Faith as God Describes It
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 85-86 Part 1)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Not Just Any Kind of Faith
Sales representatives are one of the foundations of our economy. They deliver products and services to their customers, and secure the customer’s money for the producers and providers.
Sadly, some have earned bad reputations for themselves. We can all picture some sleazy sales person fast talking a naive customer into paying a lot to get very little in return. Sometimes they misrepresent their products. They sell things that will never do what they promised they would do. Television and movie writers have often made a caricature of that kind of person. We see him putting his arm around a customer, giving him an exaggerated wink, and saying, “Just trust me.”
We hear the same from those politicians who have made government more a contest for getting votes, than a means for getting fair laws passed to preserve our liberties and core principles.
Today we are surrounded by advertising agencies pushing gimmicks promoted by slick infomercials, authors and publishers offering books that promise life changing secrets, the lawyers who promise to make you rich if you just help them sue those who seems vulnerable, preachers who primarily want to promote their books or CDs promising all sorts of things God never promised. These are the ones who discourage us from thinking things through, or checking them out first. They come up with the same line, “Just trust me.” They often throw in those words that sound so noble; “You just have to have faith.”
Rumors have always been a problem too. It’s hard to know which ones to trust, and which ones are lies. Theories of conspiracies abound in our world where people who know little, suppose a lot, and are quick to spread rumors to make them appear to be smart and others to seem stupid.
It’s not uncommon for people to tell us that we should just trust them. It’s hard enough to decide about choosing cars and soap. When it comes to what we should believe about God, about our eternal hope, and about how we ought to live day by day, these are too important to depend upon the opinions of others.
Our faith needs to be the kind God promises to bless. It needs to rest upon things more sure than just what people tell us, or what we think we know by our own experience and limited information.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism in questions 85-87 introduces us to both faith and repentance as the Bible presents them. Question 85 asks, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?” It’s answer is, “To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.”
In this study, we take up the matter of faith. Question 86 asks, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer summarizes what the Bible says about it, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”
Faith, as it is seen in God’s Word
Real biblical faith does not mean just accepting things blindly without evidence. That would be nothing other than being irrational. Trust never stands alone. It must be placed in something we believe to be true and reliable. It is not something that operates aside from content. Notice how Paul put content into that in which believers hope. In Ephesians 1:17-18 he said, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…”
It is God who enables our fallen minds to see clearly again when regenerated by grace through the work of our Redeemer. Our restored sight puts reliable content into our trust. Our Heavenly Father gives us the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding we need, so that we can know the hope of that to which he calls us. It makes us appreciate the riches of the promised blessings. This confidence we have in God’s promises is the core of the biblical concept of faith.
The world in general doesn’t use the word “faith” in that same way. People debate about having faith in the economy, or in what people tell them. There is that foolish kind of faith that ignores dangers and presses on anyway hoping things will just happen to work out in the end. Some people think of faith as a totally irrational, believing in things the way children believe in fantasies — not really caring if they’re true. Our minds have the ability to consider things and come to conclusions about them. This concluding mechanism decides what to safely act upon or believe is true. In a broad sense, people call this trust, “faith”.
The Old Testament Hebrew word for “faith” is emun (אמון). The New Testament Greek word for “faith” is pistis (πιστις). Both words are like our English words, “faith” or “trust”. “To have faith” means to trust something to be true. When used as a noun, “faith” is the trust or confidence we have in something to be true and reliable. The Adjective “faithful” describes something or someone that is reliable and can be trusted.
In daily life we come to trust things for various reasons. We trust in, or rely upon things primarily because they gain our confidence through our experience with them. We know that certain chairs look safe to sit upon because of the reliability of ones we have used before. There are certain products we believe are reliable because we have tried them in the past. Sometimes we trust the experience of others about what is reliable and what is not.
Some trusted in Jesus as a miracle worker because they saw him do things they could not explain naturally. Their past experience with him convinced them that he had supernatural powers. They might not have believed he was their Savior, but they trusted him to be able to do what they saw him do before.
The Bible describes a special kind of trust we call a Saving Faith. This is a confidence implanted supernaturally directly into human hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our trust is not based upon research, experience, debates, proofs, or arguments. It does not come from our senses, our experiences, or from the testimony of others. It is one of the results of regeneration.
The saving work of Jesus Christ is applied to certain fallen human hearts removing their guilt forever. Their sins were paid for in his death, and his righteousness is credited to them. With the guilt barrier removed each redeemed individual is joined back into fellowship with God. The separation of spiritual death is ended. In its place there is new spiritual life. This is why we say say a redeemed person is “born again”.
This saving faith receives as true and reliable all that it learns that God has actually revealed. It confidently rests in the atonement of Christ for salvation. The guilt of sin that once condemned, is forgiven.
This restored ability enables the redeemed to see the soundness of God’s truth. It opens their understanding to the authority behind Scripture and the truth of the cross. By this faith the redeemed trust in all they know God has said. They learn to evaluate everything else learned by comparing it with what God tells us in his written word.
John Calvin summarized these ideas in his definition of saving faith in his Institutes (Inst 3:II:7 end). There he said that faith is “… a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
Not all people have saving faith.
In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul was concerned about persecutions if God’s people. He begins the chapter with these words in verses 1-2, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.”
This same idea of faith as a special gift is expressed in Philippians 1:29. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,”
Faith then is clearly a gift from God. It is undeserved and unearned. The fallen soul is unable to perceive as true what God has made known. He refuses to accept what God says about his fallen condition, and he will not trust in the provision Jesus Christ made for salvation.
False and unbiblical religions must deny these limits upon human faith. They cannot accept our inability to determine our own salvation. They deny that saving faith is a supernatural gift. They see faith as either a rational choice based upon information we can prove scientifically, or as an irrational leap in the dark. They say that it doesn’t matter if what we believe is true or not, but it helps us emotionally if we believe that something bigger than us is true.
In the Bible saving faith is neither a belief based upon observed facts, nor a blind leap to embrace the irrational.
It is a supernatural gift of God’s grace whereby we are convinced of the reliability of God’s word, and the certainty of his promises in Christ.
Those who have it should most humbly thank God for it, and confirm that it is genuine by acting confidently upon all that God instructs us in his word. Those who lack this faith should be the objects of our neighborly kindness and evangelism.
People of true faith are neither gullible nor cynical. The Holy Spirit guides them in comparing what they hear and think with the written word. They should prayerfully test all they hear to see if it fits what God says is true. This doesn’t make God’s children just doubt everything either as a bunch of cynical skeptics. Once they know what God said in his word, they know they must trust it to be reliable and true, and act upon it with confidence.
Those who say they believe God but are hesitant to live by what he says is right and true, show that they really do not trust him as much as they say they do.
Part Two of this lesson will take up the practical and positive side of the faith God works in our hearts as believers.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)