The three terms belief, faith and even knowledge are often interchanged as though they are synonyms – all with the same meaning. However, there is a definite difference between them all.
In the Oxford Dictionary – her are the three definitions:
Belief: “something believed (accept as true)”
Faith: “reliance or trust; belief in religious doctrine”
Knowledge: “the facts etc that someone knows; knowing a fact or about a subject”
The easiest one to separate is knowledge, which will be discussed later, but belief and faith do seem to be similar – however a closer look differentiates the two.
Belief “may consist in a merely intellectual assent,” says Elder James E Talmage (Articles of Faith pg 96) whereas “faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.” (Articles of Faith pg 97). From this, it emerges that someone might believe something to be true – however, they do not act on that feeling. Faith, on the other hand, leads to action – it is a trust or reliance on a subject and acting accordingly. Faith is what is necessary for us to receive salvation and exaltation – not merely believing that to be the case. Another interesting thought is that one can have a belief – or even better, knowledge of a fact – and not have faith whereas you can’t have faith and not believe.
For example, it says in James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Further, a man possessed by devils was causing havoc “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:6-7). These devils believed Jesus to be the Christ, in fact, more than that – they knew Him to be the Christ. These spirits, unlike us, do not have a veil over their memory and so they remember perfectly the Grand Council in Heaven and the fact Christ was ordained as our Leader and Saviour. However, despite having this perfect knowledge, it doesn’t help them – they do not have the trust in Him as their Saviour (i.e. faith) because they have enlisted to follow the other ‘leader’.
Now, compare this with Peter’s statement to Christ. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Peter has belief that Christ was the Son of God, maybe even a knowledge but it couldn’t have been much more knowledge than the devils had (after all they knew perfectly he was the Christ from their unveiled experience) – so what was different between Peter’s attitude and the evil spirits? Faith! Peter not only believed THAT Jesus was the Christ but also believed IN Him as the Christ and what He would do.
To illustrate the point that mere knowledge doesn’t save, Elder Talmage uses an example of a scientific man who discovered, through scientific tests and observations, that the supply of water in a great city was tainted and was causing outbreaks of cholera, which was killing many people. He proclaimed this and the people, never having seen the physical tests to prove it, acted on faith and would drink sterilised water. The scientific man, despite his perfect knowledge, one day forgot and drank unsterilised water and died. His sure knowledge didn’t save him, but the people’s faith did save them. The man wasn’t wise and didn’t apply the knowledge he had received to his own life – thus it is with one who has belief but no faith. “Faith in Christ leads to action.” (Preach My Gospel pg 61) and is key as the very first principle of the Gospel.