October 19, 2017
WHAT IS FAITH?
FAITH is a gift. Some reject that idea. Why? Because we are told to repent and believe (Acts 2.38).
Let me show you why faith must be a gift given by God.
First, let me show you from where the notion that faith is a gift comes.
Paul speaks of it. He does so in Ephesians. There we read:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2.8)
And in Philippians he writes:
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Philippians 1.29)
Some argue that the words it is the gift of God refer only to the words for by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2.8). It is not to be doubted that salvation is freely given by God to all who believe. Nor is it to be doubted that it can never be deserved or earned. There is nothing that you, or anyone else, can do to free yourself from the wrath of God and the eternal misery you deserve.Paul says God gives salvation through faith. Salvation and the personal experience of salvation are intimately connected. Because that is so, faith must be a gift. If it is not how can Paul say that salvation is by grace? Paul reminds the Christians of Ephesus that every part of their salvation – including their faith – is a free gift from God. It is all of grace.
This way of understanding Paul’s words is supported by his use of an important word in his letter to the Christians of Philippi – the word granted. What does he say they are given? He mentions faith and suffering (Philippians 1.29). For Christ’s sake, he writes, those who are freely given faith are also freely given the privilege to suffer for Christ.
How is suffering for Christ a privilege? Consider what happens when believers suffer for him. They find that he helps them. He makes his people know his power in their weakness. He supports them in their faith. That is not all. Other believers, who see Christ help his people as they suffer, are encouraged in their faith. And, those who do not yet believe, are challenged to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, there is another truth that I would like you to consider. It concerns what we are. Outside of Christ, we are in a corrupt state. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, did not stay as they were created. They rebelled. Their act of rebellion affects all who are descended from them. The whole human race is affected. How is that so? To answer that question we need to consider who we are.
We do not just have a body. We are more than flesh and blood. We also have a soul. We are enfleshed souls.
Consider the evidence. Mankind is able to think and reason. We are able to communicate, and to do so in sophisticated ways. We are more than creatures of instinct. We make choices. And we have a conscience that gives us a sense of right and wrong.We are able to show affection. Our emotions respond to what we feel, hear and see. Perhaps most important of all, we have a will. Our will controls what we desire and what we decide to do. Its existence helps us to explain what we choose to do.
What was the will of Adam and the will of Eve like before they defied God? It was free. It was free to choose good or evil. Mankind was created with a free-will.
What happened when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God? Their free-will remained but it became corrupt. How? From the moment they defied God’s command it was corrupted by a desire for sin. That desire was joined to the will. It became a bound free-will.
That is God’s judgment upon mankind. Adam was not a private person. He represented all who would descend from him. Thus when he fell all mankind fell. His corruption is inherited by all his descendants. All of us are born with a bound free-will.
How does having a bound free-will affect us? We are under the authority of evil desires. The will is in bondage to sin. What does that mean? We are free to choose what we want to do but what we choose is corrupted by sin. So too is the way we do what we do. We are not free in the way we do what we choose to do.
There is nothing we can do to escape from our bondage to sin. This bondage shows itself in our inability to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. There is not one person who loves God perfectly. Since the days of Adam there has been not one person (conceived and born after the seed of a man has been united with the egg of a woman) who has truly loved God.
The only person who perfectly loves God is the Lord Jesus Christ. His conception was not normal. It was a miracle. God caused Mary to be with child. It was the only way by which the Saviour of sinners could be born. Those whose free-will is bound cannot free themselves. If they are to be free they must be freed by one whose will is truly free. The will of Christ is. He freely chose to love God. He chose to do so perfectly. He demonstrated his perfect love for God by perfectly doing God’s will.
What does this teach us about faith? That all who have a bound free-will need to be set free by God. They need God to lavish his unmerited favour upon them. They need to experience his free sovereign grace.
One way in which God shows his grace to those with a bound free-will is by giving to them the gift of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11.6). But no one who has a bound free-will is capable of choosing Christ. By nature we reject him. We are hostile to him (Romans 8.7). Our need then is for God to cause faith to flourish in our hearts.
How does God cause faith to flourish within us? How does he make people willing to put their faith in Christ?
First, he pricks the conscience. He unsettles and softens a sinner by showing him how serious sin is. He impresses upon a sinner that each and every sin deserves his wrath.
Secondly, he makes a sinner sad. God causes him to be distressed by his sins.
Thirdly, he makes a sinner see that he cannot save himself. A sense of holy desperation wells up within him.
Fourthly, he shows a sinner his need. It is for Jesus Christ. It is for Christ’s perfect righteousness to be reckoned as his very own.
And fifthly, he shows a sinner the only way his need can be met. It is to take hold of Christ and the promises of salvation. That is what those with faith do. Faith is a gift. Ask God for it. For those who ask shall find it is given.
George Curry 11 June 2017