What Is Faith – Part 3

Last week we saw that faith was a trust in God and His faithfulness – His covenant faithfulness.

  • So to have faith is, in this sense, something we do.
  • We trust in God and His promise keeping – the objects of our faith.


In addition to faith as trusting, we saw that faith is propositional.

  • God’s promise keeping and character are revealed in certain facts – certain truths.
  • In other words, faith contains content that informs and shapes it.


The content of faith is:

  • New knowledge
  • New affections
  • New hopes


Faith in God – our trust in Him – is inseparable from this “Gospel content”.

  • You can’t have saving faith without this “Gospel content”.


So faith is not blind.

  • It is both objectively focused on God, and has propositional content.
  • Without anyone of these – and their truth – there can be no saving faith.


Now today, I want us to deal with two questions:

  • Where does this faith come from?
  • How does it work or play out in the life of an unbeliever?



Source of Faith:

So when I ask where faith comes from, I mean this:

  • Given the suppressed, futile thinking and darkened heart that is the default position of humanity, how is it that we come to recognize and trust in God’s faithfulness and “live out of” faith’s content – new knowledge, affections and hopes?


The Problem:

In part one, we explored the obstacles to faith.

  • We saw them to be seemingly insurmountable.


We needn’t look far in Scripture to acquaint ourselves with the obstacles to faith.

  • Genesis 6:5 (ESV) — 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
  • Psalm 53:1 (ESV) — 1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
  • Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) — 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
  • Romans 1:21 (ESV) — 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
  • Romans 8:7 (ESV) — 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
  • Ephesians 4:18 (ESV) — 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV) — 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.


So humanity, by default, rejects God and rebels against His authority.

  • Humanity is man-centered.
  • Fallen humanity begins and ends with man on the throne.
  • Humans are the final arbiters of knowledge.


By contrast, faith “begins with the Lord and submits wholeheartedly to His wisdom; [and] is set over against reliance on one’s own understanding or reasoning” – Greg Bahnsen.

  • Proverbs 3:5 (ESV) — 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.


So the barriers to faith are huge!

  • Clearly, something supernatural is needed to overcome them.


As Arminian Roger Olson puts it:

“Calvinists and Arminians agree…that the sinner’s will is so depraved and bound to sin that it cannot respond positively to the gospel call without supernatural grace” – Roger Olson.


By the Spirit:

Fortunately, Paul gives us insight into this “supernatural grace” in a text we covered a few weeks ago.

  • Romans 2:29 (ESV) — 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.


Paul argues that to be a member of the chosen people of God – a child of Abraham – is purely a “matter of the heart”.

  • It has nothing to do with works, culture or ethnicity.
  • And more than that, in good covenant language, it is a circumcision of the heart.
  • And this circumcision is performed not by man, but “by the Spirit”.


This Gospel reality of the need for heart circumcision can be found in Genesis and Ezekiel.

  • Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV) — 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
  • Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.


The idea for Paul is that there can be no faith and no obedience of faith without this heart circumcision.

  • Man must be made remade from a “natural person” into a spiritual person.
  • It is the Holy Spirit of God that does this remaking.
  • Stone to flesh as Ezekiel puts it.


This is regeneration.

  • This is being born again.


It is God, through the Spirit, that transforms and moves upon the heart of the unbeliever to bring about a heart capable of faith.

“Because of our fallen condition…we need a change of heart. This is provided by the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit; he both enables us to see the truth of the great things of the gospel and turns our affections in the right direction” – Alvin Plantinga.


The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit:

  • Remakes our minds to accept Gospel knowledge as true.
  • Remakes our hearts to respond to this truth with submissive Gospel affections.
  • And as a result, brings us to have Gospel hope.


The Bible speaks of this as follows:

  • John 3:5–7 (ESV) — 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
  • Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,


Another way to think about these things is this:

  • Who gets credit for depraved man being capable of accepting and submitting to Jesus as Lord and living out of new Gospel knowledge, affections and hope?
  • God or man?


Now on to our second question:

  • How does faith work or play out in the life of an unbeliever?



How Faith Works:

So in Romans 3 and 4, Paul makes clear that we are saved by faith.

  • We are joined to the righteous activity of Jesus Christ by faith.
  • We are part of the elect – the people of God – by faith.


We have seen what this faith is.

  • And we have seen that it is only possible through the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit.
  • What we haven’t seen is how all of this plays out in the heart of an unbeliever…how faith works.


Ordo Salutis”:

To see how faith plays out in the life of an unbeliever, we need a quick primer on the “ordo salutis”.

  • Otherwise know as the order of salvation.


So, the order of salvation is almost always listed out in a certain order…

  • With the understanding that some of events occur at the same time – at one moment.


