Nature of Faithfulness
Faithfulness (πίστις/pistis) is a characteristic listed not only here with the fruit (Gal 5:22) but also as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:9). In the gift list it’s probably trust in God; here it’s the lifestyle that flows out of that faith, the obedience of faith. In short, the believer’s faithfulness.
As fruit of the Spirit, πίστις/pistis is an inward work of the Spirit working itself out in the Christian life. Hence most English versions translate it as “faithfulness” here in Galatians 5:22.1Translating πίστις/pistis as “faithfulness” in Gal 5:22 (e.g., RSV, NRSV, NIV, NASB, NKJV, CSB) or “fidelity” (DBY); only a few translations opted for “faith” (e.g., KJV and HCSB, cf. NKJV and CSB, which changed to “faithfulness”). But this inward work and characteristic of the Christian life is related to the other senses.
The term πίστις/pistis is used with various senses throughout the New Testament. And the long and short of the matter is that they’re related, as a believer faithfully confesses and follows the faith.
Promise, or Pledge
One sense is a “promise” or a “pledge,” such as marriage vows:
- “Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge” (1 Tim 5:12).
The church has always understood the Christian’s profession of faith as more than just verbal assent or even just mental assent. The profession of faith and Christian baptism have been seen as a promise, a commitment. This makes me think of vows and the wisdom literature’s warnings that these are not to be taken lightly. How much more the vow of commitment to Jesus Christ.
Believing in Gospel Content
A common translation of πίστις/pistis refers to believing the content of the gospel. Certainly being “faithful” would include believing in the gospel’s content, not lapsing into unbelief.
- “Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world” (Rom 1:8).
- “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God” (Eph 2:8).
The Gospel Content
The term πίστις/pistis can also refer to the gospel content itself. And “faithfulness” would include not only believing the truth of that content but also in the obedience of faith, living out the truth of the gospel.
- “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’” (Gal 1:23).
- “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3).
Trustworthiness, or Dependability
Here’s the sense we have in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness.” Of course, the opposite of bearing this fruit is being “unfaithful.”
- “True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful?” (Rom 3:3).
Lest you think of this as salvation-by-works light—this business of remaining faithful—it’s good to remind yourself that is fruit of the Spirit, not human works, which by nature are works of the flesh.
Faithfulness vis-a-vis the Charismata
All of Christian life must be an exercise in the obedience of faith; how much more any exercise of the charismata. So nothing we do “in the Spirit” should ever violate the greatest commandment. That is why no one speaking in the Spirit could ever say Jesus is cursed. And nothing we do “in the Spirit” should ever violate the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is why Paul makes so much of the love commandment in 1 Corinthians 13 especially and in demanding that exercising the gifts should lead to unity a build up the congregation.
A prayer for faithfulness…
Lord, help us to maintain fidelity with our Christian pledge of faith, to live our our baptismal vows. Strengthen us to walk our the Christian faith as the obedience of faith. By your Spirit, work in and through us in such a way that we remain committed to the faith and to the community of faith.
In Jesus’s name. Amen.
- If the Lord did your job review Monday morning, do you think he would say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities”?
- When you meet the Lord, do you expect to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…. Let’s celebrate together!”?