"Yield To God" Fundamentals

The Nature of Faith

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(This is part of YieldToGod’s Core Series, which sets forth the distinctives driving our perspective.)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2)

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught…” (Colossians 2)

The word “Faith” can mean some strange things to some people. The Biblical idea of faith and “belief” mean that we are persuaded enough that Someone is there, that we trust them. “Trust,” in fact, is a wonderful word to describe Biblical faith. Another good word is “Dependence.”

For a flourishing Christian life, we must constantly live in dependence upon God. We do not trust in our own spiritual strength or our own moral ideas. Rather, we trust in the living God, and we abandon all notions of self-sufficiency.

Just as we received Jesus as Lord (by faith – that is, by depending solely upon His merits and strength), we are to live a life of dependence upon Him. Our faith is not mere intellectual assent, nor is it a “grit-your-teeth-and-try-hard-to-believe” mindset that finds its source in us. In God’s gracious promise to work in the hearts of people all around the world, without exception (John 12:32), He convicts humankind of the reality of His presence (Romans 1) and the need to believe in Him (John 16). As He does this, it is our response-ability to Him to yield to Him. Tragically, some choose to resist Him (Acts 7:51).

This is what faith is all about – a dynamic, reciprocal, choice to depend upon God and yield to Him in love.

The classical Christian view of God’s love and grace is that God’s love and grace are foreconditional. This means that we do not earn God’s love or attention. He loved us before we ever loved Him. He works in our hearts before we ever would turn to Him. As Charles Wesley put it,

Spirit of grace, we bless thy name,
Thy works and offices proclaim,
Thy fruits, and properties, and powers;
Thou dost with kind intending care
The godless heart of man prepare,
That God may yet again be ours.

Thou didst thy fallen creature see
Fallen from happiness and thee,
And swiftly to our rescue come…

“Thou dost the first good thought inspire,
The first faint spark of pure desire
Is kindled by Thy gracious breath
By thee made conscious of his fall,
The sinner hears thy sudden call,
And starts out of the sleep of death.

Convinced of sin and unbeleif,
He sinks o’erwhelmed with sacred grief,
And pines disconsolate for God,
Till thou the healing balm apply,
The sinner freely justify,
In Jesu’s name and Jesu’s blood.

The reason for our alienation from God is always to be found on our side – our sin, our turning away from Him, our refusal to yield to His grace. This grace is poured out in various ways by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but a person only enters into a saving relationship with God when they yield to Him in faith. Although this gift of faith is enabled by God, and the sinner’s will is freed to yield to God, the only reason anyone is not saved is because they resist the enabling and sufficient work of God in their lives. God’s grace does not overcome free will – free will is a gift from God’s gracious love, but like many good gifts, it may be misused to our own destruction and judgment.

Because God is the one who works in us first, faith is never a meritorious action. It is not something that we ‘perform’, to create God’s favor, or to initiate His plan of salvation in history, or to earn salvation in our individual lives.

Faith is indeed good, but it is not something that finds its source in us. Furthermore, even if faith did entirely find its source in us, it still would not be “meritorious” in the sense of “meriting” salvation. Faith is merely despairing of our own merits and casting ourselves into the sufficiency of Christ’s saving power. When was the last time you received a gift and, because you gratefully received it aware of your desperate need, began to think that you deserved some credit for possessing it? Hopefully never!

Consider the following quote:

“Humanity was created in the image of God, good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving humanity sinful, separated from God, and under the sentence of divine condemnation… sin impacts every part of a person’s being and that people now have a sinful nature with a natural inclination toward sin, making every human being fundamentally corrupt at heart…Therefore, human beings are not able to think, will, nor do anything good in and of themselves, including merit favor from God, save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God that we deserve for our sin, or even believe the gospel…If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.” [1]

Certainly such a view gives all the glory and honor to God while coherently and Biblically placing the blame for damnation squarely at the feet of those who would reject God’s good will for them. Let us take warning, and flee to the arms of the Savior of the world.

