Thursday, 8 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 10

Let’s think a little about ‘justifying faith’. This is the language often used to describe the kind of faith that results in justification. Most in Calvinism see this is a unique kind of faith being the unique consequence of regeneration. The understanding, as we have already said, is that faith is the consequence of regeneration, regeneration being the trigger to everything else. In this understanding conviction, repentance, conversion and justifying faith are all the consequence of regeneration. This doctrine usually separates ‘justifying faith’ from subsequent experiences of faith. I want to question this assumption in today's blog. Is ‘justifying faith’ different in essence from any other experience of faith? Clearly the faith that results in justification is different in its effect from the faith that receives physical healing, but is it different in essence? If it is true that men ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ cannot ‘hear’ God what are we to make of God’s commandments? What is the point of God giving any commandment to anyone who is not ‘regenerate’. Do you see my dilemma?

If ‘justifying faith’ is really a special application of faith how would we expect this to work out? Hebrews 11 has a long list of the ‘heroes of faith’ which specifically points to justification as being the result of faith. Heb 11:7 (hover your cursor over the reference) Noah believed and became an heir of the righteousness that is ‘by faith’. That declares that Noah was ‘justified by faith’. But what did Noah believe in order to be ‘justified by faith’? How many aspects of ‘the gospel’ did he have to believe before he was ‘justified by faith’. Did he believe in the work of the cross, or in the resurrection or in the coming of the Spirit? We have no reason to believe any of these things was revealed to him and yet ‘by faith’ he became an heir of the ‘righteousness’ that is the result of ‘justifying faith’. So how did his faith work? and how did Abraham’s faith work? What did Abraham know of incarnation and Christ’s atoning work and his resurrection? If we work our way through the list of Hebrews 11 we shall see a very wide variety of ‘revelation’ that the heroes responded to. Is it ever possible then to make a list of essential beliefs that are precursors to ‘justifying faith’? I hope I have said enough to show how complicated this is going to become if we pursue this particular logic.

So what did these people believe? The answer is easier that you might imagine. The answer is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. Abraham’s faith, as recorded in Genesis 15, becomes the archetypical example of faith, and especially ‘justifying faith’.
And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Gen 15:6
or as Paul quotes it...”Abraham believed God...” Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6

Faith, at its heart is faith in a person not in an idea. The Wesley brothers were a classic example of those who believed ‘truth’ before they believed ‘God’. What is usually described as their ‘intellectual conversion’ took place some weeks before they experienced ‘justifying faith’. They were already preaching ‘evangelical truth’ although they had not personally experienced it. It is when our faith finds its resting place in the person of God himself that the miracle become clear. Here is an excerpt from John Wesley’s journal for May 24, 1738.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
The moment of faith can be identified here ‘...I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ John Wesley’s faith came to rest, not in a Biblical truth, but in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul does not promise ‘justification by faith’ to those who believe in ‘justification by faith’ but to those who ‘...believe in Jesus... Rom 3:26.

Of course the Jesus we believe in must be the Jesus of the Bible and not some phantom of our own creation, but genuine faith is an I-thou’ encounter; we rest our faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

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