Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
We have seen from Scripture and the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, that the activity of saving faith consists of two elements, a certain knowledge and an assured confidence. Having considered the certain knowledge of faith, we turn our attention now to the element of confidence.
Both aspects of saving faith are seen in the apostle’s confession in II Timothy 1:12b: “…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.” He not only says, “I know whom I have believed,” but he adds without separation, “and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” The latter is the hopeful trust in a faithful Friend.
Blessed Fellowship with God
Once again we see here the application of the beautiful truth of the covenant.
The covenant is that bond of fellowship and perfect love within the triune God.
God extends that arm of fellowship to embrace all those who are in Christ Jesus. He does so by taking them into His own covenant life and having fellowship with them. That is the heart of the Christian life.
The activity of faith is the activity of my own consciousness whereby I am aware of that fellowship and for that reason have a heartfelt trust in my Sovereign Friend. Confidence in God means that I am assured that He loves me.
When it comes to the relationship in which you and I stand to the living God, trust is not a natural activity. You don’t trust someone who appears to be looking to kill you. By nature we are afraid of God, and for good reason. He is the Holy One, the terrible God who reveals Himself in His righteous wrath against all sinners. He is righteous in the execution of His justice. And His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men (Rom. 1:18). We see it all around us. And should we not be afraid of Him? After all, we too are sinners, no better than any single individual around us.
Let us look at this realistically a moment, as a matter of our own experience as children of God. How important is this heartfelt trust!
You and I who have been given faith are called believers. But how often we show ourselves unworthy of that name!
We all know Scripture’s description of a believer. A believer is one whose heart thirsts after the living God, who seeks the glory of God. His treasures and his thoughts are in heaven. Having experienced much forgiveness, the believer is full of mercy to all those around him and who sin against him. Having been often deceived by his own heart, the believer trusts it not (Jer. 17:9), but lives by faith in the Son of God. He is dead to the world, dead to sin, dead to self, but alive unto God. Prayer is his breath, and the Word of God his food.
But when I examine myself and my own experience, how different the description often appears! Don’t you find the same thing? Though I know that communion with God is my highest privilege, I often don’t exercise that privilege as if it is the highest privilege. Have you ever had the good intention of picking up the Bible, conscious that it provides instruction in righteousness and the comfort that we all need, and yet find yourself picking up the daily newspaper instead?
We know that all on this earth is vanity, and yet our actions so often put us in the company of those who have their portion here in this world.
We believe that God works all things together for our good, and yet our worry and anxiety indicate that we think the opposite is true. So little is our faith!
What is this assured confidence, this heartfelt trust?
The Heidelberg Catechism, standing before the open Bible, defines it this way: It is the assured confidence “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.”
Do you see how wonderful that is?
God speaks to us whom He has grafted into Christ! He speaks to me! By His Holy Spirit and through His gospel He speaks to us!
In the gospel He tells me of His love for sinners, elect in Christ Jesus. He does.
But I must have more than that. I must have more than the preaching of a general gospel. Of what comfort is it to me to know that God loves elect sinners? I must know that He loves this sinner, that He loves me. I must know that all this remission of sins applied day by day is for me. I must have the confidence that God loves me, that He gave His only begotten Son to save me.
When I have that confidence, then I will immediately join the apostle in his confession, “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.”
An Essential Part of True Faith
This confidence is an essential part of true faith.
Often the question has been asked whether or not assurance belongs to the essence of faith. The Reformed faith, as expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, gives an unmistakably affirmative answer.
That is also II Timothy 1:12.
As an essential part of his faith, Paul committed to his Lord a precious deposit. He committed himself to Him, body and soul. He committed himself, being persuaded that God is faithful.
Christ’s merits stand steadfast before the heavenly Father. That remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation that He obtained for me can never be taken from me. As I confess my sins before God, one thing I know: All my sins have been blotted out in the blood of my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. And therefore in all my weakness I long to live unto Him.
Does this mean that there are no struggles in the Christian life, no doubts, no fears? Not at all.
Scripture frequently points us to the reality of those struggles that mark our own lives and that have characterized the saints throughout the ages. The devil, after all, does not cease to pester us. And our own sins serve to hinder our experience of that assured confidence of faith. Look at the life of David, as he gives expression to his own experience in Psalm 32:3, 4, and its blessed contrast in verses 1, 2 and 5. Consider Asaph’s struggles, as recorded in Psalm 73 and Psalm 77. We sing those songs from the depths of our own experience.
But those doubts and fears are expressions of our own infirmity (Ps. 77:10). They belong to that unbelief that still cleaves to our sinful flesh, and because of which we cry out with the man in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!”
But Scripture also points us to the solution for overcoming those doubts and fears that would lead us to fall from our own steadfastness. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).
Wrought by God Alone
This faith, both in its certain knowledge and its assured confidence, is worked in us by God alone. We continue to speak of the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation.
When we talk about the activity of faith, we must not forget that no sinner comes to Christ until the Holy Spirit first comes to that sinner!
In Ezekiel 37:14 the promise of the Lord comes this way: “And [I] shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live…then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it”—the it being the salvation of His people.
Just as the bond of faith is established by God alone in the wonder of regeneration, according to His own will and good pleasure, so it is with the activity of faith.
The Holy Spirit not only works the essence of faith in regeneration. The Holy Spirit also works my conscious believing, the conscious activity of my faith.
He brings that faith in me to conscious activity by the gospel.
We must emphasize that this work of the Spirit is by the gospel. It is true that this work of the Holy Spirit is a mysterious work. But when it comes to the activity of faith, the matter of believing in Christ Jesus, you must never separate yourself from the Word of the Scriptures and true gospel preaching. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
Pentecostalism, or any other separation of the Spirit’s work from the gospel will always lead a child of God to doubt. The only exception would come by ignoring the fact of our own sin. But when you see yourself as a sinner, you must hear the Word of the gospel. Your assurance of faith must have an anchor, the precious promises of God.
Saving faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit through the gospel.
That is comfort.
There is no comfort in saying that faith is our work. The Spirit of Christ calls us to faith powerfully and irresistibly. So we believe. So we lay hold on Him in whom alone is salvation. And so we stand as the handiworks of God’s sovereign, particular grace, partakers of the life of Christ.