(The Five Solas of the Reformation)
by Bob Burridge ©2014
Faith is the only thing we are called upon
to exercise in being restored to fellowship with God.
The grace of God uses faith as its means when it works in the heart. God implants a trust that rests in his promises and love. By that faith our otherwise unworthy hearts lay hold of Christ’s work of redemption. Paul summarized this in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Grace is the cause and Faith is the means by which the atonement of Christ is applied for our Justification.
People often talk about faith in a way totally alien
to what it means in God’s word.
People talk about faith in the economy, faith in political promises made during an election cycle, or a faith that hopes everything is going to work out somehow. They dismissively say, “Just have faith.” Faith is often understood as a hope in things totally irrational and contrary to reason. Even if they know something isn’t true, faith becomes the self-deceiving attitude that believes it anyway. There’s a mechanism built into our minds that at some point resolves that certain ideas will be trusted and acted upon as being true. There is a broad sense in which that may be called faith.
A study of the words translated as “faith” in the Bible is helpful.
The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for faith is aman (אמן). The root-meaning of the verb is “to confirm”, “to support”. In the Niphil form it means “to be made firm or sure, established, verified” which in the moral sense is “to be reliable, trustworthy”. In the Hiphil form it means “to regard as firm or trustworthy, to place trust in, or to have confidence in”. The Noun form is emunah (אמונה) which means “firmness, steadfastness, fidelity, or faithfulness” (as in Habakkuk 2:4).
In the New Testament the Greek Noun for faith is pistis (πιστις): “trust, reliability, faithfulness, promise, confidence”. In its basic Verb form, pisteuo (πιστευϖ), it means “to believe, to trust, or to entrust something to someone”.
These were common words used in every day conversation in reference to putting trust in something. They did not always make reference to religious matters.
When we trust in something, our confidence is based upon some type of information. In this broad sense we can speak of “faith” in three ways:
1. There is a purely rationalistic faith
It is based upon information that comes to us through our natural senses. It is stored in memory where it can be recalled. It can then be used in making decisions, and drawing conclusions about situations and questions we face. When we use this information we first evaluate how trustworthy each piece of information is. To make that decision there are some assumptions we accept. We assume that the source of our information is reliable, that the rules of reason we are using are sound, and that we are not being influenced by conclusions we have reached which may not have been soundly reasoned out. As we make decisions and draw conclusions we assume that the information we have is sufficiently complete, and that all possible alternative explanations without exception have been identified and ruled out. The soundness of our conclusions depends upon the truthfulness of our information and how we make use of it.
a. One kind of rationalistic faith is a scientific faith.
It draws general conclusions from our experiences, then applies the generalizations to specific cases. For example we decide to sit in a chair trusting that it is dependable based upon our past experiences with chairs. That is a perfectly normal way in which we put our trust in things in the physical world around us. Since spiritual issues do not come to us by physical observations and measurements, they cannot be evaluated by a purely naturalistic scientific method. When the Bible and the Gospel are evaluated this way, decisions may be drawn about what we discover there, but this is not a Saving Faith.
b. A testimonial faith
This is when we trust something to be true because other people tell us that it is true. We might try a new brand of toothpaste because of claims made by ads or by friends. We might accept medicines because of a Doctor’s advice even though we don’t know how they actually work.
c. An historical faith
This is a trust in something to be reliable and true based upon past records, and surviving material evidence.
d. A miraculous faith
This faith believes that things have happened which must have been supernatural. It remains a rational process because it simply adds those events it sees as miracles to the pool of information from which they reason. Belief that Jesus could heal the sick and control nature does not necessarily include a trust that he was the true Christ, God the Eternal Son, and the Redeemer. They merely assent to observed or recorded facts. Those with a “miraculous faith” may even believe that they could personally benefit from miracles performed by God. That is not a saving faith.
2. There is a purely irrationalistic faith.
This approach has no interest in determining the absolute reliability of something. Evidence is not expected, and often the search for it is looked down upon. It chooses simply to hope in what appeals to the person’s present feelings and disposition. This faith is sometimes spoken of by the imagery of taking “a blind leap into the dark.” Absolute truth is seen as neither an attainable nor a necessary thing. What is perceived in the mind of the person becomes his reality and truth at that time.
Some say they trust in Jesus Christ, but believe that he might not be God, or have really risen from the tomb. They believe in him as a good teacher or inspiring example, perhaps even as a miracle worker. They believe the Bible, but not as an inerrant book. This faith, though “religious” is not a Saving Faith. All these ways by which people come to trust in things are most fundamentally contrary to the faith God says justifies us through Christ.
