It’s time to talk about faith. Wonderful as the salvation that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ may be, it is of no use to us unless it becomes ours personally – and the way the work of Christ becomes ours personally is through faith. That is why the Bible says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6) and why the apostle Paul speaks of faith so often in the section of Romans we are now studying – eight times in verses 21 through 31.
What exactly is faith? Of the writers on faith, John Calvin perhaps had the strongest point of view, for he found it necessary to oppose a very serious error about faith that had developed in the teaching of the medieval church. In the years before the Reformation the church had been derelict in teaching the Scriptures to the people. Consequently, most people were ignorant of the true gospel of salvation, and most clergy were ignorant of it also. Calvin argued that “the object of faith is Christ” and that “faith rests upon knowledge, not upon pious ignorance.” Calvin wrote, “We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace as true whatever the church has prescribed, or because we turn over to it the task of inquiring and knowing. But we do so when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of reconciliation effected through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, sanctification and life. By this knowledge, I say, not by submission of our feeling, do we obtain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.” This ancient debate has bearing upon the “faith” of many persons today, for although many probably do not exercise “implicit” faith in the church or in any other authority, they seem to have implicit faith in themselves or merely “faith in faith,” which turns out to be almost the same thing.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin is so concerned about stressing the importance of knowledge as the first element in faith that he rightly presents it in another way, showing the necessary link between faith and the Word of God, or the Bible. Reduced to its basics, Calvin shows that: (1) faith is defined by God’s Word; (2) faith is born of God’s Word; and (3) faith is sustained by God’s Word.
The first of these points is particularly clear in Romans 3. For Paul speaks of faith after having spoken of the righteousness of God (that is the gospel) in verse 21. It is after this that he says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (v. 22). In other words, the faith in Christ about which he is speaking is faith in that work of Christ previously revealed in and explained by the Old Testament. There cannot be any true faith without the Word of God, for it is in the Word alone that we learn what we are to believe.
The second way in which faith is linked to the Word of God is that faith is created, born, or awakened in us by that Word. Apart from the Word, we are like Lazarus – as dead in our transgressions as he was dead in his cold Judean tomb. What will awaken us from that sleep of death? Only the call of the life-giving God can produce such new life. The only place where we can hear the voice of God is in the pages of the Bible, where alone God speaks.
The third link between faith and the Bible is that it is through the Bible that faith is strengthened or sustained. Why? Because the Bible directs us to God and His promises, and only God is strong enough to support us in this matter of salvation. The conclusion is that if you wish to be strong in faith and grow in it, you must spend time studying the Bible and appropriating the promises of God that are found there.
As important as biblical content of faith is and which Calvin stressed so strongly, it is nevertheless possible to know this content and yet be lost – if it has not touched the individual personally at the heart level. Here is how Calvin put it – after a long section (forty out of fifty pages on “faith”) dealing with the element of knowledge or content: “It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed. For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart that it may be an invincible defense to withstand and drive off all the stratagems of temptation.”
The third element of faith is a real yielding of oneself to Christ, which goes beyond having knowledge, however full or accurate, or even being personally moved by the gospel. (Many are moved, even to tears, but are not saved.) It is the point at which we pass over the line from belonging to ourselves (as we think) and become the Lord’s disciples. It is what was seen in Thomas when he not only believed in Jesus and his resurrection but fell at His feet in worship, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is at this point that faith joins hands with love, which it closely resembles, and hope is born from that union.
Jesus pledges Himself to us; He has already done it. We pledge ourselves to Him through the third element of faith: commitment. He died for us, demonstrating the nature of His true love and sterling character. He wooed us getting us to love Him who first loved us. Now He takes the wedding vow, saying, “I Jesus, take thee [put your name in the space], to be my wedded wife; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving an faithful Savior and Bridegroom; in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in this life and for all eternity,”
We then look up into His face and repeat the words: “I [your name], take thee, Jesus to be my loving Savior and Lord; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful wife: in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, and in sickness and in health, for this life and for all eternity.” God the Father (not an earthly minister) then pronounces the marriage, and you become the Lord Jesus Christ’s forever.
Have you done that? Have you believed on Jesus Christ? Do you love Him? Do you know yourself to have been made His forever? You may say, “Well, I don’t know if I have or not.” If you don’t know, settle the matter right now! Perhaps you say, “But I’m unworthy.” Of course you are. How could anybody possibly be worthy of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ? All are unworthy, but it is precisely your awareness of your unworthiness that makes it possible for you to know you need a Savior. Paul reminds us that God has shown “His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
You might say, “But my faith is so weak.” Yes, and your love and hope and everything else are weak, too. But it does not take strong faith to be saved, just faith. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift.”* Reach out your hand. Place it in that pierced hand that is stretched out to you. Clasp it to your heart, and love Jesus forever.
Romans 3:25-26 Reflection Questions:
What is your faith in; the church, some other authority, yourself, in faith, or in Christ?
How much time do you spend daily or weekly studying the Bible? Now compare that with the time you spend on your phone, the internet, or the T.V.
Has the Word of God touched your heart? How do you know?
*Spurgeon, All of Grace, p. 43.