Friday, March 02, 2007

The Genesis of Faith

I've been talking with a friend of mine recently about faith. What is faith and where does it come from? The bible describes faith as an assurance and conviction of things not seen (cf. Heb. 11:1). The word assurance comes from the Greek word Upostasi which means, 'a firm foundation or actual existence'. The word conviction is the Greek word Elegco which means 'a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested'. This is a far cry from what the world believes about the Christian 'faith'. We, the church, have allowed our enemies to redefine faith as unscientific and irrational. God doesn't ask us to believe because of a lack of empirical evidence (blind leap in the dark), but because of the overwhelming evidence that demands it.

Q:
If faith is based on knowledge, that which we can know with our minds, and the bible tells us we must believe in order to be saved, then aren't we in some way responsible for our salvation?

A:
Martin Luther was one of the reformers from the 16th century who rediscovered the foundational truth of the gospel: justification by faith alone. He described faith as having three parts:
1. Knowledge (Lat. notitia)
2. Assent (Lat. assensus)
3. Trust (Lat. fiducia)
The third part, trust, is what differentiates our faith from non-Christians or even the demons (cf. Jas. 2:19). We may possess knowledge because of what we've heard or read, and we may acknowledge that information as true, but apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts it remains just that: knowledge/data.
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me" (Jn. 5:39).

I know from my own experience that I knew the truth intellectually (my Dad was a Southern Baptist pastor), but I was unwilling to submit to God's lordship over my life. I wanted 'fire-insurance' from eternal damnation, but I didn't want to give up absolute control of my life (trust). It wasn't until I was 18 years old, when God saved me, that I finally understood the verse that I had heard countless times before, "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9, emphasis mine). Ironically, I wasn't praying the 'sinner's' prayer. I wasn't asking God to save me. I simply said, 'I give up!' I listed off all of the areas of my life that I had been keeping from Him and said, 'they're yours'. There was no alter call, no fireworks, no pomp and circumstance. Just me and a still, small voice (cf. 1 Ki. 19:11-12).

There was nothing I said or did that caused God to favor me. I knew who I was: a rotten, wretched sinner who didn't deserve God's forgiveness. I was dead in my trespasses and sins (cf. Eph. 2:1). God breathed life into my spiritual lungs and as a result, I professed Christ, I exhaled. I had been made alive together with Christ (cf. 1 Co. 15:22; Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13).

Faith is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that brings about new life in Christ. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). Your faith, saving faith, is a gift from God (cf. Acts 18:27; Phil. 1:29; 2 Thes. 2:13; Heb. 12:2; 2 Pet. 1:1).
The words 'this' and 'it' in v. 8 refer to the whole process of salvation, including faith. Paul, in the very next verse emphasizes the nature of a gift, "not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9). We don't contribute anything to our salvation nor do we even participate. If we did, if we somehow cooperated with the Holy Spirit in the process, then we nullify grace (cf. Rom. 11:6).

Because we believe, intellectually, and because we possess saving faith, as Christians, we tend to think that somehow we are responsible for our faith. The bible commands us to believe in order to be saved, so we think, logically, that we have the ability to do so. We assume, incorrectly, that God would never command something that is impossible. Really?

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).

"
And he answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Lk. 10:27).

"Then he said to me, Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord" (Eze. 37:4).

"
Then Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him. When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out" (Jn. 11:14-15, 43).
"With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God" (Mr. 10:27).

Jesus analogizes our human birth with our spiritual one (cf. Jn. 3:3). To continue that analogy we could say, 'You must have life in order to live'. Do you possess physical life? Isn't your life a gift from God? The fact that you possess a gift doesn't mean you had anything to do with it. So it is with salvation. "That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn. 3:6).

We don't have faith because we believe. We have faith, saving faith, because we have been given life in His name: "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 the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1:12-13). Sola Dei Gloria (To God be all the glory)!

6 comments:

Franck Barfety said...

John 5:38-40 talks about the fact that the scriptures predicted Jesus' coming and yet the Jews refused to believe he was the Messiah. These verses say nothing about the Jews acknowledging that information as true. Far from it.
Lack of belief and refusal to come to Jesus were precisely the reasons the word did not dwell in them and they did not receive eternal life as what comes immediately before and after the verse make clear:
"nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
The act of believing or coming to Christ does not mean that one saves himself or contributes to God's grace or works for it. It's a bit like saying that if we accept a gift from someone, we have something to do with the purchase of the gift or the wrapping or the giving of it. It's not only illogic it's unbiblical. Grace is God's gift only. Saying that believing in scripture or coming to Christ is somehow a type of work and nullifies grace is not found here.

Ephesians 2:8 reads "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;" It is not "faith," but salvation through the faith, which is the gift of God. Salvation is God's gift and is not due to ourselves. Faith is the true circumcision of the heart and the Gentiles are purified through it.

Ephesians 2:5 and the following verses perhaps make it clearer:

"even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)"

Acts 15:11 "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."

Acts 15:8-9 "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith."

Hebrews 10:38 "BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM."

