The Gift of Faith

There, God reveals to us the other side of faith. There, we learn that faith is not from us, but rather it is from the work and the Word of God. Romans 10:17 tells us, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. After Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, Jesus explained the source of Peter's faith: For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Mt. 16:17). It is the objective witness of God's Word which teaches us that faith is the gift of God. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it [faith] is the gift of God (2:8). God's Word teaches this important fact again and again.

O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works (Is. 26:12).


But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12).


"This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (Jn. 6:29).


…he [Apollos] greatly helped those who through grace had believed…(Acts 18:27).


Through him [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand… (Rom. 5:2).


…to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Rom. 12:3).


Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:23).


For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…(Phil. 1:29).


…and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 1:14).


Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him (Jas. 2:5)?

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ… (2 Pet. 1:1).

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…(1 Jn. 5:1).

It is the witness of God's Word which led the Westminster divines (English Reformed Churches) to say this about faith,

Westminster Confession of Faith (1649)
Of Saving Faith
Chapter XVI

1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. 

2. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. 

3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong, may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.


The Ministry of the Spirit and Faith

One of the points made in the Confession's description of saving faith is that it is the fruit of both the ministry of the Word of God and the work of the Spirit. This latter point makes it all the more apparent that faith is a gift. For the ministry of the Spirit is beyond our control. Jesus said it is like the wind. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8). Paul contrasts the Spirit's ministry of revealing the truth of the Word over against the inability of the natural man, one without the Spirit and particularly the rulers of this age, to understand what is written (1 Cor. 2:6-10, 14). Paul goes on to say, that what is written…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. …For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received…the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (vv. 10-12). This communication and ministry of the Spirit is essential to our faith and assurance that we truly are the children of God. …you have receive the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…(Rom. 8:15-16). 

This ministry of revealing the truth of God's Word to the hearts of His people is so central that Jesus calls Him the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:17, 26). God's Word is so much the domain of the Spirit that it is described as the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). It is because of this ministry of the Spirit working in and through God's Word that the Word is described as living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). In summary, one writer put it like this, [faith] "can be so only because of the witness of the Spirit is given with the Word…, so that the promise really applies to us, reaching across the age to me. The very fact that I receive the Word in this sense grants the certainty that the Spirit does his work in me and opens me to this Word. …We believe because 'the power of his might worked in us' (Ephesians 1:19)" (H. Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, III:13).


Some Implications from Faith as a Gift

There are a number of implications which attach themselves to the truth that saving faith is an objective gift from God which we experience subjectively. First and foremost that such faith, far from being considered any kind of a "work" which "merits" salvation, is purely and only of grace itself. The Reformers used the Latin phrase sola gratia, "by grace alone," to say that the active power which justifies us, makes us just-as-if-I-never-sinned, or saves us is "by grace alone," and it leaves nothing to the human will or to human works or human merit. And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus…so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:30-31; cf. 3:7). …for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). But by the grace of God I am what I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:10). Our faith is the product of God's free grace to us.

Another of the accompanying phrases used by the Reformers was sola fidei, "by faith alone," meaning not that faith is the active cause of justification or salvation, but rather faith is the only means or instrument or conduit by which God's grace in the saving work and merits of Christ may be received. This emphasizes that faith is only a means, a conduit, an instrument which has no independent power apart from grace, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). The powerful working of God's grace leaves no room for faith to be perceived as an autonomous power alongside of the power of God. There are heretical teachers today who emphasize that faith is a power unto itself which when wielded as God wields it the believer has that same power. To avoid any confusion we must see faith as the instrument given to us for the receiving of the benefits which are in Christ. In seeing faith this way we agree with God's Word, this [faith] is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

In contrast, sola fidei stresses the necessity of faith. It is necessary because its very nature makes it perfect for receiving grace. We realize that our faith is weak, undependable, fickled, and contaminated by all kinds of sinful motivations. Such faith realizes that its only hope is grace, to receive what it does not deserve. Thus, what saves is not faith, but what it receives. It is in the simple fact of the unworthiness of faith that faith becomes a worthy instrument by which grace is received. G. C. Berkouwer puts it this way, "The marvelous fact is this, that the way of salvation is the way of faith just because it is only in faith that the exclusiveness of divine grace is recognized and honored" (Faith and Justification, 188-189). Faith finds its true character by focusing on its object, Christ and the grace of the God. Faith surrenders to the worthiness of Christ and His work, His victory on the cross and His righteous life. John Calvin compared faith to an empty vessel, "unless we come empty, with the mouth of our soul open, to implore the grace of Christ, we cannot receive Christ" (Institutes, III, xi, 7, Ibid, 177). Thus, saving faith comes to Christ empty, so Christ can fill us with His grace. This is the point of the echoing phrases "by grace alone" and "by faith alone."

How does this faith receive God's grace? By believing in God's promises in His Word. Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4:20-21, No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. The writer of Hebrews made the same point when wrote, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. …These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb. 11:10, 13). Faith believes the promises of God and His Word. Without this kind of faith it is impossible to please God (v. 6).

So far we have seen the passive side of faith, but faith also has a very dynamic side as well. In our next study we will look at faith's active side. What we will find is that active faith, faith that works, is the same faith through which we are saved, that God keeps us in this faith and keeps us trusting in His promises. Such is a faith that is always looking to God and Christ and promises of their Word, clinging to them as to life itself because it is.

For your Equipping and Faith, Pastor Stamps
Growing in Faith (Part I)
The Anatomy of Faith
 

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Monday, 10 December 2018

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