Understanding Faith

Weltchronik_Fulda_Aa88_317r_detailHave you ever thought about what saving faith is or what it does? God’s Word tells us that faith is a gift of grace: our faith has been obtained “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1) It is something given to us—without our having done anything to merit it. The theologian Thomas Boston describes our receiving faith this way: “We are born spiritually blind, and cannot be restored without a miracle of grace… There is, in the unrenewed will, an utter inability for what is truly good and acceptable in God’s sight.” Even elect souls attempt to resist “when the Spirit of the Lord is at work, to bring them from the power of Satan unto God.” God’s Word plainly declares our inability to create or conjure up spiritual life, including faith, from within. (cf. Romans 3) Saving faith is the direct fruit of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Boston put it well when he said, “saving faith is the faith of God’s elect; the special gift of God to them.”

Saving faith, this special gift of God’s grace that the Holy Spirit works in the heart, enables us to believe the gospel to the saving of our souls. Saving faith is the instrument for our justification by God. It is an integral aspect of union with Christ—a union initiated and sustained by the Spirit’s work on Christ’s behalf. Boston states that by his Spirit, Christ “apprehends, takes, and keeps hold of us.” The subsequent faith on the believer’s part enables them to apprehend, take, and keep hold of Christ. Saving faith is active: it “actually believes and receives Christ, putting forth the hand of the soul to embrace him,” or as James Fisher put it, “it is the hand that receives Christ and his righteousness as the all of our salvation.” Saving faith is essential to our salvation.

What means does God use to give this gracious gift of faith? Scripture teaches us that it is normally worked through the ministry of the Word—especially through preaching, as we see testified in Acts 8:34–38, 20:32 and Romans 10:14–17. By the public ministry of the read and preached Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, our faith “is increased and strengthened.” Do you desire a stronger faith and closer communion with God? Public worship is vital. Delight in hearing preaching, reading the Word, receiving the sacraments, and prayer—the “means of grace” given by God for your good. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing!” (Eph. 1:3)

What does faith do? Or to put it another way, what does the Christian do by faith? By faith, the Christian believes and acts. By faith a Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word. This believing is because of the authority of God himself speaking in and by his Word. God’s Word is the Word of divine authority—and the grace of faith both realizes this and believes all that God reveals by his Word.

But saving faith does not stop at believing. It also acts in response to whatever is revealed in the Word. The Westminster Confession notes that genuine faith responds differently in response to, or according to, what each passage of God’s Word contains. Where God gives commands, faith yields obedience. Where God’s Word threatens, faith trembles. Where God’s Word holds out promises for our present life, faith receives them. Where God’s Word gives promises for the life to come, faith embraces them.

Robert Shaw helpfully reminds us that where “the general object of divine faith is the whole Word of God… the special and personal object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ”—the Word made flesh. The main actions of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. Shaw states: “saving faith is a believing on the person of Christ, or an appropriating [taking hold of] Christ himself, with all the benefits and blessings included in him.”

Saving faith is more than intellectual assent to truth; “the gospel is not a mere statement of historical facts, or of abstract doctrines respecting the Savior.” Saving faith accepts, receives and “rests on” Christ as he freely offers himself to us in the gospel. Saving faith receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation because he alone can save and he is fully sufficient, freely delighting to save. He is fully sufficient for your justification. He is fully sufficient to deliver you from the pollution and power of sin, fully sufficient for your sanctification, fully sufficient for your eternal life.

By establishing the covenant of grace, he secured these blessings; by declaration of the covenant of grace, he welcomes everyone to come and take hold of these rich promises. Saving faith believes him and acts on his Word. “Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, we are not cut off; his mercies do not fail; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in him!’” (Lamentations 3:22–24)