In part 7 we considered the object of true faith. Ironically, for a culture that is said to be awash in a sea of secularism, faith seems to be pretty popular. George Michael recorded a forgettable song about it in the late 80s. Eric Clapton played in the band Blind Faith in the late 60s. Contemporary pop culture icons (e.g., Lady Gaga) make frequent references to their faith. it has become common to hear people say, “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious.” In these ways, our culture isn’t that different from that the Apostle Paul confronted in Athens (Acts 17). When he spoke to the philosophers on the Areopagus he said, “I see that you are very religious (v.22).” The evidence for their religiosity was abundant. The assumption, however, both then and now was and is that faith is something that we generate on, that it is a way of describing our religious experience.
That’s not at all what we mean by faith. When Christians speak of faith, we are not speaking of a feeling nor are we merely putting a religious name on ordinary human phenomena. According to Scripture, true faith is not something that we can generate. It is a divine gift. In Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith (διὰ πίστεως). And this (τοῦτο) is not your own doing; it is the gift (δῶρον) of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
When Paul says grace, he means divine favor or approval earned for us by Christ. We did not merit his approval but Christ merited it for us. To us sinners who believe, God’s approval is unconditional. Notice that Paul says that we sinners “have been saved….” We did not save ourselves. We were saved. Our backs were against the Red Sea, as it were, and Yahweh parted the waters and led us through on dry ground. The boat was taking on water, and he calmed the sea. It was done for us. Paul puts a fine point on this truth when he says that this salvation (including faith) is not from ourselves. It is the gift of God. He contrasts the gift and grace of God with works. Grace is one thing and works are something else.
In the midst of describing salvation as a free gift, he includes faith. It is part of that gift. Earlier in the series we noted that faith is the sole instrument through which we receive salvation. The instrumentality of faith is contrasted to the instrumentality of works. For Paul, we must chose between them. They are alternatives. They are not two sides of the same coin when it comes to faith and salvation. In other words, it is impossible to turn faith into faithfulness. We are saved “through faithfulness.” Rather, we are saved “through faith,” i.e., resting, leaning, trusting alone in Christ alone and in his finished work for us.
Faith is gift. That is why 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.
By nature, in Adam (Rom 5:12-21), we are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). Dead men do not believe. They don’t do anything but rot. “But God,” two of the most glorious words in all of Scripture, “being rich in mercy” loved us with a great love (v.4) and made us alive with Christ. He made us alive by the powerful work of his Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep, who led the church through the desert, and who came in power at Pentecost. That Spirit made us alive. We call his act of making alive the spiritually dead regeneration.
That Spirit gave us the grace, the unmerited gift of faith. This is what we mean when we say “which the Holy Spirit works in me.” Faith is a certain knowledge, an assent, and a hearty trust in Christ and in his inerrant, infallible Word. This is not the product of the human will. It is not the product of the human intellect or affections. Nevertheless, the Spirit does make those faculties alive and use them.
It’s not even that the Spirit makes us alive so that we can our part. He not only makes us alive but he creates the grace of faith within us. Faith is a Holy-Spirit-wrought instrument of justification (free acceptance with God) and union and communion with God. More on this in the next installment.
Athenian philosophers and pop culture is very religious. People talk about faith frequently. Often they speak as if we should put our trust in faith itself. That’s blind faith. People often talk as if faith is something that we work up from within. That’s false. Humans do believe but true faith is not a product of the human will, intellect, or affections. It’s not something that we generate. It’s not just a way of describing our experience. True faith is a divine gift created in us by the Holy Spirit.