Faith as a word, brings us into the heart and core of Christianity. Indeed, it is the word which defines the followers of Jesus, our belonging to the Christian Faith. With faith as a word, being loosely employed, to describe all religions, however, it is important that we are biblically precise in our understanding of the term. In 1925 the outstanding American Reformed Theologian Gresham Machen delivered a series of lectures at the Grove City Bible School. These were later published, becoming a classic work, under the title, “What is Faith?” There are few questions more important.
The Bible shows us that faith is prevented by the depraved heart of man, which recoils at the very idea. True faith is most unnatural for humanity because of man’s obsession with self, the material and the physical. Paul defined faith “as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). For faith to exist there must be that sense of reality; that the unseen spiritual world is more powerful, more permanent than all that we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste; “…that things which are seen were not made of things that do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). Faith, therefore, defies the rationale and logic of man, who therefore objects to it’s very existence. It is for this reason that we are taught, “…all men have not faith” (2nd Thessalonians 3:2).
Faith must then be provided from a source which is outside of and acts independently of man. True faith is, therefore, a gift of God, which motivated the Westminster Divines to call it “the grace of faith”. When the Holy Ghost regenerates the dead spirit infusing new life, faith is born. When Peter described the various graces that the Christian through growth and development can add to his character faith was not one them. In 2nd Peter 1:5 faith stands foremost in the list, as the foundation grace upon which everything rests. God gives faith and to this we add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity.
As God has provided the Christian with this gift of faith, it therefore follows that we have a responsibility to produce this grace in our lives. Therefore, with regard to the unconverted, the Gospel preacher must exhort “faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). This faith, expressed by the sinner, is a holy confidence upon the person and merits of Jesus Christ. Faith is the acceptance that all that we are is insufficient and that Christ alone can be our Saviour.
The converted man or woman will, as a matter of consequence, be desirous to publicly profess this faith. It was the Apostle Paul who powerfully linked belief with confession stating that the two are indispensable parts of the one whole; “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).
From profession, faith then becomes a way of life, a walk with God and, therefore, is progressive; “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2nd Corinthians 5:7). From small beginnings faith will develop, as the seed of the mustard tree in our Saviour’s parable. Those who receive grace will have that desire to practice it; “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). James was adamant that the follower of Christ must show forth his faith by works, or the profession of faith would be counted as a sham. This walk of faith will be manifest devotionally and practically as the Christian endeavours to serve God in a wicked world.
There are two ways by which this faith is protected. In the New Testament faith is often referred to subjectively, as being the humble dependence of the soul upon Christ alone as our Saviour. This is the faith that God has given us for life, for death and for eternity. This holy seed will never be lost to the child of God; “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2nd Timothy 1:12). Faith is also defined objectively in scripture, as being the doctrines and truth which we believe in. Faith, therefore, is never ignorant but knowledgable in that it rests upon God’s Word and the truths contained therein; “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We have a responsibility to defend this truth against error and apostasy as Jude taught; “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude v3).
In our ministry and witness we must not fail to preach, declaring unto men the necessity of faith in Christ alone. This core message was the heart of apostolic evangelism and from which they did not stray; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). This message excludes human endeavour and all other forms of religion. It declares Christ alone as the “Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).