Saturday, March 10, 2007

Gift 2: Faith in Christ

What about my bold assertion that "knowing God the Son...Jesus Christ" is a gift from God? Most Christians probably think that faith is something they bring to the table. Maybe it is a response elicited by the good news of Jesus, or by the persuasive, self-authenticating power of the Bible. But the general idea, evident even in some of the giants of Lutheran theology, is that faith is a work above all other works, a condition of salvation, a requirement we must meet before God's promises become valid for us.

Hardly anyone seems to notice that this takes God's promises away entirely. How can you really put faith in a promise that is not valid unless you put faith in it? How can you believe in something that is not real until you believe in it? Is faith, after all, a substance that can be measured as to its quantity and judged either sufficient or insufficient? Or is faith a quality or character trait that people need to cultivate in order to become better people in God's eyes? Can faith be judged independently of the object of faith?

Really, everybody has faith. It would be psychologically, if not biologically, impossible to live without trust. The question is whom or what do you trust, for what do you trust them, and are you are right to trust them! Just to say "it's important to have faith" isn't really saying anything meaningful. Protestantism has succeeded very well in pounding "faith alone" into people's heads (without any meaning to fill it). The result is that the heirs of Protestantism are a ready prey to cults and wacko sects, who know how attractive the phrase "it's important to have faith" sounds to the people they visit door to door. Until we get this straight, and fill the word "faith" with true, biblical meaning, it is a gaping deathtrap waiting to pull unsuspecting Christians in.

The biblical fact about faith is that it is a gift of God. Distinguishing it from the adoption discussed in my previous post is like distinguishing between the Persons of the Trinity. Faith and Relationship with God cannot be separated, but they must be distinguished. God establishes a relationship with us, adopts us as His children, bestows on us His favored status (grace), His opinion that we are righteous (justification, forgiveness). The basis of this relationship, status, and opinion is what God did: God the Son became flesh, suffered on the cross, died and rose again "to take away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Faith is knowing that God has done this for you and relying on Him to keep you as his adopted, favored, forgiven child. Faith is not just knowing the historical fact of what God has done, but wanting and believing it to be true for you.

It is therefore absurd to speak of faith as our contribution, a condition we meet or a work we do. Such language fights against the very nature of faith, which is to trust God alone. Such "faith-talk" turns us back to the depraved idol of our own works and away from God, who means for us to wear His robes of righteousness instead of the filthy rags of our own sin. And besides this, Scripture says the following about faith:
  • "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

  • "And many more [Samaritans] believed because of His [Jesus'] Word" (John 4:41).

  • "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63).

  • "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32).

  • Jesus prayed "for those also who believe in Me through their [the apostles'] word" (John 17:20).

  • "And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7; see also 12:24 and 19:20).

  • "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

  • "In the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us [Jewish Christians]; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:7-9).

  • "And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14).

  • "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

  • "God has allotted to each [Christian] a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).

  • "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21).

  • "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).

  • Ministers are to teach people so that "God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

  • The Scriptures "are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).

  • "We also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

  • "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures... Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:18,21).
These verses show us quite clearly how the mind of God, and the Word of God, thinks of faith. It is His gift. Bottom line: He opens hearts to believe (Acts 16:14), and he creates faith through His Word (Romans 10:17).

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