3. There is also a saving faith.
This is a confidence implanted supernaturally by the Holy Spirit into the souls of the elect in their regeneration. This faith receives as true and reliable whatever the person learns God has said and done. This faith is first evidenced in a person when he confidently rests upon the atonement of Christ for salvation.
There are then, two ways to speak of saving faith. It is both the faculty implanted into the soul by grace that enables it to trust what God makes known, and it is the exercise of that faculty to trust in the revealed truths received from God.
John Calvin summarizes many of these ideas in his definition of saving faith (Institutes 3:II:7), “(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.”
People commonly call it “faith” whenever anyone decides something is reliable without objective evidence. But saving faith is not common to the human nature in all its states. The fallen soul has no ability to perceive as true or to embrace what God has made known about the universally fallen human condition and the provision of Christ for salvation. (Note Romans 3:11, 1 Corinthians 2:14, and John 6:44.)
Saving faith is rational, but is not limited to information obtained by our senses and personal reasoning. Saving faith is not irrational because it affirms that truth is a real objective quality because it expresses things as God sees them and has revealed them to regenerated hearts through the ministry of his word.
Saving faith is not present in all people.
Human-centered theology denies that sin limits our ability to perceive and to believe what we experience. It denies that saving faith is a supernatural gift. It holds to the idea that all faith is either a rational choice based upon gathered sensory information, or it is an irrational leap in the dark.
The Bible presents faith as neither of these. It is a supernatural gift of God’s grace whereby we are convinced of the reliability of God and his promises. Paul’s prayer for the persecuted Thessalonians is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:2, “and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.” Paul had just referred to faith as a gift of grace (2 Thessalonians 2:13). This same idea is clearly expressed in Philippians 1:29.
The Elements of Saving Faith
Reformed theologians have divided saving faith into various elements.
1. Some divide saving faith into two parts.
A. A. Hodge calls them assent and trust. By assent he means giving intellectual recognition to what the Scriptures reveal about the person, offices, and work of Christ. By trust he means implicit reliance upon Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation. This saving faith, according to A. A. Hodge, is an act of the whole man, his intellect, affections, and will.
The Heidelberg Catechism, in question 21, also divides what it calls true faith into two elements. They are a certain knowledge by which all that God reveals is received as truth, and a personal hearty trust in the promises of the gospel concerning forgiveness of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation by mere grace for the sake of Christ’s merits.
2. Some divide saving faith into three elements.
They are: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and volition (fiducia).
a. Knowledge is the learned information available to be trusted. Faith must be “in” something. Trust cannot be exercised without an object. In Saving Faith, the object is the learned information God reveals in his word preserved in Scripture about his work of redemption through Christ.
To provide this knowledge, the content of the gospel must be presented to the unbeliever in the process of evangelism. The teachings of the Bible must be explained to believers in the process of their sanctification.
b. Assent is agreement that what God has revealed as true. The contents of God’s word should not just be known as facts. There must be an accepting that the facts are true just as God revealed them.
c. Volition is a decision to personally trust and appropriate the truths of the gospel. It is the act that embraces Christ as Savior and therefore as Lord. Louis Berkhof wrote that this includes, “.. a surrender of the soul as guilty and defiled to Christ, and a reception and appropriation of Christ.” (Systematic Theology pg. 505). Berkhof adds, “the seat of (saving) faith cannot be placed in the intellect, nor in the feelings, nor in the will exclusively, but only in the heart, the central organ of man’s spiritual being, out of which are the issues of life.”
A helpful example is given by James.
James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!” The word for “believing” in that verse is the same word translated as “faith” [pisteuo (πιστευϖ)]. The demons know the fact that there is one God. They may even assent to the truth of what God says. It may make them tremble when considering the truth of it. They have knowledge, and assent, but they do not appropriate it. They cannot submit to it personally. Without the element of volition enabled by grace, faith in Christ is not Saving Faith.
Some misunderstand Hebrews 11:1.
The first verse of Hebrews chapter 11 is often understood to be an exhaustive definition of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
When read outside of its context some assume that it’s saying that faith is irrational, that it’s not based upon facts. have fun — A close examination of that verse shows that this is not the case.
It is a practical definition, not a strict definition of what the word “faith” means. This verse is explaining what a true faith accomplishes in us. Hope is not the foundation of faith. It’s saying the opposite. Faith is what gives our hope substance. It’s not unseeable things that are the evidence of faith. Faith is the evidence provided for those things which we cannot see.
The verse begins with the word “Now.” This connects back to the previous chapter. In Hebrews 10:38 the writer quotes from the prophet Habakkuk. The verse quoted is Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith.” The prophet had learned that instead of questioning God when troublesome things occur, we should live by faithfully trusting in his promises.
