I think there is a difference between "believed in God" and "believed God." Abraham believed God because he believed God in His faithfulness and believed in God because of his promises. What do others think?
ESV - 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
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There certainly is a difference between believing in God and believing God. James specifically made this point in his epistle when he said (James 2:19), "You believe in God. You do well. The demons also believe...and tremble." The "head knowledge" that there is a God (that is, intellectually acknowledging God's existence), which even the demons do, does not save a person. For salvation, it is necessary to progress from "head knowledge" to "heart knowledge" -- from "believing in" to "believing". That is, in order to be saved, we need to move beyond mere acceptance of the facts related to Jesus' life and work to personally admitting the truth of what God says about our lost condition due to our sin and our need for redemption, and trusting God to keep His promises -- particularly with respect to granting eternal life to those who place their faith not in their own goodness or works, but in the redemption that Jesus accomplished through His sinless life, His atoning death on our behalf to pay the penalty (eternal separation from God) that we all deserve because of our sin, and His subsequent resurrection, which testified to the sufficiency of that payment for humanity's sins in God's eyes. In the case of Abraham, Abraham certainly believed in God (since God had spoken with him), but his actions showed that he believed God as well, since he did the things that God directed him to do, and it was those actions (including such difficult tests as being willing to sacrifice Isaac at God's command), and not just his belief in God's existence, that bore witness to the fact that Abraham believed God, and that caused God to credit those actions to Abraham as righteousness.
I agree, Thomas, that there is certainly a difference in “believing in God” and “believing God.” The 16th century reformers developed a formula (in Latin, of course) to illustrate that difference and to help us understand what saving faith consists of. According to their thinking saving faith requires three distinct elements: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia refers to data or information and conveys the idea that faith always requires an object. To simply say, “I have faith...” is meaningless. You cannot have faith in nothing in particular or in everything in general. In order for the idea of “faith” to have meaning our faith must be “in” something or someone. And, it is not possible to have faith in something of which we have never heard or know nothing about. Notitia, in the context of saving faith, is a purely intellectual component wherein a basic knowledge of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ is learned and understood. Assensus references our intellectual agreement (or assent) that the information known (notitia) is factual and true. For example, we might read a biography of George Washington. Based on the credibility of the author, the sources used in research, and the positive reviews of other credible scholars we may decide to accept the information as true accurate. Assensus, in the context of saving faith, is a purely intellectual component wherein a basic knowledge of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ (notitia) is accepted as factually true. At this point, we have all the knowledge of God, His Son, His holiness, and His plan of salvation we need to be saved (notitia). We also intellectually admit to and agree with that information (assensus). We believe “in” God and in His Son Jesus Christ. However, we do not yet have saving faith. James tells us that the demons have this level of belief (James 2:19). Their belief is so strong it makes them tremble! But, they are by no means justified. They lack the final, consummating element of saving faith. Fiducia is trust in, reliance upon, and dependence on someone or something to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. It is a function of a humble, contrite and submissive will. In the context of saving faith, fiducia is total reliance on and confidence in God and His promises of redemption as fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus for our justification. It stems from a realization that Jesus alone has paid our debt of sin. It results in submission to His plan and gratitude for His grace expressed in praise and adoration. If we rely, to any degree, on ourselves or anyone else other than Christ to assist us in the course of our justification, we have missed the mark. Fiducia completes the triad of saving faith, faith that is acceptable and pleasing to Almighty God. Without all three components we are hopelessly lost. Probably the scariest words recorded from the lips of Jesus are found in Matthew 7:21-23. But, His comments in that text can bring comfort if we understand why those calling Him “Lord, Lord” were rejected. Jesus never denied that they had done impressive works in His named as they claimed. Their problem was that they relied on those works for their salvation. Instead of coming to Him pleading His blood and relying on His Grace, they came presenting their own works. They believed “in” Him, but they did not “believe” Him. They didn’t believe His declaration that the only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6). Jesus had never known them because they had tried to make their own way to God through their righteous deeds instead of trusting in His righteousness alone. The fiducia was missing.
I always believed "in" my son, but I didn't always believe him, as he wasn't always 100% truthful. We all may have family members or friends that we feel the same way about. As for there being a difference between "believing GOD" and "believing IN GOD", could it possibly be just that little preposition "in" and actually be just semantics? Personally, I don't think we can believe GOD unless we believe IN GOD. The first time we read about any personal contact between the LORD and Abram is Gen 12:1-3, "Now the LORD had said to Abram, "Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Of course, we know that vs 3 is reference to the coming Messiah, but Abram didn't know that. Had Abram met the LORD prior to this, or is this his introduction to the LORD? The Scripture doesn't say, so we have to go by what we read. The "land" that the LORD wanted Abram to leave was "Ur of the Chaldees", located in the southern part of Mesopotamia and though it is known that it was a country of idol worship, there is no indication that Abram was unhappy there. So when Abram is confronted by the LORD, either face to face or just audibly, (the bible doesn't say) he didn't scream and run away, nor is there any record of the LORD saying to Abram, "fear not." We do know from Gen 11:5, that the LORD had indeed "come down" to see all that the sons of men had done, and He found that it was not good. So He confounded the language (vs 7) and scattered the people over the face of the earth. (vs 8) Did Abram see or hear the LORD then? Again, the bible doesn't say. So what was it about Abram's confrontation with the LORD that made him feel secure to not only believe what the LORD said to the point of obedience, but to believe in Him to the point of total submission? Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham believed "in the LORD" and it was accounted to him for righteousness. The fact that Abram (changed to Abraham in Gen 17:5) did indeed pack up his family and all that he possessed and travel to Canaan is evidence that he not only believed IN the LORD but believe HIM for why else would he have obeyed? If we look at all the Scripture regarding Abraham, from his first contact, and apply it to our own experience, we would not be truthful if we said, "oh I could do that." I have, more than once in prayer told the LORD that if He wanted me to go to Timbuktu, all He would have to do is say so. But in truth, would I truly be able to have that much trust, not only in my faith IN Him but OF Him? To pack up and go to a place I have never been, to be surrounded by people I have never met would be a true test of my faith. So far He hasn't mentioned Timbuktu, but to Abram He said "Canaan." I suspect that Abram had no clue where Canaan was, who was there, how long it would take to get there and what he would find when he got there. Might as well have been Timbuktu. As it likely was over 650 miles across a desert not a luxurious plain with rich grazing for the animals or shade for the people, it was an arduous trip. Yet Abram went! The bible tells us that Abram believed the LORD and he believe IN Him. Abram had a personal contact, we have His Word. And His Word is the sacred and divine authority, of greater importance than any other book on this planet, and it is guarded and cared for by Almighty GOD. And Rev 22:18-19 tells us that GOD honors and protects His Word so carefully, that anyone who changes, adds to or takes away from His Word will be "cut off from all the promises and privileges" of it. (M. Henry) That is a weighty warning!
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