You and I are guilty of breaking God’s laws and cannot earn our way back to Him. But God is pursuing us and working in us! You must yield to Him – stop resisting Him – ask God to save you; depend only on the merits of Christ and abandon all hope of your own righteousness.

Some people seem to equate “faith” with a work that we do. This is an incredibly damaging view which turns the concept of faith upon its head. Such a view, consistently held, will ultimately lead the person holding it into tremendous error and spiritual malaise.
FAITH HAS NO MERIT, THOUGH IT IS SOMETHING WE DO.

Jerome (347-420AD) comments on Ephesians 2:8-9:

“Paul says this [we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves] in case the secret thought should steal upon us that ‘if we are not saved by our own works, at least we are saved by our own faith, and so in another way our salvation is of ourselves.’ Thus he added the statement that faith too is not in our own will but in God’s gift. Not that he means to take away free choice from humanity… but that even this very freedom of choice has God as its author, and all things are to be referred to his generosity, in that he has even allowed us to will the good.”   – Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.8-9

We see that the Latin-speaking Jerome had a view of resistible, prevenient grace (grace which preceedes and enables any good choice made by humans). The sinner must have God work in their soul to enable and “gift” faith and a freed will, but this gift is not irresistible. Thus, faith is a gracious gift from God, wrought by the personal work of the Holy Spirit, and God wills that “all men” without exception might be saved – yet men may resist this genuine enabling grace and flee from God’s love.

 

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY ABOUT PRIDE, GRACE, AND FAITH?

Faith – vs the law – is the foundation of grace:

Paul makes grace rest upon faith. For grace to be grace, it must come through faith, rather than the works of the law:

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)

Paul contends that the grace of salvation (and regeneration is certainly grace) is grace because it comes through faith.

We are excluded from boasting because of faith.

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:27, 28)

Paul very clearly writes that “Boasting… is excluded… by a law of faith.”

In response to the accusation that a teaching of contingent faith leads to conceit and man-centered theology – in other words, thinking that we deserve some credit,” Robert Shank replied

“…totally renouncing all claim to self-righteousness… completely repudiating all dependence on good works… renouncing all claim to personal merit… abjectly humbling oneself before God as a broken sinner, deserving death, helpless, unable to save himself… casting oneself on the mercies of God and hoping only in the merits and grace of Jesus Christ… These are the elements that are of the essence of saving faith, and where true faith exists, there can be no pride or self-esteem. Pride and faith are mutually exclusive.” (“Elect in the Son”, P. 144)
The later reformer Jacab Hermanzoon was accused of saying that faith was the property of unfettered free will and that humans did not need God to work in us first. “[I am accused of saying] “Faith is not the pure gift of God, but depends partly on the grace of God, and partly on the powers of Free Will; that, if a man will, he may believe or not believe.” He forcefully responded,

“I never said this, I never thought of saying it… To explain the matter I will employ a simile, which yet, I confess, is very dissimilar; but its dissimilitude is greatly in favor of my sentiments:
“A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it? Can it be said with propriety, that “the alms depended partly on the liberality of the Donor, and partly on the liberty of the Receiver,” though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, because the beggar is always prepared to receive, that “he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?”

CONCLUSION

For a flourishing Christian life, we must constantly live in dependence upon God. Just as we received Jesus as Lord (by faith – that is, by depending solely upon His merits and strength), we are to live a life of dependence upon Him.

Our faith is not mere intellectual assent, nor is it a “grit-your-teeth-and-try-hard-to-believe” mindset that finds its source in us. God works in people’s hearts, and then it is our response-ability to Him to yield to Him. This is what faith is all about – God’s foreconditional love. His love is dynamic. He desires for this love to be reciprocal, and thus He frees us through grace to give us the ability to yield to Him in love.
The entire Christian life is one of moment-by-moment faith. Forming a wrong opinion about what faith is will cripple our spiritual life.
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[1] Dr. Brian Abasciano and Martin Glynn, web article: “An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. the TULIP of Calvinism”

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