Chapter 14: Of Saving Faith
What is faith? Is it simply believing something without any and contrary to all evidence? Is it wishful thinking? Dr. Wayne Grudem defines faith as:
Trust or dependence on God based on the fact that we take him at his word and believe what he has said.
The confession in chapter 11 paragraph 2 defines faith as:
Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification...
In this chapter we will explore such things concerning faith as what it is, what is its nature and how it is increased and strengthened. Can we have temporal faith? Can we lose our faith? Such things we will try to deal with here.
§1 The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit
- 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; 1 by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. 2
- John 6:37, 44; Acts 11:21, 24; 13:48; 14:27; 15:9; 2 Cor. 4:13; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2
- Rom 4:11; 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; Acts 20:32; 1 Peter 2:2
The Grace of Faith
We have already argued that faith is a gift in chapter 11 on Justification. It is something that God gave us to exercise. We Calvinists do not believe that God believes for us, but that our faith finds its origin in God and comes to us through regeneration (1John 5:1, see our discussion on this passage). By this faith, which is granted to us (Phil. 1:19) by the grace of God, we believe and are justified. The Word tells us that "whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We believe, are justified and received into the arms of God (Rom. 1:16-17; 5:1; 10:9). Again and again we are told that we are justified by faith (e.g. Rom. 3:28-30; 4:5-10; 9:30; 10:4; 11:6; Gal. 2:15-16; Phil. 3:9) and then we understand that even our faith was by grace granted to us by God (Eph. 2:8-9; Acts. 3:16; 18:27; 2Pet. 1:1). So that we can truly say: Soli Deo Gloria! There is no contribution on our part for our salvation except the sin that made it necessary, as Jonathan Edwards said.
This faith is worked in us through the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who regenerates us and gives us new life (John 3:5-8) by which faith comes (1John 5:1). Regeneration precedes faith. The Spirit uses the Word of God preached to us in the Gospel. The Gospel proclamation goes out and the Spirit uses the Gospel proclamation to draw the elect to the Son (John 6:44, 63). 2 Thessalonians 2:14 says that God called us through the Gospel. The Lord did not merely elect a people and leave them. No, He goes out and through the Gospel preachers/witnesses draws them to the Son in faith and repentance. Peter writes:
1Pet 1:22-23 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
It is through the Word of God that regeneration came and we became Christians. It is not without the Gospel that we became Christians. But it is through the Spirit of God working on our hearts in many ways through Bible reading, discussions and the proclamation of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation among other things that God saves us. Peter says that "this word is the good news that was preached to you" (1Pet. 1:25). It is through the Gospel that the Sovereign Lord chooses to work.
Means Appointed For the Strengthening of our Faith
It is common sense and obvious I believe that things like Bible reading/study, the ordinances, namely—the Lord's Supper and Baptism, prayer, fellowship with other believers are means through which our faith grows stronger. Bible reading, Bible study, the preaching of the Word are obviously the highest means which God has appointed and given to us for the strengthening of our faith. As we know more and more about the God who loves us, saved us and preserves us, and see His faithful dealings with people of the past, our faith and trust becomes stronger in the God whom we love. We will learn how to practice our faith and depend on Him as ones like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus, Peter, Paul and so on. In the Lord's Supper (chapter 30) we come to remember what Christ the Lord has done for our salvation. That He died on the cross to take away our sin from us and give us His righteousness. He left us a sign and a remembrance of His offer on the cross. As we participate in the Lord's Supper, we are then spiritually and by faith communing with the living Christ. It is not possible to commune with the living Christ through faith and yet our faith remain unchanged. In baptism (chapter 29) we declare that we are unashamed followers of the Lord Christ. We make it our aim to obey and please Him by doing that which He commanded. Obedience to His commands obviously increases our faith. To spend time in prayer with God is essential to the Christian life as breathing is to human life. The Bible commands us to pray without ceasing (1Thess. 5:17), and thus commands us to remain in continual communion with God. As we remain in communion with God our trust and faith in Him is strengthened. As we see God answering our prayers our faith and trust in Him are strengthened. As we see Him change us into Christ's likeness through and in prayer, our faith in Him becomes stronger as we become more like Christ. As we have communion with other believers and hear about what God is doing in their lives, we are encouraged and moved to bless and praise God for His graces. As we see people who walk very closely with the Lord Jesus, we are moved by their example to imitate the Lord Jesus and walk in the way of the Lord. All these means it has pleased God to be the way our faith is increased and strengthened. But remember the most important is the reading and study of the Scriptures, in and through which God reveals Himself to us (1Sam. 3:21; see also here).
§2 By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself
- By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself, and also apprehendeth an excellency therein above all other writings and all things in the world, as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations: and so is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth thus believed; 1 and also acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, 2 trembling at the threatenings, 3 and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come; 4 but the principal acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. 5
- Acts 24:14; 1 Thess. 2:13; Ps. 19:7-10; 119:72
- John 15:14; Rom. 16:26
- Isa. 66:2
- 1 Tim. 4:8; Heb. 11:13
- John 1:12; Acts 15:11; 16:31; Gal. 2:20
The Nature of Christian Faith
The writer to the Hebrews says that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). If, according to critics, faith is a blind leap into the dark, how can this verse say that there is “assurance” and “conviction” in faith? Biblical faith is obviously not as the skeptics often see it. Rather, biblical faith is trust and belief in God based on what He has done in the past and does in the present. As we read the Scriptures we see what God accomplishes through people, most prominently, how God accomplished redemption through the death of Jesus Christ and how His death applies to us now. As we see and read about the saving works of God we are moved to trust that He did and said those things which are written down in the Bible. The assurance that we have in our Christian faith is based upon the character of the object of our faith, namely—the Triune God. Our faith is based upon the fact that God is truthful (Isa. 65:16; John 3:33) and thus His Word likewise is the truth (John 17:7) and reflects His unchanging character (Heb. 13:8; Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6). We know that God does not lie (Titus 1:2) and thus we trust His promises to us about overcoming our sin, having our sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, the eternal state, the resurrection and all things which His Word speaks about.
As we trust God and have our firm faith, assu...