What Is Faith?

Sermon on Romans 1:17, preached on 14 October 2018.

Sermon Recordings: Click Here to Listen

Bible Readings: (OT) Habakkuk 1:12-2:4 / (NT) Romans 1:17
Main Points:
I. Man’s misunderstanding of faith
II. The contents of faith

God has given us a new life by granting us His Son’s eternal life. How is His eternal life given to us? Through faith in Him, the Lord Jesus. By believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came in flesh to die in place of sinners like us whom the Father planned to save, our sins are forgiven, and we’ve become righteous in the sight of the Father. Through this faith, we are born again and, in this life, we are being sanctified – in other words, we’re becoming more and more like Christ in faith. In this way, faith is the gateway to our Lord’s eternal kingdom and the floodgate through which the Father’s sustaining grace is poured upon us.

So, knowing what it means to believe in the Lord is truly important for all Christians. We need to know exactly what our faith is, what it means to believe in Jesus. Otherwise, we might fall into traps many people have fallen in history because we’re sinful, prone to such temptations. A blind faith blinds us so easily and quickly. In this regard, our text verse, v. 17 of Rom. 1, is one of the important teachings, if not the most, of the Bible that define faith. The question is, ‘What is this faith?’

I’d like to focus on the nature of faith instead of its object. The object of our faith is the Lord Jesus and through Him, God the Father and the Holy Spirit – in a word, the Triune God. This will be explored more in the coming Lord’s Days, but today, we’ll think about what it means to believe in Him. So, I’d like to do it with a couple of points: first, ‘what faith is not,’ to mention briefly about people’s misunderstanding of faith, and second, ‘what faith is,’ in other words, the contents of faith.

We begin with what faith is not through pointing out people’s misunderstanding of it. Too often, people see and regard ‘faith’ as something opposite to ‘works’ in relation to man’s salvation. They argue that the Scripture such as Gal. 2:16 supports their view. But, if you read Gal. 2:16, you’ll see that their claim is false and ‘faith’ is not opposite to ‘works.’ Instead, faith and works go together, work side by side in man’s salvation. When Gal. 2:16 says ‘works of the law,’ it doesn’t mean ‘keeping the law of God,’ but talks about man’s heart that regards his law-keeping as his own righteousness. Such a person keeps the law to earn God’s favour, to earn his own salvation through his act of keeping the law. So, the ‘works’ in Gal. 2:16 means man’s self-righteous heart which is opposite to God’s righteousness. In this way, ‘faith’ is not opposite to ‘works.’ Instead, faith bears works and works are the outcome of faith.

Also, regarding faith as against ‘law’ is a misunderstanding. A phrase often used and quoted by some people like ‘Faith saves but the law kills’ is false because faith and law are not enemies to each other. One of the numerous scriptural proof for this is Rom. 3:27-31 which says this: “what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works [again, man’s sinful self-righteousness]? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. … God … will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” This section of the Bible tells us that law and faith are not enemies. V. 27 asks, “what kind of law [do we boast]?” We hear from this word of God two kinds of law – ‘a law of works’ and ‘the law of faith.’ Then, v. 31 asks whether we should nullify the law by faith. Its answer is this: “By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Thus, faith and law are not against each other; they work together – the law leads a sinner to faith and one who believes knows how joyful it is to keep the law of God. For this reason, we cannot deny God’s law. After all, our Lord Jesus clearly told us that He came to fulfill it. This is why Rom. 7:14 says that “the law is spiritual.”

In sum, faith is not opposite to works; it is opposite to man’s self-righteousness. Neither is faith opposite to the law. Rather, faith is God’s instrument or means by which the Lord’s salvation works and inaugurates Jesus’ eternal kingdom in the believing hearts and souls.

Then, what are the contents or substance of faith? What is it that we say we believe? This is our next point. The Bible teaches us that there are three essential elements of faith and they are ‘heart,’ ‘mind,’ and ‘will.’ By ‘heart,’ it means our emotional response; ‘mind’ means our intellectual involvement; and by ‘will,’ it means our behavioural commitment. Our faith involves all these three elements – we believe with our heart, mind and will.

A. Emotional Response to the Lord’s Saving Grace
First of all, faith is our emotional response to the saving grace of the Lord. This emotional element is the beginning of our faith. Let’s take for example the Apostle Paul’s faith. You know Paul was an enemy of the Church in Jerusalem and beyond. He killed the first martyr, Stephen, and then, arrested and brought many Christians to the Jewish supreme court. He even tried to grab Christians in Damascus. On his way to that city, he saw a bright light and heard the voice of the Lord. Straight away, his heart was shattered, not because of the blindness of his eyes, but because of the blindness of his spirit. He questioned at that moment, saying, “Who are You, Lord?” He reckoned it as the Lord’s voice, like Abram had done in Ur of the Chaldeans, and the young Samuel in the night he was sleeping before the altar of the Lord. And his shattered heart was his emotional response to the Lord Jesus. This is, as Acts 9:20 says, the beginning of Paul’s faith in Jesus.

Like this way, faith begins with man’s emotional response to the Lord’s saving grace which shakes his/her heart and opening it to believe in Jesus. Faith involves our heart. Our ignorant heart is shattered and filled with awe of God, being amazed by the truth of Jesus and the power of God.

