Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Logic of Faith, Part III: The Object of Faith

The Logic of Faith, Intro, Part I, Part II

The Bible tells us that the righteous (justified, saved) live by faith (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7). Yet I hope you can now see with me that we cannot look to our faith itself for assurance of salvation. As for me, my faith is too shaky of a thing, too uncertain. I sin--a lot. But if the logic of the gospel is "Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is saved," then I cannot know that I'm saved unless I know I have met the condition of belief. But that means looking into my own life, looking for fruits born from faith (James 2:14-26). The gospel of "faith alone" becomes directed toward the experiences that faith brings into my inner life.

But what is faith? Or, rather, what are we to have faith in, that is, what is the object of our trust? Let's look at Romans chapter 4, where Paul explains the nature of faith: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (v. 3). God told the great patriarch that he would bless him with a child, and that a great nation would spring from his offspring to bring blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6). God sealed his promise with an oath to destroy himself if he should ever renege or come up impotent (15:7-21).* Abraham knew that as ludicrous as it was to think that the Almighty could die or destroy himself, so too was it impossible for God to fail in what he promised. His word was sure. Therefore we see in Genesis and also in Romans that Abraham's assurance of blessing did not lie anywhere within himself, but solely in the truthfulness of God and his revealed word:

Abraham . . . is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:16-25)

Abraham knew that in himself and in his aging, barren wife Sarah there was no hope to see God's blessing realized. Instead, he looked to the heavens and saw not only how numerous God said his offspring would be, but also the God of infinite power and freedom who called those very stars into being. His body was dead, but he trusted that God gave life to the dead (see also Hebrews 11:17-19). And just as sure as he was in God's nature, so too was he certain that what the Lord said was true: "as he had been told . . . ."

So what is faith? To start, it is seeing yourself empty and insignificant, and instead looking away from yourself to the power, truthfulness, and fidelity of God. It is trusting not in your own works or resources, emotions or experiences, judgments or decisions, but clinging solely to the reliable, rock-solid Word of God, which never fails. Faith is nothing and has no substance. It is simply looking away from yourself and entirely to God and his revelation.

*In the ancient Near East, many oaths were ratified by a rite in which one or both parties killed or cut apart an animal and then walked between the pieces or placed their hands on the animal's head. In effect they were pledging, "If I ever go back on my vows, may it be to me like this animal" (cf. Jeremiah 34:18-22). Interestingly, in Genesis 15, it is only God (manifested as a smoking fire pot and torch) who passes between the carcasses. He is taking full responsibility for the oath upon himself.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post, Andrew.

And I never realized that about oaths, I mean what God held himself to in that. Interesting.

Interesting how the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen." So that what faith we have is a testimony itself to the reality of God and his word.

It's certainly true that it's not about our faith, or about us at all. At the same time faith is said to grow and be alive, through the reality in God through Christ, which is received.

I think too of George Muller and his life, and how he likened growing in faith to an oak tree- such doesn't happen overnight. He was known in his mature and later years for a steadfast, delighted faith, and denied that he had the gift of faith (1 Cor 12), saying that he had been raised up to be an example to all Christians.

Litl-Luther said...

Good post on faith Andrew! I agree.

Also, isn't it beautiful--the one-sided covenant God made with Abraham? With only God walking through, only God could fulfill the covenant. And the same is true in the Gospel. It is a one-sided covenant, based on Christ alone. And we just sit back in amazement at this incredible covenant God has made with us, on our behalf in Christ—knowing He fulfills it all. That’s faith.