Typically the ordo salutis contains:

  • Election
  • Call
  • Regeneration
  • Conversion
  • Justification
  • Sanctification
  • Glorification


It is the idea of conversion that we will want to unpack.

  • It is here that we will see how faith works – how it plays out.
  • I will define conversion in a moment.



It must be stated that there is disagreement about whether regeneration comes before conversion or after.

  • And related to this, if faith is a cause of regeneration or an effect of regeneration.
  • There is also disagreement about how the elect are defined.
    • Not the existence of the elect – Scripture is clear on their existence.
  • These disagreements are a rabbit trail I will chase when we get to Romans 9.


Quickly, however, scholars like Roger Olson, argue for what is called “partial regeneration”.

  • This can be understood as a partial remaking of a depraved heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • God, in an act of what is called “prevenient grace”, gives every depraved person a moral capacity to accept or decline the Gospel call.
  • And if the offer is accepted by faith, then full regeneration by the Spirit occurs.


I humbly take the opposing view that full regeneration is the only regeneration.

  • And that it comes before conversion.
  • And that this regeneration always brings about saving faith.


Now we can move on to conversion and how faith plays out.



What is conversion?

  • Alvin Plantinga describes it this way:

“Conversion…is fundamentally a turning of the will, a healing of the disorder of affection that afflicts us. It is a turning away from love of self, from thinking of oneself as the chief being of the universe, to love of God” – Alvin Plantinga.


Conversion, then, consists of faith and an added element of faith we have not mentioned as of yet…


To play this out, lets begin with a conversion example from Acts:

  • Acts 16:13–14 (ESV) — 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.


Gospel Call:

So Lydia was part of the elect – before the foundation of the world.

  • As such, she was going to come to saving faith.
  • And, importantly, her coming to saving faith fundamentally included the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • The Gospel is how God calls His elect.


Paul puts it like this:

  • Romans 10:14–15 (ESV) — 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”


God has decided that He will use us – His creatures – to call the elect to saving faith by our faithful proclaiming of the Gospel.

  • What a huge privilege and responsibility!


This truth was something Paul witnessed over and over!

  • “Faith is elicited by the gospel” – Michael Bird.


No doubt, as Jesus talks about in John…

  • God also draws the elect to Him in a variety of other ways.
  • But this drawing must always find completion in the proclamation of the Gospel.


Now, back to Lydia’s conversion.

  • We are told that something happened to Lydia.
  • She heard the Gospel and…
  • Luke says, “the Lord opened her heart” to what was being said.


Response to Gospel Call:

So what is happening here?

  • How is Lydia’s coming to saving faith played out?
  • The text goes silent here.
  • But we can engage in some holy speculation based on the teaching of Scripture generally about salvation.


In keeping with God’s new covenant promise, the Holy Spirit turned her heart of stone into one of flesh.

  • She was given ears to hear.
  • From this new heart of “flesh” some things became clear to Lydia.


She found herself in agreement with the Gospel proclamation.

  • All believers had to “…come to see ourselves as sinful and also…recognize that God has provided for our forgiveness through what Christ’s death has done for us” – Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.
  • We had to recognize the “impossibility of our achieving our salvation with the acceptance of the truth that God has done all that is necessary” – Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.


This means that Lydia was given eyes to see some important facts.

  • She came to see her unbelieving knowledge, affections and hopes were disfigured and skewed.
  • She came to see that a new set of Gospel knowledge, affections and hopes are right and true.


So sensing (sensus divinitatus) the “rightness” of these Spirit given perceptions, she responded with trust and repentance.

  • She had saving faith.



Now, repentance is a feature of saving faith we left out of the discussion until now.

Repentance is “the complete change of heart and mind that the New Testament calls metanoia. It signifies the complete about-face of heart, mind, thought and life…” – Os Guinness.


So it “signifies” that we have saving faith.

  • It “signifies” that we have a trust in God and have new knowledge, affections and hopes.


In other words, it is the living out of this trust.

  • It is a fruit of this trust.
  • It is a spiritually natural response to what God has done with our heart.
  • So it is fundamentally an internal thing – a heart thing.
  • And thus it is far more than just an outward change of direction.


So repentance is not a work!

  • It would be a shame to have a Gospel of grace and then a repentance of works.




We can now see how faith works.

  • God uses the Gospel proclamation to call His elect.
  • At a time determined by God, their heart is born again – regenerated.
  • From this new heart they experience conversion – saving faith.


And this faith is…

  • “…the sure and unfailing sign that the gospel has transformed the heart of the person concerned, so that they now truly belong to the new covenant” – NT. Wright.


Next week we will explore the rationality of faith.

  • Does it have warrant?
  • Is it a justifiable belief?
  • Or are we simply victims of a meaningless expression of wish fulfillment?


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