Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Saving Faith

I'm studying the book of Galatians in Sunday School, and so the theology of Justification by faith apart from works of the Law has been center stage on my mind and heart. I heard the following quote about a week ago, and it was really powerful:

“And I want to make sure that you understand; saving faith is not a believing in something you don’t like. Saving faith is not believing in a person [that] you don’t cherish and treasure and love. Saving faith is a believing in and a receiving of a treasure or it does not save.”1

Not only do I agree with John Piper here, but I would also like to add to his idea with defining faith. Some critics of the doctrine of Justification by faith (alone) apart from works of the Law try to accuse the Reformers of believing that faith was merely mental assent. I find this accusation rather dubious for a few reasons.

First of all, even if some of the reformers did have tendencies toward this idea, it was the fact that "mental assent" was the lynch pin of the reformation. It was seeing the fact that the Bible railed against works righteousness (what was taught then and now in Roman Catholicism), and so if some did truly hold to this idea of "mental assent" was most likely due to the extreme opposition of the Roman church. But it was as wrong then as it is now.

Secondly, faith is defined in the Bible in a way that cannot be wrangled to only mean mental assent. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) The words "assurance" and "conviction" blow right past mental assent and straight into an idea of trust. I think that "trust" is probably one of the best synonyms to communicate (in English, anyway) what faith truly is.

In the same way that an historic (Roman Catholic accusation) and contemporary ("Easy Believism") idea that faith is a mental assent to some creed or statement of faith is wrong, saying or believing that faith, that is not ongoing, saves is just as wrong. Faith for one moment that ends, and doesn't continue or show a changed life in Christ by the fruits of the Spirit is not saving faith. Saving faith continues on because one must be sanctified in order to receive eternal life. All people who are truly justified are sanctified. To quote another “Piperism” from the same sermon, you can’t make an “end run” around sanctification (Romans 6:22).

If I were to define faith, I would define it like this:

Faith is the God given (Ephesians 2:8), evident (James 2:14-26), and continuing (Colossians 1:21-23) trust in Him and His promises.

1 “Dead to the Law, Serving in the Spirit, Part 1a” Desiring God Broadcast aired on November 24, 2006 that was originally preached on January 28, 2001.

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