Sunday, January 06, 2013

Faith? (Some muddled, stream of consciousness thinking)

I am starting a new Sunday School entitled Justification. Its unofficial title is "the contrast between the Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone and the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification by Faith (but not alone.)"

This post is not in the "well though out" category. (Yeah, I know, maybe none of my posts are well thought out.) This is more like a journal post. I'm recording my my nascent thinking on a subtopic (faith). In a future post I will add, if I can, scriptural support. The problem I face is:
  1. It is easy to define and describe justification.

  2. It is easy to contrast the historic Protestant view and the Roman Catholic view. After all, that's why we have Protestants--because of radically different views on justification between the reformers and Rome.
It is much harder for me to deal with the question: what is faith? Justification is a infinitely simpler concept than faith.

There is a certain amount of irony here, because many Christians might admit to a poor understanding of justification, but all would say that they have a good grasp on what is meant by faith.

Well I don't have a satisfying grasp of what is faith, and I never have.

Here is what I think I know, or believe, or am close to believing, or want to believe:
  1. Faith is not intellectual assent. The demons believe, and yet they tremble. In the normative sense it (faith) will accompany intellectual assent that God exists and Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins, etc. However the two cannot be inevitably and irrevocably tied together for at least two reasons:
    1. Scripture describes the horrible condition of some who believed but were not saved. ("I never knew you!")

    2. Scripture gives us hope that some who can never give intellectual assent--dead babies and the cognitively impaired--are nevertheless saved.

  2. Faith, in and of itself, has no merit. Again there are two reasons for this, or maybe one reason expressed in two ways:
    1. It would undermine the gospel in that we would be saved by something within us (our personal faith) rather than by something external (Jesus' righteousness and a free gift.)

    2. It is described as a gift from grace. But nothing from grace, by the very definition of grace or gift, can be meritorious in its own right.

  3. My best model for faith comes from Grudem who writes:
    "But we may ask why God chose faith to be the attitude of heart by which we would obtain justification. Why could God not have decided to give justification to all those who sincerely show love? Or who show joy? Or contentment? Or humility? Or wisdom? Why did God choose faith as the means by which we receive justification?
    "It is apparently because faith is the one attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Christ in faith, we essentially say, 'I give up!'" 1 (bold emphasis added)
I really love this idea: that faith is, in some sense, nothing. It is saying. I got nothing. Nothing to offer. I give up. I need someone to save me. I need a savior.

I worry, at times, about my faith. But I shouldn't. That is treating faith as something that I bring to the table. Something worthy to place before God. Here God, here is my faith. Instead I should remember it is the (peaceful) recognition that I come empty handed--and that is perfectly fine.

1 Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, p. 730, (1994).


  1. I think of faith as the absence of fog. In the absence of faith, we can't see anything and we fumble around in our lives, constantly bumping into obstacles around us. Through Christ we are given a measure of sight. We can actually see for short distance around and see some of the obstacles. Sometimes the fog lessens and sometimes it returns. Why God allows this happen is beyond me, but there must be some glory in it for Him.

    1. Unknown,

      I like that! Thanks.

  2. Grudem's idea is good. Thanks!