WORDS OF SALVATION
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY FOUR: FAITH
The Bible says about faith:
'Without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11:6).
' ... everything that does not come from faith is sin' (Romans 14:23).
' ... the righteous will live by his faith' (Habakkuk 2:3; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).
' ... it is by grace you have been saved, through faith' (Ephesians 2:8).
' ... in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed ... that is by faith from first to last' (Romans 1:17).
These verses teach that faith is significant and indispensable, its presence or absence determining our relationship with God for time and eternity. To understand it, we will look firstly at what faith is not.
Biblical faith is the opposite of unbelief.
Unbelief refuses to believe that any 'god' exists. Out of this refusal issue further denials: no life after death, no heaven, no hell, no sin, no salvation, no supernatural or miraculous, including no virgin birth or resurrection. The human being is on his own, accountable to no one, dependent on no one.
Biblical faith is the opposite of wrong belief.
Wrong belief results from the human heart's search for some point of reference outside itself. Having severed our relationship with the true God (Genesis 3) in whose image we were created, we have incessantly created gods in our own image and in the image of created things (Romans 1:18-31), distorting and corrupting God's self-revelation in creation. What he spoke in his word of revelation we also corrupted, so that when he came to us in Jesus Christ, we did not recognize him (John 1:11; 5:37-40,45-47). There are countless ideas of god, salvation, and the meaning of life and death. There is also in these ideas something that we might call 'faith', but it is not Biblical faith.
Biblical faith is the opposite of superstition.
Superstitions abound in non-Christians - Friday the 13th, black cats and the like. Faith is certainly the opposite of those. But faith is also the opposite of 'Christian' superstitions which have sprung out of a superficial, distorted understanding of Biblical truth. Such superstitions include: belief that certain times, certain words, certain forms, are more suited for prayer and/or worship than others; that fasting is significant in itself; that the Bible can be used much like a lucky draw to get a 'word from the Lord' for the day; that everyday incidents are to be interpreted as 'signs' from God; that God has a great cosmic puzzle in which we each must find the one track right for us in the maze of all the decisions of our lives. Many such things are assumed to be Christian faith, but are actually the very opposite of Biblical faith.
Biblical faith is the opposite of faith in faith.
Biblical faith never has faith in itself. The value of Biblical faith is always in the Object of that faith. When Jesus says: 'if you have faith as small as a mustard seed ... ' (Luke 17:6) it is because the size, power or force of our faith is not significant but the One in whom we trust, Jesus Christ, is significant. We trust in him, not in ourselves, not even in the power of our faith. Any faith which is faith in faith is essentially faith in ourselves, and is far removed from Biblical faith, which is always and only faith in Jesus Christ.
What then is Biblical faith, by which we are saved and without which it is impossible to please God?
Biblical faith is knowledge.
John wrote: 'these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God ... ' (John 20:31), and 'everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.. ' (1 John 5:1). Jesus said: ' ... if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins' (John 8:24). Biblical faith has specific content. The knowledge that is contained in Biblical faith is this: that when it sees Jesus Christ it is seeing the one, true God; when it knows Jesus Christ, it is knowing the one, true God (John 14:7-11; 10:30; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20).
Because of this knowledge of Jesus Christ, Biblical faith also knows:
- that unbelief is not an option, it can never believe that there is no God there, for it knows that he has come to us and left his footprints on our earth.
- that all other god concepts are false and belief in them is not Biblical belief. It can never believe, even for a moment, that these other ideas of 'god' can possibly be valid, for it knows the one true God.
- that all superstitions, whether secular or 'Christian', are outlawed: they cannot co-exist with true knowledge of Jesus Christ, by whose word we exist and are sustained, and for whom we exist (Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3).
- that it is not permitted to have faith in faith. It knows that all honour and praise, all power and glory, are his (Revelation 5:11-14; Philippians 3:1-11). Faith that must praise its own power and authority has not yet understood, has not yet known, that all power belongs to him (Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24).
In this faith in which we know the true God in his Son, Jesus Christ, we are set free from the necessity to find a god for ourselves. This freedom is a gift, in which God breaks into the dark bondage of our blindness and ignorance and gives us knowledge of himself (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; Matthew 11:25-27).
Biblical faith is also trust.
Demons believe (James 2:19b). They know who God is, and tremble, but this belief is not Biblical faith, for Biblical faith knows God and trusts. It does so because Jesus Christ has demonstrated by his death and resurrection that he, the one, true God, is for us. Here he conquers and disempowers all that stands against us and against him (Colossians 2:13-15; Romans 8:1-4,31-39; Ephesians 2:14-18), and by this act gives to us another freedom: freedom from having to trust ourselves. Biblical faith sets us free to so trust God in his act of salvation that we no longer have to depend on ourselves, we no longer have to defend ourselves, or justify ourselves. We rely on his righteousness and faithfulness, not our own. We rely on him to reconcile us to himself, and place no confidence in our own puny acts of goodness (2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Romans 5:9-11; Philippians 3:1-11). Biblical faith thus trusts God when he tells us that we are forgiven.
Biblical faith is also commitment.
Because Biblical faith both knows and trusts God it is also the responsibility and the freedom to be for God. It says to Jesus Christ: 'my Lord and my God', and in this confession commits itself, not only to trust his promises but also to trust his commands. We acknowledge in this confession that Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Saviour, on whom our lives depend for time and for eternity, is the only One whose word we will also trust for directions about how to live. We no longer live for ourselves: we live for him. We no longer make our own decisions about what is right and wrong: we trust his decision about that. Any faith that reserves for itself the right to choose its own code of morals and ethics is not Biblical faith (James 2:14-26; 1 John; Mt 7:13-27).
This then is Biblical faith without which we cannot be saved: it is knowing the one, true God by knowing Jesus Christ; it is so trusting Jesus Christ that we depend on him and what he has done, and not on ourselves; it is being so committed to him that we leave aside our own rights and hold ourselves responsible to him. Biblical faith is God's gift in which we so believe in Jesus Christ that we are liberated for ever from the heavy necessity of having to trust in ourselves.
For your study:
- Reflect on the perceptions mentioned that are the opposite of Biblical faith. Honestly assess whether or not your faith has elements of 'wrong' faith.
- Consider how much of the three elements of knowledge, trust and commitment characterizes your faith. Ask the Lord to help you in the areas where you are lacking.
(1) more will be said about faith in the study on Justification that follows.
(2) I acknowledge my indebtedness to the late Karl Barth, whose thoughts in 'Dogmatics in Outline' pp15-34 (SCM, 1966) enriched my understanding of Biblical faith.