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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

I’d been reading Cornelis P. Venema’s very helpful work on Calvin titled, Accepted and Renewed in Christ: The Twofold Grace of God and the Interpretation of Calvin’s Theology. One of his thoughts:

One prominent feature of faith, and one which is implicit in this antithesis between faith and works, is its humility. Faith contrasts with the righteousness of works and plays such an instrumental function in our justification precisely because it humbly ascribes the whole substance of salvation to God’s grace in Christ alone. Without this humility of faith, it is not possible to enjoy Christ; it would be incongruous for us to embrace him without recognizing and conforming ourselves to his exemplary humility in “abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy!” According to Calvin, only “those who have learned humility in the school of the cross” can expect to partake of that blessedness which Christ freely gives to those who trust in him. Only through the humility which characterizes true faith, a humility which consists in the acknowledgement of our need and in yielding to God’s mercy, can we find salvation and rest in God. Faith justifies us because it refuses to assert its own right or cause before and apart from God’s grace, claiming thereby a position of relative independence and self-sufficiency in his presence; it justifies us precisely because it eschews every from of self-justification before God. For faith alone knows that “our humility is God’s loftiness,” and that the acknowledgment of our need “has a ready remedy in his mercy.” (p. 105-6)

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Calvin’s Institutes 3.2.29
GOD’S PROMISE THE SUPPORT OF FAITH
We make the freely given promise of God the foundation of faith because upon it faith properly rests. Faith is certain that God is true in all things whether he command or forbid, whether he promise or threaten; and it also obediently receives his commandments, observes his prohibitions, heeds his threats. Nevertheless, faith properly begins with the promise, rests init, and ends in it. For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy,and only in a freely given promise. For a conditional promise that sends us back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves. Therefore, if we would not have our faith tremble and waver, we must buttress it with the promise of salvation, which is willingly and freely offered to us by the Lord in consideration of our misery rather than our deserts. The apostle, therefore, bears this witness to the gospel: that it is the word of faith [Romans 10:8]. He distinguishes the gospel both from the precepts of the law and from the promises, since there is nothing that can establish faith except that generous embassy by which God reconciles the world to himself [cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Thence, also, arises that frequent correlation of faith and gospel in the apostle, when he teaches that the ministry of the gospel is committed to him to further “obedience to thefaith” [Romans 1:5], that “it is the power of God for salvation to every believer;…in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith forfaith” [Romans 1:16-17]. And no wonder! Indeed, since the gospel is the “ministry of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:18], no other sufficiently firm testimony of God’s benevolence to us exists, the knowledge of which faith seeks.

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I’ve been reading through some of our old confessional documents such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession. And I must admit they are a delight to the eye and to the heart.  Article 22 of the Belgic Confession regards justifying faith and the faith of justification:

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28). However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

These documents are tremendously helpful and clear regarding the things we believe.

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promiseI’ve been reading through Michael Horton’s God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, and am finding it very refreshing.  One of striking points he makes is that in the scriptures there are really two different kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional.  He says, “Some demand unswerving obedience as a condition of their fulfillment, such as the covenant made by the people at Sinai,” (p. 20) and yet others “announce a divine promise” (p. 36).  The idea that God is a promise-making, and a promise-keeping God, should all the more become dazzling in our eyes when we realize just what kind of promises our God has made! These “one-sided” promises (p. 41) — that God has done everything for us — “it is finished” and all we’re to do is look to him in faith and believe.    What a foundation for our assurance! What a mighty fountain of joy and gladness and worship, that “he has done these things and they are marvelous in our sight.” But Horton says, “In our day, as in others, the truth that we are declared right before God on the basis of someone else’s “covenantal loyalty”…namely, Christ’s — is under attack” (p. 18). Here’s the Hort:

“Carriers of the legalistic virus in Galatia and elsewhere were not faulted for having a positive view of the law, but for failing to recognize that its purpose was to lead God’s people to Christ. By seeking to attain the everlasting promise of life through the temporal and conditional covenant of law, Paul’s opponents were actually excommunicating themselves from the true Israel. Not only their explicit sins but their confidence in their own obedience revealed that they were “cut off” from the only one in whom they could be found acceptable. For them, at least, Sinai could only be the emblem of the condemnation that awaits them, since to be “under the law” is (for those who violate it) equivalent to being cursed (Gal. 3:10).

While the principles of law and promise agree on a number of points, they reflect intrinsically different types of covenants. Personal obedience to commands is a radically different basis for an inheritance than faith in a promise. While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. Every covenant has two parties, and we assume the responsibilities of faithful partners, but the basis of acceptance with God is the covenant-keeping of another, the Servant of the Lord; and because of his faithfulness, we now inherit all the promises through faith alone, as children of Sarah and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The new Covenant announced by the prophets long ago included both justification and rebirth, imputed and imparted righteousness, forgiveness of sins and a new heart that thirsts for God and his glory. Yet (…) the second side of the coin (a new heart) is the result of the first (justification and forgiveness of sins). As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement (Gal. 3:1-4). In the New covenant, all of the blessings have Christ and his obedience as the only ground qualifying us as heirs. Not some of the blessings, but all of them, are comprehended “in Christ.” That spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification. While our status before God (justification) is distinguished from our inward renewal (rebirth and sanctification), our status cannot be separated from our inward renewal even for a moment. Thus, because of God’s sworn oath by himself, the justified sinner will also be one who perseveres against doubt, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil, one day inheriting by that same royal grant rest from all warfare.”  (p. 75-76)

That God has promised and he will not change, indeed has kept his word unto his own hurt — the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.  This is a breath-taking, mind-blowing, heart-rending and life-altering doctrine.  God has done everything! He has justified us and regenerated us so that we can know that we are justified. And what are we to do? Believe. And what do we get? Eternal life? How do we know? God has promised.

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Anselm_of_Canterbury“Come, then, while life remains in you. In his death alone place your whole trust; in nothing else place any trust;….with this alone cover yourself wholly; and if the Lord your God wills to judge you, say: Lord, between your judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; in no other way can I contend with you. And if he shall say that you are a sinner, say: Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and you. If he should say that you deserve condemnation, say: Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and you, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not. If he says that he is angry with you, say: Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between your wrath and me. And when you have completed this, say again: Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and you.” – Anselm of Canterbury (1033- 1109) 

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These are some great quotes on the nature of faith by Horatius Bonar. (HT: Shane Lems)

“Faith may seem a slight thing to some; and they may wonder how salvation can flow from [simply] believing.  Hence they try to magnify it, to adore it, to add to it, in order that it may appear some great thing, something worthy of having salvation as its reward.  In doing so, they are actually transforming faith into a work, and introducing salvation by works under the name of faith.  They show that they understand neither the nature nor the office of faith.”

“Faith saves, simply by handing us over to the Savior.  It saves, not on account of the good works which flow from it; not on account of the love which kindles it; not on account of the repentance which it produces; but solely because it connects us with the Saving One.  Its saving efficacy does not lie in its connection with [our] righteousness and holiness, but entirely in its connection with the Righteous and Holy One.”

Taken from ‘The Blood of the Cross’.

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