Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Logic of Faith, Part IV: The Objective Word of Christ

As I attempted to prove in the part III, faith is nothing; it is simply looking away from your own experiences, conscience, decisions, and resources to God and his word. Like Abraham, we believe that what God tells us is true (Romans 4:17-18). Or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, "By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein" (14:2).

The problem with assurance, as I've said, is that it can be tempting to look into ourselves to find within our own faith confirmation that we belong to Christ. After all, only those who confess and believe that Jesus is Lord will be saved and find their eternal home in the kingdom of God. But the problem with trying to derive assurance by introspectively reflecting upon ourselves is far from the biblical picture of faith and certainty exemplified in Romans 4. From the first time I read these words in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, the nature of Christian faith and assurance stood out in the sweetest and brightest of light:

The Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God's Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his own guilt, and God's Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all. The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and his own justification. He lives wholly by God's Word pronounced upon him, whether that Word declares him guilty or innocent.

The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God's Word to him. The Reformers expressed it in this way: Our righteousness is an "alien righteousness," a righteousness that comes from outside of us (extra nos). They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him. He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God's Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. (pp. 21-22)

In other words, "The experience of faith," says Phillip Cary, "is the practice of refusing to put faith in experience." We see in Romans 4 that Abraham lived and died by God's promises, his revelation, his declared word; he walked by faith and not by sight. In the same way, Bonhoeffer is saying that it's not our own judgments, conscience, or experiences of faith or righteousness that matter. What matters is God's Word: the law that declares us sinners, and the gospel that declares us righteous in Christ, who is the perfect Savior of sinners and their Mediator before God. We see this too in Romans 4:22-25:

That is why his [Abraham's] 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.

God's Word says that Jesus was handed over to death "for our trespasses." It also says that "Jesus died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3), that no one is righteous, and that the law shuts up everyone's mouth and holds the whole world accountable to God (Romans 3:9-20). If faith is believing what God says, then faith says: "I am a sinner under judgment (because God says so)."

God's Word also says that Jesus has fulfilled all of the law's demands and is the One in whom all of God's promised new covenant blessings are "Yes!" and "Amen!" (Romans 10:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 8). He is the perfect Savior for sinners and the victorious Lord who has accomplished justification for men and has defeated the guilt and power of sin and death (Romans 3 - 8). In him we are cleansed, forgiven, reconciled to God, raised to new life, seated with God in the heavenlies, adopted as sons, sealed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, and promised an eternal inheritance in heaven (Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:4-10). So faith says, "Christ is the perfect Savior for sinners (because God declares him to be so)."

Therefore we have a new "logic of faith":

Major premise: Jesus Christ is the Savior of sinners.
Minor premise: I am a sinner.
Conclusion: Jesus is my Savior (thus, I am saved).

Both premises of this syllogism involve faith: we only know ourselves to be sinners and Jesus our Savior because God has revealed it in Scripture. If we can say and confess both these premises, that is faith and belief, because we are agreeing with and trusting in God and his word. In neither place do we need a subjective awareness of our own faith; but faith in the objective Word is certainly present and real. And where there is this faith--acknowledged or not--there is justification, adoption, sanctification, and all the benefits of union with Christ. We are assured of our salvation because God says so.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I too love that quote from Bonhoeffer, and find it helpful.

It's not about our experience but about God's word. The experience does come by faith (Hebrews 11, Psalm 34:8 etc.), as God's word makes clear. But that's rather beside the point, because experience comes and goes, and we can't live on it at all. But only on the word of God in Christ. And that is where we find life, as you point out in the end!

Good exposition on what Bonhoeffer is saying, Andrew.