Last week looked back at Romans 1:18-21.
- We unpacked the paradox that…
- It is with the mind and heart that men clearly perceive God’s divine nature and eternal power.
- And yet, the very same mind and heart also reject their clear perceptions with futile thinking and a darkened and foolish heart.
BTW – We can’t forget that humanity is also “under sin” – owned by sin.
All of this is the default position of humanity.
- And because of this, the obstacles to faith seem insurmountable.
And yet it is within this paradox and our slavery to sin that, somehow, faith arises.
- The faith that joins us to the saving activity of Jesus.
- The faith that marks us out as children of Abraham – the people of God.
- The faith that justifies us.
So today, in part 2, we will try to understand…
- What is faith?
In the coming weeks, we will deal with the questions…
- Where does faith come from?
- How does it work?
- Is faith rational?
- Is faith warranted?
What is faith?
As we have noted before, in Romans, Paul stakes our being joined to Christ’s righteousness on faith.
- He tells us in Romans 4:5 that Abraham’s “faith is counted as righteousness”.
- In 3:28 he tells us that we are “justified by faith” not the “works of the law”.
- In 3:25 he tells us that we receive redemption and propitiation by faith.
It seems clear that if we don’t have faith, we are outside of the “righteousing” activity of Jesus.
- So because of its importance, we need to know what faith is.
One quick warning:
- It is likely that we will oversimplify faith – I apologize up front.
- As well, we must not turn faith “into a checklist of beliefs” – LBD.
- Faith, as we will see, certainly involves propositions, but faith isn’t the propositions.
The Greek word is “pistis”.
- The BDAG lexicon defines the word this way…
- Faith is the “state of believing [or trusting] on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted”.
This textbook definition, importantly, identifies a couple of things.
- Faith is meaningful because…
- It has an object – in our case, God – “the one trusted”.
- It has a basis – “the reliability” of God, “the one trusted”.
Michael Bird picks up on this take when he says…
- “I define ‘faith’ as the act of entrusting oneself to the faithfulness of God” – Michael Bird.
In fact, he says Genesis 15-22 – the story of Abraham that is so important to Paul – can be called…
- “The Faithfulness of Yahweh Elicits the Faith of a Pagan Man” – Michael Bird.
And no doubt the Bible continually preaches the importance of God’s faithfulness.
- Much of Paul’s discourse in Romans 1-4, as we have seen, hangs on God’s covenant faithfulness.
- A topic crucial to Biblical theology (as we have seen in Joshua and Romans).
And it doesn’t take much searching to find texts like this…
- Deuteronomy 32:4 (ESV) — 4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
- This is a God in whom we can trust.
So we can say that faith is to trust in God because of His faithfulness.
- But this really doesn’t tell us what it is – only what it does.
- We have to dig a little deeper.
It might help us to parse faith into 3 parts.
- (1) Faith as Knowledge – The Mind
- (2) Faith as Affection – The Heart
- (3) Faith as Hope – The Future
Faith as Knowledge:
Faith is believing certain propositions.
“The propositional object of faith is the whole magnificent scheme of salvation God has arranged. To have faith is to know that and how God has made it possible for us human beings to escape the ravages of sin and be restored to a right relationship with him; it is therefore a knowledge of the main lines of the Christian gospel” – Alvin Plantinga.
Paul touches on this in Romans 10.
- Romans 10:9 (ESV) — 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
- See also John 3:16.
So faith is a believing in all the Gospel propositions.
- These propositions can be seen generally in at least three categories.
- (1) The reliability and authority of the Bible.
- (2) The nature of God.
- (3) The nature of humanity.
Faith, for example, believes that:
- The Bible truthfully testifies to its own reliability and authority through its self-attestation and self-authentication.
- Who God is and what He has done and what He is going to do.
- Who humanity is and our position before God in a fallen world – in Garden Exile.
Paul spells some of this out for us…
Concerning the Bible:
- 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) — 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
- Romans 15:4 (ESV) — 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Concerning God – Who He is, and what He has done:
- Romans 3:21 (ESV) — 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
- Romans 15:8–9b (ESV) — 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
- 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
- Romans 3:9 (ESV) — 9b For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,
- Romans 3:10 (ESV) — 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
- Romans 3:23 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Importantly, all of this knowledge is something we used to suppress and reject outright.
