The Order of Salvation: Faith

Once the Spirit of the Lord has resurrected a dead sinner by the divine breath, life begins. This is the monergism that theologians reference in the work of regeneration. The dead sinner lives through God’s singular work. He initiated the life.  The spiritual cadaver is no longer cold and icy but is now oriented and animated toward God by grace alone. And as life comes so too does the fruit of life or conversion. Conversion is shorthand for faith and repentance. This article will deal with the former and it will do so by following the three sections of chapter fourteen of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Origin of Faith

Here the Divines want us to make no mistake. Faith does not originate with us. Faith is a “grace” whereby the person is “enabled to believe” and that “to the saving of their souls” because it is the “work of the Spirit” in the heart of the believer. The thread that is sown through this first paragraph leaves us with no doubt as to the origin of belief. Believing begins with God. However, we should not make the opposite mistake and so believe that faith is God’s activity.  In other words, though God enables faith, He does not do the believing for us.

The Nature of Faith

This brings us to the nature of faith. The second section of the Confession tells us that a believer believes whatsoever is in the Word. This is unsurprising and simply tells us the general nature of faith. However, the Divines go on to spell this out in more detail. According to them, the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for our salvation.

Some might look at “accepting, receiving, and resting” as something different than the traditional description found among the reformers, that being, knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). But such would be a misstep. If one looks closely, accepting is an act of cognition, receiving is the act of assent, and resting is trusting. However, notice that each of these is described as receptive rather than active.

But there is something rich in the description. The Divines realize that this faith, as previously described by the principal acts, will look different in different contexts yet in each instance the response is a receptive one. For instance, faith “yields” obedience to the commands. Faith “trembles” at the threatenings.” And faith “embraces” the promises. These particulars are described in terms of reception and there is a reason for this. Faith is always shaped by the Word of God.

The Object of Faith

The final section of chapter fourteen is wonderful and rich. Here we are reminded that faith, that is, our believing response, may be weak or strong. For example, I may struggle with doubt or waver in trust, but it is not my believing response that saves me, it is Christ. Therefore, faith, whether weak or strong, gets the victory because Christ is the object of my faith.  He is the author and finisher of it and therefore my faith response, whether weak or strong, seeks Him and finds Him.

However, if my faith is weak, for example, if it is slow to embrace the promises, then I will have a lagging sense of His care for me, even though His care remains steadfast.  So, how is this faith, which has been gifted to me, strengthened? According to the Divines, I engage the means that God has appointed for its growth, the preaching of the word (the ordinary means by which faith is wrought), the administration of the sacraments, and prayer.  These are the means through which God is pleased to increase and strengthen faith that we might have an ever increasing sense of His abiding love and care for us.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 and Place for Truth both online magazines of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 



Jeffrey Stivason