sacrificing traits. Honor, not so much.

Those with honor are believed to be faithful. And sometimes they are… and sometimes they’re not. Y’see, nearly every pagan (and way too many Christians) believes honor has a loophole: It’s okay to be dishonorable towards dishonorable people. It’s okay to lie to liars, or to defraud cheaters, or disrespect the disrespectful. Their code of honor permits them to believe turnabout is fair play. That’s because they don’t truly love their neighbors. Some of them take a great deal of glee in abusing the undeserving.

We Christians correctly understand it doesn’t matter how others behave. We treat others with respect unconditionally, regardless of how they act. We don’t deceive them, intentionally or unintentionally. We tell the truth. We do for them what we say we’re gonna do for them. We keep confidences. We keep promises. We don’t seek excuses, loopholes, or justifications for breaking our word. Pagans will, but we can’t. We follow God’s higher standard.