Tuesday, November 21, 2023


One triad that Paul liked to use is that of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13, Col. 1:3-5, 1 Thess. 1:2-3, 5:8). Paul varied the order of the last two, depending on his emphasis, but faith is consistently listed first. And so, in this series on virtue, we will begin with these three - faith, hope, and love - beginning with faith.

In these passages, you see that it talks about the object of faith. Faith in what? What do we put our faith in? Jesus. That is what Paul says in Colossians, "faith in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:4). He also talks about the fruit of faith, their "work of faith" (1 Thess. 1:2-3). Faith was demonstrated by their work, just like love also produces labor and hope produces steadfastness.

One note before we go further: the word for faith, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, when it is used as a verb, is usually translated "believe." So if I say "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," that is the same as saying "have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." They might be two different words in English, but in the Bible, it is usually the same Greek or Hebrew root that is being used.

So what is faith? Specifically, what is saving faith? The Bible will use faith in some different ways. There is some faith that is deficient in one way or another, but still can be called faith. But the faith that we ought to be practicing, saving faith, what is that? How would you describe it?

Our shorter catechism describes saving faith in this way, "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel." 

One way that faith has been described is that includes knowledge, assent, and trust. And the idea of trust is this idea of receiving and resting. The knowledge and assent are important to get to that point, but you do not want to stop with them. 

For example, are you sitting in a chair right now? Do you trust that chair to hold you? Do you have faith in that chair? Yes, you have faith. This is not saving faith, faith in God, but it is faith, because otherwise you would be scared. You would doubt. You would not sit there. But first of all, you know that the chair is supposed to hold you. You also agree that the chair will hold you. And then you also trust in that chair and therefore sit in it, right? You receive and rest upon it. You rest your whole body upon it, thinking that it is going to hold you up. That is an example of what we mean by faith. In this case, the object of your faith is the chair. But you are not trusting in the chair for salvation, right? What are you trusting in the chair for? You are trusting the chair to hold you up so you don't fall on the ground. With Jesus, we are trusting in him for salvation, for life, for all that is offered in the gospel. And so our faith in him is a much more important faith.

Here is another analogy. Let us say you are in the ocean. Can you picture yourself in the ocean? Except you are literally in the ocean. You are going to sink. But someone threw a life preserver out to you and it is floating there in front of you. Well, you know that it is there in front of you and that it is supposed to hold you up. And you agree that this life preserver will hold you up. Then you trust in it by receiving and resting upon that life preserver, taking a hold of it so that you might be saved. Well, that is a little closer to what it is like to trust in Christ, right? Because there you are trusting in that life preserver to save you from drowning.

With Jesus, we learn about him in the gospel. We also then assent to the gospel. Yes, Jesus is the Savior. He is the Son of God. But do the demons recognize that? Do the demons assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God? They do. They even called him that. They addressed him, "O Son of God" (Matt. 8:29). But do the demons receive and rest upon Jesus Christ for their salvation? No, no. So James says even the demons believe that God is one - and shudder (James 2:19)! The demons believe in that they have knowledge and they give assent to it, but they don't receive and rest upon God. They do not trust in him. So their faith is deficient and it is not saving faith. It is a faulty faith. It is not a living or saving faith. Therefore, it also does not produce works. Why would the demons do good works out of that faith? Instead, the fruit of that faith is shuddering and fear and the attempt to escape. That is not the fruit of our faith. The fruit of a faith that receives and rests upon Christ is very different.

How did Abraham demonstrate his faith in God? Do you remember a big test that Abraham was given, whether he would believe God or not? God told him to sacrifice his son. Not only was that a horrible thing to think about, but his son was also the promised son. So it was difficult to see how God would bring to pass his promises through the sacrifice of this son. But Abraham believed God and therefore he obeyed God because he received him as his God and rested upon him and his promise of salvation through Christ.

Now, how is faith is unique compared to all the other virtues? We say that we are saved by faith. Do we say we are saved by love? Do we say we are saved by our righteousness? Do we say we are saved by our wisdom? No! Do we say we were saved by faith? Yes! How does faith save? What is special about faith? The saving act of faith is that of receiving Jesus (John 1:11-12, Phil. 3:8-9). It is the act of receiving and resting upon Jesus for salvation, as he presents himself in the gospel. He presents himself in the gospel as Lord and Savior, as the Christ (prophet, priest, and king), and we receive him as such. Where is salvation to be found? In God and in the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again for us. And so it is by receiving this gift, by receiving Jesus, that we are saved.

