Rev. R. L. Riggs, D Min. July 14, 2012
Seldom do I take a Minute for a theological doctrine issue; only because they usually take more than a minute. I’m not against a good theological debate. The Bible (and particularly one professor I had) says that iron sharpens iron. My reason for taking up this topic, even briefly, is that sometimes we hear things from the pulpit that, if our ear is trained – it twings a bit at the theology behind a statement. Many though, have ears that might twing a bit, but they aren’t sure why. Folks either walk away confused or worse, misled. I shall say here and now, I do not believe this young pastor meant to mislead or confuse. I believe it is more that, sometimes we use a phrase in our ‘Christian-speak’ so often it takes on a life of its own that will not really clear the hurdle of a theologically thought-out truth.
Here is the phrase: saving faith. If you have been in Christian circles, I know you have heard it. What is it? For the sake of our ‘Minute’ let’s take it logically.
Answer: faith that saves. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace you are saved… through faith…” So it isn’t faith that saves, it grace.
‘Okay’, you say, that is splitting hairs. Is it? Let’s follow the thought. If faith saves, whose faith is it that saves? You answer logically, ‘the person being saved, it is their faith in God.’
I respond: How can a dead person have faith? Romans 3:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” Ephesians 2:1 reads, “And you He has quickened (raised to life) who were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The Holy Spirit had to come to you and open your eyes so you could see your sin and repent. Then, by grace, God gives you the gift of life. Remember Ephesians 2? It is a gift. If you must have enough faith to be saved, then is it a gift?
You reply: ‘Yes, but I must respond in faith to take the gift. I must stop putting my trust for my eternity in me and put it in God.” Ok, then will you take the faith that God is giving you and put it fully in His grace to save you? This is our act of submission to Him.
The Bible tells us that we are ‘justified by faith’ but let’s see the context: Romans 3:24 reads: “Being justified freely by his grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…” verse 28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” As Hebrews outlines the ‘heroes of the faith’, verse 12:2 reads “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” ‘Justified’ is referring to the legal position in which the believer is found. The argument the author was making was to stop the Judaizers from forcing law as and rules down on believers, including circumcision, to be truly saved. Paul argues, ‘NO!’ It is by the faithfulness of God in His promise that His grace is sufficient that places the believer ‘legally justified’ in the eyes of a Holy God. If God has given that faith to a person, his life will show evidence of it.
But, how does a person get this faith? (Romans 12:3) God gives faith. Verse 22 of Romans 3 reads, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” Follow the logic:
Either I garner up enough faith, myself, to believe in God to get the gift or
God gives me the faith I need because of His grace at my repentant heart so I can receive the gift. Even my repentant heart comes because the Holy Spirit allowed me to see my true condition. I take the faith God gives me and put it solely on His grace to save me. This is the act of free will.
I believe the faith spoken of in Ephesians 2 is the faith of Christ that God gives to us. Galatians 2:22 reads… “Even though I am dead, yet I live. Yet not I but Christ lives within me. This life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God…” (Not faith in the Son…). I agree that in speaking to the fallen woman in Luke 7:50 when Jesus said, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” I also believe that scripture is clear; she could not have had that faith had she not received it from God because of her repentant heart. There is not time nor space to go into all of the intricacies of this but it comes down to God’s grace. Yes, we need faith to believe and to act but without His grace we can neither receive the faith nor act on it.
Author and theologian John Piper’s words are instructive:
According to Romans 12:3, God gives varying measures of faith to his people.
Paul says that we ought “to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted
to each a measure of faith” (emphasis added). In the context, this is not a limited
reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith which only some believers have
(1 Corinthians 12:9). For Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think more
highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment,
as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (emphasis added).[i]
‘So, what is the big deal you?’ You ask. The argument I heard from the pulpit went like this… (Remember, this is what I heard, it may not have been what was intended, and again I believe there was no intent to confuse)…
There is a kind of faith that saves and a kind of faith that doesn’t. Your assurance of faith is actually a tool of the devil. We put our faith in a prayer instead of a person… Jesus is my genie. I should double-check to make sure I really am saved, that I really experienced ‘saving faith’ which produces the fruit of the Spirit.
My problem (and yours) is that neither I nor you can ever have enough faith to save us on our own. God gives us faith Jesus cried over his disciples, “Oh, ye of little faith.” Were they not saved men? When by their lack of faith they fell, did they lose their salvation?
For those of who understand the clarity of so many verses where scripture shows that salvation is once for all time, our sanctification (our growing more like Christ) keeps ebbing flowing but hopefully growing daily. And 1 John 5:13 “These things are written… so you may know you have eternal life.”
Here is why this struck that twing-twangy chord with me. If there is anything Satan has used more in my life trying to rob me of my joy in my salvation, it has been doubt. He loves to point at my past and say ‘You see what you’ve done? You called yourself a Christian! ‘How can you be one of His?’ Or sometimes he uses the present, ‘I see what you just thought, heard what you said, felt that anger inside you… you call yourself a pastor? How can you…?’
Yes, yes a thousand times yes… we need to be sure of our salvation. Certainly if there are no fruits of the Spirit we must look to be certain of our salvation. Are we saved but grieving the Spirit, as the Scripture says we, as believers can do by our actions? (Eph. 4:30)
We all need to be assured and reassured of our salvation to keep our joy high, our spirits up, our movement forward, and our face to the fight. We are in a war and in the midst of a deep dark battle we have to be able to look about and remind ourselves we are already victors on the side that has won. To regard my assurance of my salvation as a tool of the devil is to rob me of any possible joy and rest in such assurance.
I will share this with my pastor friend and he may clarify for me how I misunderstood. But even if that is the case; let us make sure we all know going out to the deployment for the war rages on; that we are carrying the cross of Christ, the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the full armor of God.
[i] Piper, John Meditation on Romans 12:3 http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/piper/faith01.html