WCF 14: Of Saving Faith
Of all the words that have lost meaning in modern culture, faith must be near the top of the list. Today faith is considered a generic attitude of openness and trust. Even many modern Christians boast of having no shared creed. In our day faith is believing in good things.
The Christian concept of faith is entirely different. Faith is a saving grace by which believers fully accept God’s revealed truth centered in Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is not inclusive; it does not accept competing claims as equally valid. This makes Christianity unpopular. But if God is true we must believe him no matter what others say. Since biblical faith is so different from worldly faith we need to know where it comes from and what it does.
Where Does Faith Come From?
Faith is not a natural quality in sinful people. Yes, anyone can be open and trusting. But such “faith” doesn’t save anyone’s soul (Heb. 10:39). Even the most optimistic person naturally distrusts God, which has been the default quality of fallen man from the start of sin (Gen. 3:1). Saving faith doesn’t originate with us; itcomes from the God who gives every good and perfect gift (James 1:17; Eph. 2:8). Faith is the opposite of a work.
More specifically, faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit to the elect. The “Father of glory” gives his children “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” through “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:15, 17). Like the gift of rain, God doesn’t merely offer us faith, he pours it on us. Faith is “bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him.” God “produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.”[i]
The Spirit ordinarily uses the means of grace to grant and strengthen faith. The means of grace are like surgical tools the Spirit uses in working grace (Heb. 4:12). Foremost among the Spirit’s means is “the ministry of the word” (Rom. 10:14, 17). Through preaching the Spirit convicts sinners of their unrighteousness (John 16:8), convincing them that their pain is incurable because their guilt is great and their sins are flagrant (Jer. 30:15). Preaching also answers the sinner’s lament by presenting Christ as the righteous substitute who bears our iniquities (Isa. 53:11). Spirit-blessed preaching presents the facts of God’s saving work in Christ and calls for a trusting, obedient response.
And the Spirit who grants faith also strengthens it. Biblical preaching supplies what is lacking in imperfect faith (1 Thess. 3:10). So do the sacraments. Like Abraham’s circumcision baptism and the Lord’s Supper seal the righteousness gained by faith alone (Rom. 4:11). The sacraments confirm God’s pledge to reckon as righteous everyone who trusts in Christ. God also strengthens our faith through prayer. Knowing just how weak we are we cry out with the apostles, Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
Because true faith comes from God it always achieves the victory. True believers will not perfectly live by faith; God’s people can commit terrible sins. Sometimes our doubts will feel stronger than our belief. (Mark 9:24). But the faith that God has given always progresses toward the perfection of glory. Paul could write to the believers of an imperfect young congregation: “Your faith is growing abundantly” (2 Thess. 1:3). Real, saving faith is not a natural human quality; it is a gift from God. So it always has the saving effect God intends.
What Does Faith Do?
Faith believes as truth everything God reveals in his word. Here again, the biblical faith must be distinguished from its cultural counterpart. Faith is commonly understood today as belief not based on proof. Where evidence and good authority run out, faith must take over. And while Scripture contrasts faith and sight (Heb. 11:1) biblical faith is not a wish or a calculated guess. It is trust in what the reliable and sovereign God has actually revealed in his authoritative word. Put simply, faith believes God implicitly; we agree with whatever he says. We mustn’t craft a patchwork religion with the bits and pieces of truth that appeal to us. We must receive entirely the faith of biblical religion; we must believe it, defend it, obey it, and proclaim it (Acts 6:7).
To truly believe God we must respond to every part of Scripture as appropriate. Every passage of Scripture must be believed. But each text is not calling us to do the same thing. Every Scripture has a unique purpose. Some texts teach, while others reprove, correct, or train (2 Tim. 3:16). Some parts of Scripture declare the law, others communicate the gospel. No matter what part of Scripture we read or hear preached we should respond like trembling and astonished Paul when he met the risen Christ: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6 NKJ).
To properly submit to God’s word we must obey his commands. God is the king and his word is our charter. He doesn’t make suggestions or drop hints. He says, “You shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord” (Lev. 22:30). And the demand of obedience is no less to New Testament believers (John 14:15). We must also tremble at God’s threats. God’s threats are never empty; they always warn against real retribution. Why does James tells us to “be wretched and mourn and weep”? Because friendship with the world makes us enemies of God, because God is jealous for our obedience, and because God opposes the proud (James 4:1–9). To be unmoved by God’s threats implies that God hasn’t really spoken, doesn’t really mean what he says, or doesn’t exist at all. Finally, we must embrace God’s promises. Due to our experience we become cynical of human promises. But God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). And the promises he has made in the past have already been proven true.
Faith trusts God entirely. But principally, faith trusts in Christ. Faith accepts Jesus as the only Savior and substitute. Faith receives Christ, spiritually ingesting him as food and drink for our hungry and thirsty souls. And faith rests upon God’s Son, finding him our only comfort for body and soul, in life and in death. The believer can sing, “My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine: now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away, O let me from this day be wholly thine.”[ii]
By faith believers gain the whole Christ who keeps the covenant of grace for us and makes us accepted in the beloved (Eph. 1:6 KJV). Apart from faith there is no way to God. But by faith we can come all the way to God.
William Boekestein pastors Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has authored numerous books including, with Joel Beeke, Contending for the Faith: The Story of The Westminster Assembly.