B. Intellectual Conviction to the Lord’s Truth
This faith goes further; it moves on to another element of faith, that is, our intellect. Some say this element as the element of ‘assent’ or ‘conviction.’ What that means is that a believer realises what he knows about Jesus is indeed factual truth. This intellectual admission is now the solid foundation of his spiritual commitment. For this reason, a faith without intellectual element is a baseless ‘mumbo jumbo’ or simple mysticism or absurdity. With one’s intellectual conviction, that person’s faith is like a house built upon a rock; but faith without intellectual conviction is like a house built on sand.

A set of emotional experience is not a true faith, unless intellectual conviction is added to it. Someone could say, ‘Oh, I felt the presence of God or the Holy Spirit so strongly,’ but that’s not all of biblical saving faith. That feeling of God’s presence must be proved by the written word of God that convicts the mind of a sinner. Hear the words from Rom. 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him for the dead, you will be saved.” Heb. 11:1 sums it up well by saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Intellectual and cognitive conviction must be there in every believer’s mind in addition to his emotional element.

One’s intellectual conviction and emotional response to the Lord, therefore, should not be two separate things of faith but one united substance of faith. Otherwise, a believer may become a cold-minded without love in his heart, while the other may remain as an ignorant, superstitious believer. Either case is not a genuine, true faith. A true Christian has a mind of conviction and heart of love for the Lord.

C. Behavioural Commitment to the Lord’s Word
These two elements of faith need the third, that is, behavioural commitment. This is about our ‘will’ in faith. A sinner responds emotionally to the Lord’s saving grace, then, he upholds in his heart the truth of Jesus and His redemption. Then, all these affect his will which leads him to take action, to live his faith out. This is what Jeremiah, OT prophet, meant when he said in Jer. 20:9, “If I say, ‘I will not mention [God] or speak anymore in His name,’ then is IN MY HEART as it were a BURNING FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES, and I am WEARY with holding it in, and I CANNOT.” Jeremiah’s faith in the Lord – more specifically, his emotional and intellectual elements of his faith – causes him to will and act and he cannot hold it. The same happened to Peter and John when they stood in the Jewish high court and were ordered to not preach Jesus any more. These apostles answered as recorded in Acts 4:19-20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we CANNOT but SPEAK OF WHAT WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.”

The emotional and intellectual elements of faith force a believing Christian to will and act upon the very word of God. That’s his keeping or fulfilling the law of God. Hear the words from Rom. 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Gal. 6:2 teaches the same in these words: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

Faith that is biblical and true must include our will, that is, our behavioural commitment. Otherwise, such a faith, which is not true faith anyway, is a ‘dead faith.’ Jas. 2:26 is clear about this by saying, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” The ultimate example of such a dead faith is Satan who believes that God is one and knows Jesus is both the Son of God and the Judge of all. Yet, he bows to neither the Father nor the Son, but hates both! Mt. 8:29 and Jas. 2:19 tell us about it. On the contrary, true and biblical faith leads a saved sinner to leave his former sins and come nearer to God. So, faith is our emotional response to the gospel grace; this emotional response is seasoned with our intellectual conviction; then, faith becomes our will in action. As our will continues in action, its results are so-called the various fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against which there’s no law, meaning, no judgment but life everlasting.

Let me tell you that our faith in the Lord Jesus is the gateway to the eternal kingdom of Jesus. This faith in the Lord is also the floodway of God’s grace that saves and sanctifies His children. We know that, first, we’re saved by faith in Jesus alone and, second, no one can come to the Father except through the Son, that is, except through faith in Him, the Son.

Then, what should be the evidence of this genuine, true and biblical faith in our life in the Lord and in His church? First of all, our constant emotional response to our Lord’s saving grace must be evident. I mean, you and I ought to have the strong sense of personal trust in the Lord; when we come to Him in worship, in prayer, in praise, we must realise that we’re before God and He is in our midst. We should face Him in faith. So, we ought to hear the Lord’s voice through our reading of His word, pray, picturing in our heart and soul that our Father in heaven is listening to every word from our mouth and heart, and worship Him altogether as if we’re gathered together before our Father’s throne of grace.

Also, our faith should be evident by our desire to know the Triune God more and more. By opening up and reading every word that is recorded in the Holy Scriptures, we ought to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In faith we need to know why the Apostle Paul and others have exclaimed, saying, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” We should search every possible way to study God’s word, joining in Bible study meetings and, if there’s not a suitable one to join, starting a new one.

Moreover, our faith must be evident in our deeds. All things we do must reflect the faith we’ve received and is growing in us. We speak our faith and we walk our faith; we plan in faith and carry it out in faith. More specifically, we follow all the Bible teaches. The Apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Pet. 4:11, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” This is the evidence of one’s genuine faith in Jesus.

Having said, I believe that many of you think that you lack in many ways. But don’t be discouraged, my brothers and sisters in Jesus, because we all are growing in faith; we’re in the process of sanctification. This forward and upward movement in faith will finally be completed when we leave this flesh and face our Lord. Until then, we all are advancing in faith; our emotional response and intellectual conviction alongside our behavioural commitment are becoming firmer and deeper. What we need to do is to examine our faith everyday and seek the Lord’s guidance. Meanwhile, we’re to help one another in faith because we all are companions in this faith – we have one Lord, one faith and one baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus! So, let us walk together; let us gather together more often; and let us work together in faith. ***

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