Why Do Some Say That Doubt Is Of The Essence Of Faith?

Curt writes to ask,

I have a question. In “A Brief History of Covenant Theology” You write:

For most of the Medieval period, the Western (Latin) church and the major theologians agreed that God says what he says about us, because we are what we are. That is, God can only call people righteous, if they truly are righteous, inside and out. This, they thought, will happen when sinners are infused with grace so that they become saints. Justification was a matter of cooperation with divine grace, faith is obedience and doubt is of the essence of faith.

What does “doubt is of the essence of faith” mean? Are the disobedient doubtful that faith is what it purports to essentially be (pardon the split infinitive)?

I am a beginner at considering Covenant Theology. This essay was a helpful historical overview.

Hi Curt,

Thanks for the encouragement!

It means that many medieval theologians held and Rome today holds that it is presumptuous to say “I am justified.” Such presumption, in their view, is evidence of damnation. Thus, in their view, doubt is an act of piety and of the essence of faith. There are some misguided Protestants who teach a similar doctrine on the basis that they have yet to experience a so-called “second blessing” of some sort. Thus, they say that they cannot have assurance (confidence) and cannot even go to the Lord’s Table until they’ve had the “blessing.”

According to some medieval theologians and according to Rome today, no one could know that he is actually now justified in the sense in which Paul teaches in Romans. According to Rome, we are only justified to the degree we are sanctified (holy). Since ordinarily no one is perfectly sanctified in this life, no one is completely justified. In that case confidence is presumption. Those misguided Protestants waiting for the so-called “second blessing” are in the same boat with the Romanists, but because they’re waiting for an experience rather than for entire sanctification.

In the confessional Reformed view, God justifies sinners (Rom 4:5), not the sanctified. We are progressively being sanctified by grace alone, through faith alone, because we are justified, i.e., as a consequence of our justification. Our acceptance with God does not rest on our sanctification, which waxes and wanes. Our acceptance with God rests on Christ’s perfect obedience for us. He earned our acceptance with God and we receive it through faith, i.e., resting in Christ’s finished work, trusting in Christ and in his promises. Scripture knows nothing about postponing assurance by waiting for a “second blessing” or entire sanctification.

Therefore, confidence that what God has said is true is of the essence of the act of faith. Romans 3:22, 24; 5:1 and Galatians 2:16  teach that believers are now perfectly justified (accepted by God) through faith (resting, trusting in Christ’s finished work for us) without works (Rom 3:28). We do not always experience this confidence as we ought. Our experience of confidence waxes and wanes but the promise is sure and faith, even the faith of mustard seed, always trusts the promise of God.

These questions in the Heidelberg Catechism are helpful:

1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,1 am not my own, 2 but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, 3 who with His precious blood 4 has fully satisfied for all my sins, 5 and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; 6 and so preserves me, 7that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; 8 indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. 9 Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, 10 and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.11

1 Rom 14:7,8. 2 1 Cor 6:19. 3 1 Cor 3:23. 4 1 Pet 1:18,19.5 I John 1:7. I John 2:2. 6 I John 3:8. 7 John 6:39. 8 Matt  10:29, 30. Luke 21:18. 9 Rom 8:28. 10 2 Cor 1:21, 22. Eph 1:13,14. Rom 8:16. 11 Rom 8:1.

2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

Three things:1 the first, how great my sin and misery is;2 the second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery;3 the third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.4

1 Luke 24:46,47. 1 Cor 6:11. Titus 3:3-7. 2 John 9:41. John 15:22. 3 John 17:3. 4 Eph 5:8-11. 1 Pet 2:9-12. Rom 6:11-14. * Rom 7:24, 25. * Gal 3:13.  * Col 3:17.

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word;1 but also a hearty trust,2 which the Holy Spirit 3 works in me by the Gospel,4 that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God,5 merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.6

1 James 1:6. 2 Rom 4:16-18. 3 2 Cor 4:13. Phil 1:19, 20. 4 Rom 1:16.  Rom 10:17. 5 Heb 11:1, 2. Rom 1:17. 6 Eph 2:7-9. Rom 3:24, 25. Gal 2:16.  * Acts 10:43.

60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ;1 that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,2 and am still prone always to all evil;3 yet God without any merit of mine,4 of mere grace,5 grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction,6 righteousness, and holiness of Christ,7 as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me;8 if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.9

1 Rom 3:21-25. Gal 2:16. Eph 2:8,9. Phil 3:9. 2 Rom 3:9,10. 3 Rom 7:23.; 4 Titus 3:5. 5Rom 3:24. Eph 2:8.
6 I John 2:2. 7 I John 2:1. Rom 4:4,5. 2 Cor 5:19. 8 2 Cor 5:21. 9 John 3:18. * Rom 3:28. * Rom 10:10.

61. Why do you say, that you are righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God1 and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.2

1 1 Cor 1:30. 1 Cor 2:2. 2 I John 5:10. * Isa 53:5. * Gal 3:22. * Rom 4:16.

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One comment

  1. If we didn’t doubt…than it wouldn’t be faith. We’d know…for sure. No faith necessary.

    “Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”

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