In Habakkuk, the word translated “faith” is the Hebrew word emunah (אמוּנה), which most accurately means “faithfulness.” Literally the Habakkuk passage could be translated, “The righteous will live through his faithfulness.” Those justified by God’s grace will live by faithfully trusting in God’s provisions and promises, not by trusting in his own understanding or perception of things.
The first part means that faith is “the confident reality of things hoped for”. True faith gives us confidence in the reality of the things God has promised. It applies God’s words to us personally. When the Holy Spirit implants this saving faith, we realize the value of the promises of God to his children. This produces a great expectation, a true hope. God will not go back on his word. He cannot lie.
The second part means that faith is “the establishing of things not seen”. There are things we cannot take into the science lab, things we cannot see, touch, or measure. The rationalistic method is not able to establish spiritual facts. Saving faith convinces us to accept and to trust God’s word simply because we know God said it. This inward evidence is more assuring than all the scientific demonstrations we may observe. It comes from the work of the Creator upon the heart of his creatures.
This text rules out the false meanings of faith. We are left with what God says about it. It is that firm conviction which comes from the Holy Spirit. It assures us that God has spoken clearly with written promises we can count on, and by which we can live.
Saving Faith is a Work of the Holy Spirit.
Since the unredeemed are able neither to discern spiritual truth, nor to seek after the true God (Romans 3:11, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 4:4), saving faith must be implanted into the unworthy by a supernatural act of the Triune God.
The gift of saving faith originates in God’s eternal decree judicially based upon the work of Jesus Christ as Redeemer. This is why it is called a grace exercised toward the elect.
Acts 13:48, “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
2 Corinthians 4:6, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God”
Ephesians 1:17-18, “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”
The application of the faculty of faith is attributed particularly to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
Note also the following texts:
1 Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
John 6:44-45, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
The faculty of faith is ordinarily established by the instrumentality of the inspired word, and is directed toward the promises revealed in Scripture as the Spirit works. We desire to see faith evidenced in others as we declare the word of God to them, and pray for the work of the Spirit upon their dead hearts to grant life through the atonement of Christ.
Romans 10:13-17, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The Work of Faith
The Scriptures repeatedly speak of our being justified and saved from the wrath of God by means of this implanted faith. It is the single condition stated regarding the salvation of the believer.
Acts 10:43, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
Romans 3:22-25, “even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,”
Galatians 2:16, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:9, “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;”
2 Timothy 3:15, “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
The faculty of Saving Faith enables the elect of God to believe to the justifying of their souls. It produces a trust in what God has revealed in his word. This trust is anchored in divine authority alone. God’s warnings stir the redeemed to act upon what God has promised, and to thankfully obey his commands. The soul is restored to fellowship with the once offended Creator by the removal of the offense of sin. That produces life for the glory of God. As Jesus said in John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Principally faith is the accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace (WCF 14:2).
Faith is also a moral act. The lack of it, unbelief, is denounced as sin. It is rooted in the decree of reprobation which passes over those not elected and leaves them to reject Christ and the word of his grace.
John 3:18-19, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Saving Faith is a Growing Faith
A temporal faith is not a saving faith. It is like the seed of the word that falls upon stony ground. It may cause excitement for the moment, then it dies out and reveals that it is not the gift of redeeming grace. It is only the evidence of God’s restraint of sin in the person, and produces a momentary outward appearance of blessing.
Matthew 13:5-6, “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.”
Matthew 13:20-21, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
A true saving faith grows as evidence of the life that God stirs within. It is not perfect in this life, but advances until it becomes complete in union with Christ in glory. Since it is here incomplete, it must exist in varying degrees of advancement.
The means of its growth are what we call “the means of grace”. They are the ministry of the word of God, the faithful exercise of worship (particularly the right participation in the sacraments rightly administered), and the diligent use of prayer conducted according to God’s instruction. These are encouraged in the believer by his membership in the church of Christ directed by the Shepherds called by God, gifted to the task, and ordained for the edification and discipline of the sheep.
For further study consider the lesson of Jesus in Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-43.
We are Justified by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone,
by the work of Christ Alone.
It is not what you do, but what Christ has done, that makes you trust in the gospel. When grace works in your heart, it stirs you to trust in the Savior’s work. That implanted trust is what God honors when he declares you innocent of your sin, and declares you innocent through Christ.
If you trust in anything else added — any ritual, inheritance, work, or personal sacrifice — you do not have a biblical saving faith. Many churches have abandoned grace and biblical faith as things that stand alone. Grace is made into God’s sentimental tolerance for all people, and for all sincere beliefs. Faith is made into an irrational hope or personal decision. These ideas are not what is taught in the Bible when it stands on its own.
When we add false ideas to the gospel, we produce another gospel. We must rest our salvation upon God’s Grace alone, through Faith alone.
Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.