- It is a function of our faith that we now believe in these propositions.
- In other words, our faith rests on, and is powered by something that changes our mind.
- More on this when we see where faith comes from and how it works.
Faith as Affection:
Faith is knowledge to be sure, but as we all know…
- Even the devil shares some of our knowledge of God.
- So, “The difference between believer and devil, therefore, lies at least partly in the area of affections: of love and hate, attraction and revulsion, desire and detestation” – Alvin Plantinga.
“Chief among these right affections” Plantinga says, “is love of God — desire for God, desire to know him, to have a personal relationship with him, desire to achieve a certain kind of unity with him, as well as to delight in him, relishing his beauty, greatness, holiness, and the like” – Alvin Plantinga.
So faith not only has the right knowledge “but also the right affections” – Plantinga.
- Outside of faith, our affections are corrupt.
- We love, are attracted to, approve and worship the wrong things.
- Romans 1:22–23 (ESV) — 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
But faith redirects our affections away from ourselves and creation…
- Towards God, our Creator.
And importantly, these affections aren’t subjective choices – like one’s favorite ice cream.
- They flow from the facts of the Gospel in which we believe to be true.
“Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from some information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge” – Jonathan Edwards.
The Psalms, in particular, is full of examples of the affections that accompany faith.
- Psalm 84:2 (ESV) — 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
- Psalm 63:1 (ESV) — 1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
- Psalm 42:1–2 (ESV) — 1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
- Psalm 119:131 (ESV) — 131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
As Thomas Aquinas says (Plantinga):
- Faith “makes us lovers of God”.
- It “causes a man to delight in the thoughts of God, and to delight in the presence of God and to desire conformity to God, and the enjoyment of God” – Jonathan Edwards via Plantinga.
Importantly, just like our knowledge, all of these affections are something we used to reject.
- It is a function of our faith that we now have these affections.
- As with the change in our knowledge, what changed our affections and how?
- More on this when we see how where faith comes from and how it works.
I love how Alvin Plantinga sums up what we have learned about faith thus far:
“Faith is a matter of sure and certain knowledge, both revealed to our minds and sealed to our hearts. This sealing…consists in having the right sorts of affections; in essence, it consists in loving God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself. There is an intimate relation between revealing and sealing, knowledge and affection, intellect and will; they cooperate in a deep and complex and intimate way in the person of faith” – Alvin Plantinga.
Faith as Christian Hope:
Faith, with its new knowledge and affections, grounds us deeply in the past and present work of God and the Gospel realities of our new creation and union with Christ.
- But it also involves a not yet reality – our eschatological future hope of the consummation of the Kingdom of God.
The writer of Hebrews puts it well.
- Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) — 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And what are these things that faith hopes for?
- Christ’s return!
- New heaven and new earth!
Paul hits on some these in 1 Corinthians 15.
- 1 Corinthians 15:54–55 (ESV) — 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
A longing and hope for all of these things is a feature of saving faith.
Importantly, just like our knowledge and affections, this hope is something we used to reject.
- It is a function of our faith that we now have this hope.
- As with the change in our knowledge, and our new affections, what gave us this new hope and how?
- More on this when we see how where faith comes from and how it works.
One helpful feature of knowing what faith is, is this…
- We now have a way to obtain an assurance of your faith.
- Begin by asking yourself these questions.
What do you know to be true about reality that differs from unbelievers?
- What do you believe to be true about God?
- What do you believe to be true about humanity?
- What do you believe to be true about the world?
- Your answers can serve to set you apart as one with saving faith.
What are the affections and desires of your heart?
- Do you desire to please God, love Him more, and get to know Him better?
- Do find pleasure in contemplating all that God has done for you?
- Do you find that your affections are being directed to things other than self?
- When you are alone or in times of rest, are you drawn to ponder on the things of God?
- Again, your answers can serve to set you apart as one with saving faith.
In what do you hope?
- Do you contemplate Christ’s return and the completion of His Kingdom?
- In periods of pain and suffering, do you anticipate resurrection and new creation?
- Once again, your answers can serve to set you apart as one with saving faith.