Previous article in this series: August 2010, p. 451.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7 Question 20.
Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? Answer. No, only those who are ingrafted into Him, and receive all His benefits, by a true faith. Question 21. What is true faith? Answer. 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, which 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. Question 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe? Answer. All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.
The previous Lord’s Days have demonstrated our need of Christ. Man is dead in sin and hell-worthy in himself. The only possibility for his salvation is the death of Jesus Christ, the perfect Mediator. Now the question arises, Is everyone saved by the death of Christ? Did Jesus take the place of everyone who ever lives in the history of this world? Did He die for all men, women, and children?
The emphatic answer is NO! The Bible does not teach that God loves all men and that Jesus died for everyone. This popular heresy, called “Universalism,” denies the value and power of the cross of Jesus because it says that Jesus paid for the sins of people who end up going to hell anyway. It makes salvation a possibility for all, leaving the actuality of salvation up to the will of the sinner who, if he accepts Christ, is saved.
The Reformed faith teaches Limited Atonement, that Christ died only for His elect. This is biblical. In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told that Mary’s child will be named “Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” His people are those whom the Father eternally entrusted to Him (John 6:37-40). Jesus Himself says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep…and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14, 15), and then says to the unbelieving Jews, “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” (John 10:26). Simple logic tells us that if they are not of His sheep, then He did not lay down His life for them.
The Necessity of Faith
Without faith, salvation is impossible. Only those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ for all their salvation can and will be saved. The most important command in all the Bible is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!” Hebrews 11, the great chapter in the Bible on faith, says that “without faith it is impossible to please him” and “he that cometh to God must believe.” Hebrews 10:39 says we “believe to the saving of the soul.”
Because of this the church preaches a message that demands faith. The church does not assume that all those who hear the gospel preached are believers. The church does not preach a gospel only for believers. “But now [God] commandeth all men, everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Even those who are believers must hear the call to faith. It is through this call, that they exercise their faith.
The Source of Faith
Faith is the means that God has appointed for salvation, but it is not a power that man has of himself. It is a gift of God through the work of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8). Because of this, the Catechism speaks of faith as a graft. Man does not graft himself into Christ, but he is ingrafted by God in the work of regeneration. Remember, a farmer grafts a branch into a tree; the branch does not do this by itself. Once God has grafted us into Christ, we begin to receive spiritual life, and one of the first things we receive is the ability to believe. We “believe through grace” (Acts 18:27). This ability to believe is not given to all men, but only to the elect (Acts 13:48). When a person who is regenerated hears the gospel preached, that person responds to the gospel in faith because God has first given him/her the ability to do this. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God…because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).
The popular Arminian position is that man has a free will, that Christ died for all men, that everyone has the ability to believe in Jesus, and that Christ leaves that choice up to the sinner. This heresy not only denies the power of the cross of Christ, but also denies the depravity of fallen man and the truth of election and reprobation.
When we say faith is a graft, we are also saying that faith is a “living” connection to Christ. Faith is not like glue that holds two things together, or like a weld that holds two cold pieces of metal together. Rather, faith is like a blood vein that transports life to other parts of the body. Through this faith we continually feed on Christ. It is the “hand and mouth” of the soul. This means that the true believer is constantly exercising his faith. Salvation and conversion are not something that just happened at a certain time on a certain date, but they are the ongoing experience of the Christian. Apart from Christ, the Vine, there is no life for the branches. Abiding in Christ, the branches will bring forth fruit (John 15:1-8).
True Saving Faith
There are false faiths, which are not really faith at all. A man may say he has faith, when what he has is not actually true faith (James 2:14-20).
There is a false faith that knows of the reality of God, of hell, of man’s sinfulness and need for a Savior, but never trusts in Christ for forgiveness. The devils, and many who have grown up under the gospel, have this kind of faith (James 2:19). We call this “historical faith.”
There is also a false faith that is very selfish, a faith that wants all the apparent blessings and special gifts of Christianity. But the one with this faith wants nothing to do with the true blessings of Christ—forgiveness that comes through repentance. This person does not seek to honor God, but wants honor only for himself (see Acts 8:18-20). We call this “miraculous faith.”
There is also a false faith that at first appears to be real, but then as time progresses is proved to be false. The person with this kind of faith is like the seed on the stony soil, in Jesus’ parable, that “heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it,” but “when tribulation and persecution” come, or the desire for earthly things gets too strong, the word is choked out, he is offended, and he leaves his “faith” behind (Matt. 13:20-21). We call this “temporary faith.”
How does your faith measure up in comparison to these? Is it a true, genuine, saving faith?
Let us see what true faith is, as described by the Bible and the Catechism. Wherever the Holy Spirit gives faith, two things will always be present. First, there will be a knowledge of what God has revealed in His Word, and second, there will be a confident trust in God’s promises.
Today, many describe faith as “a leap” into the unknown. Faith, they say, is like jumping off a high mountain or from an airplane into the fog below, hoping that God will be there to catch you.
But this is not faith. No, faith has substance. It believes objective, revealed realities. That is, God has revealed Himself in His Word, and faith begins with knowing God as revealed, and believing all that God has revealed to be true. Our faith has a firm foundation, the Scriptures, which are as true, sure, trustworthy, and enduring as God Himself. Central to the Scriptures is the revelation of Christ our Savior, and believing God’s revelation means we believe on Jesus Christ for all our salvation. How important it is, then, to know the Word and revelation of God. The Catechism will go on to fill in what this knowledge is, following the content of the Apostles’ Creed.
However, saying faith has a sure foundation does not mean that God tells us everything. No, life is still full of its unknowns. We do not know what troubles tomorrow may bring to our lives. But even so, we do know that God will not change. From the Scriptures, we know the permanency of His grace and presence. Our life is something like walking across a deep canyon on a strong, solid bridge that does not even sway. There may be fog around us, so that we cannot see the depths of the canyon below, or even where our foot will land with the next step, but as we step forward, the bridge is always there, sturdy and strong. We don’t know what is ahead, but we do know God will be there.
So faith is an assured confidence and trust in God. This confidence stems from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He has blessed us with “remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation,” and because He has given us this, we know that He will freely give us all we need for life and death (Rom. 8:32).
Questions for Discussion
1. For whom did Christ die?
2. How would you answer someone who says that Jesus died for all men?
3. What makes faith so necessary?
4. Should the command to believe be preached to all? Should it be done regularly and repeatedly, even in an established congregation? Why/why not? Should you be offended when you hear a call to believe?
5. Where does faith come from? What does the Arminian teach? Can you prove from Scripture that it is God’s gracious gift to the elect only?
6. What things does the biblical illustration of a graft teach us? (John 15:1-10)
7. What are some false forms of faith mentioned in the Bible? Why is it important for us to be aware of these?
8. What is the foundation for our faith? What do we believe?
9. Can Christians have confidence of salvation, for this life and the life of heaven? How?
10. Is the exercise of true faith easy?
11. How does the preaching of the gospel fit in a discussion on true faith?