Ques. 21. What is true faith?
Ans. True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
Ques. 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?
Ans. All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.
Ques. 23. What are these articles?
Ans. (Here follow the articles of our Apostolic Creed).
Lord’s Day 7, Heidelberg Catechism.
True faith is. . . .
Our Book of Instruction calls our attention to a truefaith. This implies that there are professions of faith which are not true. In the parable of the sower Jesus speaks of a temporal faith. A person with that kind of faith is like a plant in shallow soil; that person is not rooted in Christ. Temporal faith puts on a display of ardent enthusiasm or excited joy for the moment, but when trials and persecutions arise this enthusiasm fades into disillusionment (Matt. 13:21). Moreover, Paul speaks of faith that is unfeigned in distinction from a hypocritical faith. There are those who boast of their great accomplishments in the kingdom of heaven, only to hear from Christ in that great Day of days, “Depart from me, thou worker of iniquity; I never knew you.” James in his epistle speaks of a dead faith that never produces any works, which is like a tree adorned with a copious array of foliage, but nothing more. A dead faith never becomes evident. That kind of faith is vain, for it is not the work of God. True faith, as we saw in the previous question and answer, is the living bond that unites us to Christ and makes us partakers of Him and all His benefits. Faith is the work of Christ in us.
The intent of the question, “What is true faith?” is not to ask for a definition of faith, for that definition was already implied in the previous answer. But the intent is to call our attention to the contents of faith, for, as the catechism points out, true faith consists of a certain, or sure knowledge and an assured confidence.
The certain knowledge of faith is not a mere intellectual knowledge that is acquired in the catechism class or in a seminary. There are many intelligent theologians who lack true faith. Intellectual knowledge is a matter of the mind; the knowledge of faith is a matter of the heart and the mind. My thoughts turn for a moment to the infinite knowledge of our God. God knows all things perfectly, for all things lie exposed before Him like an open book. But there is also a knowledge of God expressed in the words, “The, Lord knows His own.” God knows His people in love, even as He has chosen them in Christ, redeemed them by His own precious blood, and conforms them to His likeness that they may share His fellowship forever. That love is spread abroad in our hearts, so that we know Him, the true and living God, Whom to know is life eternal. With Job we confess, “I know that my .Redeemer liveth.” This reminds us of Lord’s Day I: “How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?” To this we respond, that I must know how great my sins and miseries are, how I am delivered from these sins; and how I can show true thankfulness to God for that deliverance.
True faith consists also of an assured confidence. This confidence is so different from the ‘faith’ of the pagan, who seeks to obtain the favor of his god by groveling in the dust and by tormenting himself. Faith is not a superstition, nor a vain hope in an inanimate object, but it is an assured confidence. This confidence is sure, because we do not contrive it, but the Holy Spirit works it in our hearts. It is an eternal security.
A babe nestled in mother’s arms while the storm rages, the lightnings slash the darkness of the night, and the thunders chatter, is not as secure as the child of God who hides in the shadow of the Almighty. In absolute trust the believer commits his way in prayer unto the Lord. With Asaph we rest assured, “Nevertheless, (come what will) I am continually with thee: thou has holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory!”
This is implicit trust. An aviator must put absolute trust in his instruments, unwaveringly following the radio beam that directs him through the thick fog to the airstrip hidden somewhere down below. A traveler must studiously follow the road map that directs him to his destination, even when the map seems to lead him in the wrong direction. The child of God has God’s Word as a lamp before his feet, a light on his pathway. For doctrine and for life he heeds the divine, infallible Word with a confident, “It is written.” The sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith are his trusty weapons against the onslaught of the powers of darkness. The example of the champions of faith—we see Abel die, we see Noah preaching righteousness, we see Abraham offering his only son, yes, and many more—spurs us on to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, Who has gone before us into glory. (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
Never is that Word sufficient in itself. No objective calling, no preaching of the Word can penetrate where the heart is not made receptive to the Word. Christ Himself must open the closed, soften the hardened heart, always anew arousing in us the response, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” Christ does this by His Spirit within us. On the other hand, there is no direct revelation of the Spirit apart from the Word. The Holy Spirit never works apart from the Word, for faith is by hearing, and hearing is by the Word of God. Faith never trusts in an inner voice, but turns to the Scriptures with the confident confession, “Thy Word, O Lord, shall safely lead, if in its wisdom we confide.”
