the requirement for faith

According to the reformed way of thinking, humanity’s basic problem is our distance from God. The problem more specifically is that our distance from God is sinful – it is our sin, I suppose – and it is characterised by a such preference on our part for maintaining this distance between us and him that we disable ourselves from ever beginning to make a move towards him.

It’s into this situation that the gospel message comes, to offer the hope of reconciliation to every sinner distanced from God by their sin. The briefest possible summary of the gospel message that I can imagine is just, “There is a Saviour for sinners,” but of course there needs to be more information than that. The precise nature and extent of the sinfulness of these sinners is one area which needs further elaboration (although here I’ll just refer you to this and this part of scripture without going into too much detail). We also need to know more about the identity of the Saviour – fundamentally that he is the Son God in human nature (Luke 1:35, eg), and perhaps some other things, the more the better, such as the fact that he acts as Saviour with God’s approval, and has all the qualifications necessary in a Saviour of sinners.

But in addition to this, we need to know how sinners, and the Saviour provided for sinners, can meet. It’s one thing that there is a Saviour, but how can he be my Saviour? It’s in God’s infinite grace that he does provide a Saviour, but if I myself personally am to benefit from that provision, there has to be a way that he becomes not only available to me but actually possessed by me.

Of course, you can’t tell the whole story without explaining God’s part, and how God puts his provision into the possession of the sinner. But I’m only talking about our side of the story, and on the part of the sinner what is required is faith.

And it is faith specifically that is required for a sinner to be saved. When the question is asked directly, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ the answer is straightforwardly, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ That is, ‘by grace ye are saved through faith’ rather than anything else; ‘The scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ (References here, here, and here.)

Clearly, as sinners, prior to conversion, we are lacking in every grace – not just faith, but also love, and obedience, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly kindness – we are guilty for our sins of omission and commission in all these areas and more. And the Christian (the sinner, in other words, who is saved) is expected and duty-bound to show evidence of all these things, and is obliged to grow in grace in every way. But without faith, it is not possible either to have or to grow in any of these other graces.

It presumably goes without saying that people who don’t love the Lord cannot be saved, and that the same holds for those who don’t obey or worship or repent towards the Lord. But faith is necessary for salvation in a unique way – as the one grace which, by taking hold of the Saviour, closes the sinful distance between the sinner and the Saviour, and puts the sinner in a state of reconciliation with God who they have offended. What faith is, in other words, is the means of connection between the graceless sinner and Christ the gracious Saviour who saves graceless sinners.

Before there can be any spiritual life in the soul, then – before the soul is saved, and before there can be any sign of these other graces which always accompany faith – the soul needs to make contact with the Saviour by faith, and any kind of faith that falls short of uniting the sinner to the Saviour cannot be a saving faith.

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5 thoughts on “the requirement for faith

  1. How do you know if your faith falls short? How can you be sure that you believe enough, trust enough and have faith enough to be saved?

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  2. That. Is a very good question.

    My gut reaction is to say that it might be better to divert attention away from how much of faith and focus more on what kind of faith?
    * The kind of faith that gets beyond facts and doctrines to connect with the person, Christ, himself, just exactly the saviour i need – i’ll have *him* thanks very much
    * The kind of faith that works itself out in everyday ways over time, so that even if it’s practically imperceptible to start with, it becomes more obvious little by little in ways like, i’m more interested in reading the bible than i used to be, i need to listen more carefully in church than I used to, I’m more keen on praying than i was before..

    Off the top of my head. I won’t bore you with how much i struggled with this exact same problem myself.

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  3. So, I have been reading the bible a lot more than before. I am listerning to sermons online which i never used to. I take it that I should take these things as my faith growing, that I am a Christian. Believe and hope for the best that I have been saved and in a few months/years time when I look back I will understand that it was my faith growing and not just that I was fooling myself into believing?

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  4. Something makes me uncomfortable about the idea of just believing that you’ve believed.

    Obviously it’s a good sign if you can look back a few months down the line and see that this wasn’t just a passing phase, but i guess ultimately the reason for being confident that you’re saved can’t be that you’re doing/not doing certain things. It has to be something outside of yourself. So that it’s not so much a question of worrying about the faith you have as the saviour you have.

    People do sometimes only realise in hindsight that they’ve been believers for quite some time. Other people carry on being uncomfortable and unsure until something clicks and everything falls into place. Either way, the only real practical step you can take is to appeal to Christ Jesus for help. Either, ‘Lord, help my unbelief,’ or ‘Lord, save me,’ or both, but always focused on him.

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