Sometimes the Bible speaks of saving faith as faith in God, who delivered Jesus for our trespasses and raised him from the dead (Rom. 4:24-25). Our faith is in God and his gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Again, it is this receiving and resting that is the saving act of faith.

So faith does not save as a virtue. It does not save as a good work. It is a good work and a virtue, but that is not how it saves. It is not that God is really impressed with your faith and says, "Oh, I better make an exception for this person. His faith is really impressive." That is not how faith saves. God pardons us and accepts us as righteous in his sight on the basis of Christ's righteousness. Faith saves as an instrument by which we receive Christ and his righteousness. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of this, that we "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." Faith is unique compared to hope and love and righteousness and wisdom and all of these things because it is receptive, because it is a way you receive a gift. So the basis of your justification is Christ's righteousness, but faith is how you receive it. 

This is how we can say we are justified by faith alone, by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28), because faith is the only thing that receives Christ. And all of salvation is found in Christ. Justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification - we receive and rest upon him for all these things. 

It should also be said that we receive Christ in such a way that we also give ourselves to him. How does a bride receive her husband? She receives this man as her husband at the same time as she gives herself to him as his bride. In a similar way, we receive Jesus as our savior, as our prophet, priest, and king. At the same time, we are also giving ourselves to him as his people, as his disciples. So we receive and rest upon him, but that faith also includes the idea of giving ourselves to him, as we own him as our Lord and our teacher.

Now, where does faith come from? Where does saving faith come from? It comes from God. We do not boast about our faith because it is a gift that God gives. As Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). 

And what does God use to produce faith in us? Is there an outward, ordinary way in which God produces faith in us? Yes. In Romans 10, we find that Paul is speaking of faith - "For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Then beginning in verse 14, he says, 
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So faith comes as a gift of God, and it is produced through the word of Christ. Christ himself is preaching to us, through the preaching of the Word. He has delivered to us the Word of God, which we find in Scripture. 

Now, Scripture even speaks of infants having a kind of faith. Psalm 22:9-10 says to God, "you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God." The Reformers would speak of this faith like a seed, a seed of faith. This seed is sown in regeneration by the Holy Spirit, but it sprouts and is exercised more and more in response to God's Word as the child grows in his understanding. So even if the seed is there, children still ought to come to the Word of God that this faith might sprout and grow and take firm hold of what is offered there. 

Now, what is the opposite of faith? Doubt, fear, and hesitation. Faith and doubt are contrary to one another. Could someone believe and yet also have doubt? Yes, it is possible for a person to have faith and doubt, but these things would struggle against each other. While saving faith is equal in its saving efficacy because of its object, it is different in degrees, weak or strong, small or great. Some have great faith (Matt. 8:10), while some have little (Matt. 6:30). We should pray that God would increase our faith (Luke 17:5) and we should use rightly the means of grace for the building up of our faith. Faith grows by the blessing of God as we support and exercise our faith in him. 

I want to conclude with Hebrews 11. In Hebrews 11:1, faith is described as confidence regarding things we hope for, conviction regarding things unseen. Faith can be contrasted with sight. It is referring to future things and invisible things. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Believe in the invisible God and in what he promises.  

We also learn in Hebrews 11 that a person who has faith in God will have faith in God's word. If we regard him as trustworthy, he will also regard his word as trustworthy. If we believe in God, we are going to receive his word, his whole word, whatever he says. We will also act upon it in a believing manner. 

By faith, a Christian obeys God's commands (Heb. 11:8), trembles at his threatenings (Heb. 11:7), and embraces his promises for this life and that which is to come (Heb. 11:13). By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place. By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. He could not see it yet, but he trusted God and so built the ark. He heeded the warning. By faith the patriarchs, not having received the things promised, yet saw them and greeted them - embraced them - from afar. So if God gives us a promise, by faith we embrace it. If God gives us a command, by faith we observe it. If God gives us a warning, by faith we heed it.

And so as Luther says, "what a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith!" Faith works. Faith produces good works. As Paul says, faith works through love (Gal. 5:6). It is also foundational for our hope. Without faith, you are not going to have hope. Without faith, you are not going to have love, not the type of love that is good. Not only does faith justify as an instrument by which we receive Christ, but it also sanctifies in a totally different way. It sanctifies, not only as a reception of Christ, who is our sanctification, but also as a power within us by which we live. We now live by our faith in Jesus Christ, acting by faith upon his word.

So let us believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, embracing Christ for our salvation. And let us use his word, sacraments, and prayer to build up our faith, that our faith might be strengthened. And may our faith strengthen the rest of the virtues that we are going to discuss in this series.

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