Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Faith is a many-splendored thing. The Word of God uses the word faith so often, it has so many meanings and implications, and it is such a power in the Christian’s life, that to write a page about faith runs the danger of not doing it justice at all! What a wonderful gift of God to us unworthy, sinful creatures!
Indeed, faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). And Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Further, as the Canons (III/IV, 14) make clear, faith is the gift of God not in the sense that He offers it to men, to be accepted or rejected at their pleasure, but in the sense that God works in men both the will to believe and the act of believing. And if one asks who are given this splendid gift, the Scriptures tell us that God is pleased to bestow faith upon the elect (Titus 1:1). When the gospel is preached, as many as were ordained unto eternal life believe its promises: no more and no less (Acts 13:48). Reformed believers know election to be the fountain source of faith and every saving good.
Faith as to its most basic idea is a bond that unites the elect to Jesus Christ. It is the living bond of ingrafting, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 7. Christ is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5); Christ is the olive tree and Gentile generations are the wild olive branches that are grafted into Him (Rom. 11:17). This living union with Christ, by which we draw out of Him all His fullness and benefits, is a bond established in regeneration. This vital truth allows us to see that elect babies who die already in infancy are also saved by faith! So that there are no exceptions at all! God’s people are saved by faith!
Faith is also a conscious activity in the hearts and lives of believers. The Bible speaks of trusting in God, relying upon God, believing the promises of God, and having confidence in Him. Lord’s Day 7 speaks of faith as a certain knowledge of all that God has revealed to us in His Word, and an assured confidence that the benefits of Christ’s cross are not only for others, but also for me, merely of grace, for Christ’s sake! This rich answer of the Catechism is based on Paul’s words, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12).
The activity of faith is worked by the Spirit of Christ in connection with the preaching of the gospel. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). Faith is worked, brought from potential into activity, through the preaching; faith is strengthened by the use of the sacraments. Hence, we call official preaching and proper administration of sacraments the means of grace.
Faith is the means by which God justifies the ungodly. Abraham believed the promise of God, “and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3-6). God saw that faith that united Abraham to the coming Christ and the righteousness that He would attain for His people; God saw that living bond stretching out between His friend and His Son—and counted that faith for Abraham’s righteousness. A man is justified by faith, without the works of the law (Rom. 3:28; Rom. 5:1; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 3:9). But faith itself does not justify a man; then it would be our work. Faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with Christ, the means by which we embrace Christ, the bond through which His merits and benefits (hard won on the cross) become ours, so that they are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins (Belgic Confession, Art. XXII).
Another splendor of faith is that it allows the child of God to see invisible things. If faith is the hand and the mouth of the soul by which we eat and drink Christ, then faith is also the eyes of the soul. Paul explains to us that affliction works for us glory: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:18). Faith gives substance, or firm ground, to the things hoped for; faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Hence, we walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7), until such time that faith shall be sight.
Although we are justified before God by faith alone, and not by works in any degree or measure, justifying faith brings forth good works. Justified freely of grace, experiencing peace with God, the grateful saint shows his thankfulness by walking according to all of God’s good commandments. If he does not, he is not a justified saint, for faith without works is dead, and a dead faith is not faith (James 2:14-17). We were chosen not only unto faith, but also unto the obedience of faith, to perform certain, definite good works which God eternally prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Without Christ we can do nothing; but he that abideth in Christ, and Christ in him, bringeth forth much fruit (John 15:5).
Faith also stands for the body of revealed doctrine that we must believe in order to be saved. We are called to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). With one mind we are to strive together for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). In these last times, many depart from the faith and are worse than infidels because they deny the faith (I Tim. 4:1; I Tim. 5:8). The Apostles’ Creed is called the catholic, undoubted, Christian faith because it sets forth in simple form the great revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This is necessary for a Christian to believe. This he does believe, by the grace and Spirit of Jesus Christ.