By David Kowalski
How sure are you that you are saved? Do you really know that Christ died for you? Just what is faith? Christians take different views on the nature of saving faith. Some believers see saving faith as an expression of prevenient grace that is not much different than believing a news report or trusting in the word of a friend.
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I think if saving faith is nothing more than this it has insufficient substance, being a less than absolute foundation for the Christian life and testimony. Belief in Christ as savior is more than a well-informed opinion. There is no danger that this belief is mistaken, because faith receives supernaturally given certainty. Hebrews 11:1-3 says the following:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 1
The faith God gives apprehends certain knowledge of absolute, objective truth. It is the confidence or assurance (NASB) [Gk hupostasis] of things hoped for and the conviction (or evidence) [Gk. elegchos] 2 of things not seen. Both of the Greek words used here speak of very strong certainty.
Much of what faith believes cannot be verified through natural empiricism, but what we know by faith is at least as certain as purely natural, empirical knowledge, because the experience involved is given and verified by God Himself. This spiritual certainty comes as light in a world of spiritual darkness. Once we were blind but now we see.
The faith that knows spiritual truth is not something we can manufacture. It is given from above. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” A. T. Robertson points out that while in English, “that” would refer to “faith,” the Greek is a little more complex here. “That” (touto) is nueter, not feminine (taute). It therefore refers neither to pistis (faith — feminine) nor to charis (grace — feminine) by themselves, but to the entire act of being saved by grace through faith. 3 Even the faith involved in salvation is not of ourselves. Faith is always either a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) or a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9). We simply “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
I think the majority of scholars believe that saving faith is gifted. See the following: Tom Wells, Faith: The Gift of God (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 55; James K. Bridges “The Gift of Faith,” in Conference on the Holy Spirit, ed. Gwen Jones (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1983), 225; Brooke Foss Westcott, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: The Greek Text with Notes and Addenda (London: Macmillan, 1906), 32; William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967), 122–23; Robert H. Countess, “Thank God for the Genitive” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 12 (spring, 1969), 117–120; Henry Stob, Theological Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1981), 161; and Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1949), 360. Some Arminian scholars seem reluctant to accept this view, as they apparently see it as specific to Calvinism. The teaching that saving faith is supernaturally gifted is one that Arminius himself espoused, however:
I answer, first, Salvation is not the end of God; but salvation and faith are the gifts of God, bound and connected together in this order between themselves through the will of God, that faith should precede salvation, both with regard to God, the donor of it; and in reality.” Works of James Arminius Vol 1. Article IV. 4
As Arminius understood, gifted faith does not entail determinism any more than the gift of prophecy entails divine puppetry of the prophet. Divine gifting is expressed through human cooperation
Speaking of the heavenly, saving wisdom, Paul says the following:
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. (I Co 2:10-12).
Because of the active role of the Holy Spirit who is the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17, 15:26, and 16:13) we can declare on divine authority the message that one can “know the truth” (John 8:32). Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg point out that divine knowledge as found in God’s Word (and, we might add, divinely given faith) is not subject to the weaknesses and flaws of merely human knowledge:
Among God’s attributes are omniscience, truth, perfect goodness, and omnipotence. Each of these attributes is crucial to the point we are making. Human knowledge is probable and fallible in part because our knowledge is partial. Sometimes we are wrong simply because we are ignorant of some relevant fact or facts. Such cannot be the case with God because God knows everything, both the actual and the possible (Ps. 139:1-6). Moreover, God’s knowledge is true. That is, it corresponds to reality (Exod. 34:6; Num 23:19; Deut. 32:4). Thus, neither ignorance nor error characterize God’s knowledge. 5
Christian faith is not fantasy or make-believe. It is more than a philosophical opinion. It far surpasses our belief of a newscaster or trust in a friend. By faith we unequivocally know that Christ died for us on Calvary’s cross, and that our sins have been washed away by the blood He shed.
We know that He lives in us now and that He has promised us an eternity with Him. This is not just an intellectual persuasion or emotional feeling. It is the utter certainty that comes from the Spirit of God.
© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.
- All Scripture references are taken from the NIV. ↩
- A. T. Robertson suggests “the proving of things not seen” as a translation of this phrase. A. T. Robertson. Word Pictures in the New Testament vol. 5 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1932), 418.
- Robertson, vol. 4, 525. ↩
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.iv.iii.html. (Accessed 4-19-12).
- Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980), 130.