In the previous installment we considered the role of Scripture in faith. Now we turn to its object.
I think they’ve largely gone away but a few years back team-building “trust exercises” were all the rage. The producers even got the Duck Dynasty guys to do a couple of them. That’s probably the end of trendy management gimmicks when the Duck Commander gets hold them. Si looks like a lot of fun but I’m sure I wouldn’t trust him to watch the sun set.
Life is always a struggle to maintain some balance between childish naiveté—”there was no fall, everything is good!”—and cynicism—”everything is corrupted, there is no grace.” Of course both are wrong. There was a fall and it has consequences. There is grace. God not only restrains the effects of the fall (though, with the 24-hour, internet-fueled news cycle, one wonders whether the Lord has not lifted his restraining hand just a tad) but he is positively merciful and gracious (freely favorable) to those who deserve only condemnation. Where there is grace, there is hope. That is why despair is a sin, because it denies the reality of the resurrection, of free justification with God, and of final salvation. Nevertheless, as I get older, I realize that the list of people whom I should actually trust is a rather shorter than I once thought. Only God knows the human heart. I don’t know how old you are but you will likely find, through the years, that people whom you thought you could trust implicitly will turn on you. I cannot say who it will be or when but it is likely to happen. If this is news to you, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you.
Thus, when someone asks, “do you trust me?” the question and the answer are more complicated than they once seemed. We must trust but we must place confidence in someone else. All trust has an object. When someone says, “The Lord has made salvation possible for those who do their part” they are implying that they have confidence that they have the ability to do their part. This means that they have a deficient view of sin. They may say that they believe in the fall and in its consequences but, in truth, they have minimized their effects of the fall. No one who believes that we all, in Adam, are dead in sin and trespasses could reasonably think that we can “do our part.” Faith inevitably has an object. The real question is whether they have chosen the correct object. When someone says, “I hope that the Lord accepts my best efforts,” they are really saying, “I believe that my best efforts will be sufficient to earn acceptance with God.” These folk have two objects of faith: God and themselves.
If the object of your trust is “God and” it does not matter what follows the conjunction. You are an idolater. You cannot have two objects of faith. “You shall have no other Gods before me.” It’s quite clear from Scripture that God is utterly intolerant of objects of faith before or beside him. God the Son did not take on human flesh, obey the law, suffer the indignity of his humiliation, his cross, and the tomb, in order to make it possible for you to do your part any more than the Yahweh merely enabled Noah to do his part or the Israelites to do their part at the Red Sea. No, God saves those who cannot save themselves. There is only one completely reliable object of faith: the Triune God.
Thus, we confess:
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; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
The object of our faith is Christ and his promises. We trust his inerrant, infallible Word. We trust his promises made to us in the holy sacraments. Believers trust that their sins have been forgiven, that we have been declared righteous. We have not been made righteous through baptism nor through magic, but by Christ’s condign merit imputed to us and received through faith alone. In the sacraments God testifies that his promises (his Word) are true. They strengthen the Spirit-given gift of faith and union with Christ. They encourage. That is their divinely ordained purpose.
The Triune God, speaking to us in the Son, has been utterly faithful to all that he has promised. The Holy Spirit testifies to us that his promises are true. Trust always has an object but trust is only as good as that in which is is placed. When we place our trust in sinful humans, in ourselves, in our position in society, in our wealth (or poverty), then we shall be disappointed. It must be. All those things fail. Only Christ does not fail. He is intrinsically worthy of confidence because he has demonstrated his trustworthiness. Just as he earned our free acceptance with God, so he has also earned our trust.