Can you explain the similarity or difference between faith, trust, and belief and how they affect our life in Christ?
Thank you for this very good question on how we properly understand the meaning of each of these words and how they relate to one another. Given that among all Christians these words are not always used consistently, it is important to see from our Catholic perspective how all of them are connected and how they differ.
Often, when people refer to “having faith,” it can mean one of several things: that they “believe” in God; that they “trust” God; that they “accept that God is real,” or perhaps combinations of these understandings, along with other nuances as well. Might I propose two important ways that we use this word “faith.” First of all, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, faith is: a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words.” (CCC 176)
Accordingly, when we use the word faith in this way, we are talking about more than just an awareness of God or an acceptance that God is real. For faith is a giving of one’s self to God, assenting in both “intellect and will” to what God has revealed. Such “faith” has plain implications for how we live – as such assent to God as our Creator and our Savior leads to a way of life that are based upon the knowledge of God we have received and the eternal relationship that He offers to us. The second use of the word “faith” is as a noun – such as in saying the “Catholic Faith.” In this way, we use the word to describe the actual doctrines and practices of Catholicism as a whole. In both of these uses of the word faith as an act of assent and as a noun describing “what” we hold as true are very tangible.
Meanwhile, the word belief is often used to describe the assent to God (as in the definition of faith itself) but without the need to act upon it. When we believe another, we acknowledge that we accept what they say (or do) is true. However, such use of the word believe may not necessarily require one to act or live in a different way. On the other hand, when we as Catholics use the word “believe,” or when Jesus speaks of “believing” in Him (especially in the Gospel according to John) the implication includes both assent and the acting upon it. In this way, properly understood, “believing” and “having faith” are synonymous – in assenting to what God has revealed and in living it out accordingly.
So what about “trust?” Recently in my preaching I have taken to using this word frequently as a means to help people consider that when it comes to “how” to live our faith, we are to live with trust in God. Noting Jesus’ own appeals to such images as His saying how the Kingdom belongs to “such as these [children,]” or simply in His
insistence throughout the Gospels that His followers ought not to be afraid, He is inviting us to place our trust in Him. Just as we have people in life that we trust (or, at least I hope all of us have some trustworthy relationships in life) we are in a real way to place our complete trust in Jesus, as He has already shown us the depth of His love (through His life, death, and resurrection), and He has promised us everything that is for our true, eternal good. Therefore, to “trust” in God is a particular element of having faith and/or believing in Him, to the extent that every moment of every day is lived with confidence in God who works for good in those whom He has called (Romans 8:28).
In summarizing, perhaps the easiest way to connect all of these terms in their most proper significance is to consider in general what it means to be in relationship with God: That God has made us in love and desires that we share in perfect love with Him and all our neighbors. Such a relationship with God (whom we can not see) calls us to have put our complete faith/belief in His word that He has come to save us and that it is only through Him and His saving works that we can receive eternal life. Accordingly, we are invited to live each day in trust – trusting that what He gives us already in this life (in the Church and especially in her sacraments) will draw us into perfect communion, and that no matter what we are made to undergo in this life beyond our control, God is bringing about the true good in us that He has promised. Therefore, to be “faithful” is to live our lives according to these gifts and promises, always trusting in Him.