What is the mark of true faith? The fathers spoke out of their own experience when they wrote, “That not only to others, but to me also remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merit.” Three gifts of grace are mentioned here: forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and salvation. One is always impressed that throughout the Catechism such a strong emphasis is laid on the forgiveness of sins. But does not Scripture do the same? Psalm 103 comes to mind with its, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Whereupon immediately follows, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” I think of the assuring word of the Savior, “Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee.” I think of my own greatest need, and find comfort in this emphasis of the Catechism as drawn from the Scriptures. The second gift that is mentioned is closely related to the first. This is the imputed righteousness of Christ, “as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me.” (Lord’s Day 23, ques. 60). I like that. Christ’s obedience becomes my obedience, even before my own consciousness. There lies the basis for the third gift, complete salvation! This salvation includes sanctification, perseverance, joy, peace, and even hope of eternal life. With our Catechism we raise the jubilant cry, “freely given of God merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merit!” Hallelujah!
I believe in God.
Our Catechism asks yet, “What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?” To that question the answer is given simply, yet concisely: I believe in GOD. That is the essence of the well-known Apostolic Creed, quoted in this Lord’s Day and confessed in our worship service every Sunday. Throughout the centuries the believers have confessed their faith with the introductory statement, “I believe in God.” The Creed also speaks of the trinity, confessing God the Father, Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost. In this Creed we speak of the Almighty, Triune God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in Christ and by the power of His Spirit created all things for our sakes, in preparation for the new world to come. The God of our salvation has redeemed us in His Son, Who was born of a virgin, humbled Himself to the shameful and accursed death of the cross, and was raised from the dead, to be exalted to heavenly glory, from whence we expect Him as the righteous Judge, our Savior. This God by the Spirit of Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His church, brings us into intimate communion with Him by the communion of saints among each other. He assures us of the resurrection of our bodies, and life with Him in His House, to His glory forever and ever!
This brief confession summarizes the entire content of the Scriptures, which this Lord’s Day so properly refers to as, “all things promised to us in the gospel.” The fathers do not speak of the Scriptures as a mere proclamation, nor as a general, well-meant offer of salvation extended to all men, but most emphatically as the glad tidings of salvation to the heirs of the promise. The promise is God’s oath-bound assurance to His adopted sons and heirs, that He is and forever remains our God, Who takes us into His heart and life to share with Him His eternal blessedness in intimate fellowship. Thereby faith finds expression in the animated cry, I believe in God, MY God, the God of my salvation in Christ Jesus. Faith appropriates the whole of God, the whole of Christ, the whole of God’s promises. This is true, whether that faith finds expression in a three-year-old or in a time-tried saint. That faith may sometimes appear to be weak, and sometimes strong. It may shine brightly as the sun, filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and it may be dark and gloomy, like an overcast sky. Sinful flesh may draw the shades over our souls, so that our prayers die on our lips. Sin may cause the Holy Spirit to withdraw Himself from our consciousness, casting us into utter misery of doubts and fear, in which we experience anew that to live apart from God is always only death. Yet faith itself actually never changes, no more than that the Holy Spirit would cease the good work which He has begun. The Spirit of Christ leads us through dark valleys, along difficult ways of trial and affliction to purify our faith as by fire, and to make us more than conquerors in a world of sin and death. From out of the bondage of sin and death Christ leads us ever more fully into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. That faith that is seemingly as small and insignificant as a mustard seed is able to move mountains. In the closing hours of his life the apostle Paul looked back upon his entire life, and saw his own work ready to be burned away as straw and stubble, with nothing remaining but the work of God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit within him, causing him to cry out triumphantly,
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me in that day!”
Blessed be His holy Name, forever and ever!