1 Peter 1: 5-9 "who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."

Regarding John 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." The right to become children of God and salvation through Christ are not of the will of man, but whether or not we believe in his name is.

Our God searches the hearts and minds of his human creatures. This stands in stark contrast from the idea that somehow we are not responsible for our faith:

"And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever." 1 Chronicles 28:9

"I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve." Jeremiah 17:10

"I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds." Revelation 2:23

Kevin said...

I'm trying to understand your argument. Are you saying that salvific faith is special, you believe, but it's not credited to you as a 'work'? How is that possible if you make a conscious choice? Wasn't it your decision to believe? If so, then how can you not take credit for it. If you can't take credit for it, then it's not your faith. You can't have it both ways. I don't see how you can get around the clear teaching in Jn 1:13 that salvation doesn't involve your will. You want to imply that since people believe or are commanded to believe that they are responsible for their belief (for salvation). This completely contradicts Eph. 2:8-9. What is grace? It's the unmerited favor of God. It's unmerited. You didn't earn it. There's nothing you did or can do, including believe, that makes you favorable to God. If you say otherwise then you agree with a Catholic definition of salvation: works/faith. You quoted a bunch of verses from the OT that would seem to confirm that definition.

The only way to make any sense of Eph. 2:8-9 is is to embrace the teaching on regeneration (NT circumcision, cf. Col. 2:11) by Christ himself and the Apostles. You have life in Christ not because you received anything, which you can take credit for, but because He gave you new life. Your profession of faith is simply your first breath, exhalation, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:3).

Kevin said...

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ez. 36:26).

"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses" (Col. 2:13).

"Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says Jesus is accursed! and no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Co. 12:3).

"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him" (1 Jn. 5:1).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3).

Franck Barfety said...

John 1:13 says that the right to become children of God is not of human decision, not that salvation doesn't involve our will. In fact the passage says that those who received him and those who believed in his name were given that right.

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:9-13)

You are adopting the Reformed/Calvinistic view that human beings are so depraved they can't do anything good to receive God's favor. You say "There's nothing you did or can do, including believe, that makes you favorable to God." However, to prove that this view is incorrect, one would simply have to provide one example in the Bible where receiving favor from God is directly connected with human behavior. It's simple, those who are obstinate and disobedient do not receive favor from God. Those who believe in Him do. The Bible provides numerous such examples (besides the ones I already provided). Receiving the grace of God is conditional on our belief. God does not show favoritism by pre-selecting humans beings for salvation and damnation, as again the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election you seem to support incorrectly teaches.

“for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10)

"They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (Ephesians 4:17-19).

"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13)

"We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)

"But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." (Genesis 6:7-9)

"A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but the LORD condemns a crafty man." (Proverbs 12:2)

"Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard." (Proverbs 13:15)

"Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.'" (Acts 10:34)

Peter points out that God abhors favoritism, and it should be obvious to the casual observer that this contradict the idea that God would set apart a group of human beings regardless of their behavior or attitude toward him. He makes the point that God accepts those who fear him and do what is right.

"For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:11)

"There is no favoritism with him." (Ephesians 6:9)

"Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism." (Colossians 3:25)

Romans 9:30-33 makes it clear that having faith is necessary and is in direct contrast with works. Believing or trusting someone is not a type of works. Experiment with this by trying to earn a living believing things. It's as absurd as the idea that faith equals works, or that faith or trust equals salvation. Salvation, or the right to become children of God is conditional on receiving him, trusting and believing in His name. Look at the contrast between faith and works:

"What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone.' As it is written: 'See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'" (Romans 9:30-33)

In the verses that follow Paul removes any doubt that salvation is offered to anyone who believes in Christ. Calvinism and Reformed theology which you advocate, ascribes to the teaching that God selected who will and who won't ascend into Heaven. That removes responsibility from human beings and is not what the Bible teaches. The passage actually also warns against such false doctrines.

"Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:4-11)

Kevin said...

"You say 'There's nothing you did or can do, including believe, that makes you favorable to God.' However, to prove that this view is incorrect, one would simply have to provide one example in the Bible where receiving favor from God is directly connected with human behavior."

That statement is both unbiblical and heretical. There is NOTHING you can do to merit God's favor. You want to reduce salvation to a cosmic vending machine. Salvation is not mechanistic. You don't put in your coin of faith and demand that God save you.

"Though [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and HAD DONE NOTHING either good or bad—in order that God's PURPOSE OF ELECTION might continue, NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS but because of him who calls. So then it depends NOT ON HUMAN WILL or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" -Rom. 9:11, 16 (emphasis mine).

You're saved, Franck, not because you figured it out, but because God unconditionally saved you. Your salvation was predetermined on the basis of His great mercy and not because of anything you had done or would do in the future. By holding on to a synergistic view of the gospel you rob God of the glory that is due to His name alone. He didn't sacrifice His Son to make salvation a possibility. He sacrificed His son to make salvation a reality for His people. "And those he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30).

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

Franck Barfety said...

For the casual reader, Kevin and I are good friends. We just like to challenge each other's thinking. I wonder what other goodies that cosmic vending machine has in it. Getting late. Going to get a snack! :-) I love you brother!