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TEXT: Ephesians 2:8-10
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #10: Faith
Today we come to the Eighth Article in the Midland Confession of Faith. First published in 1655, we adopted it as a fair summary of our own faith in the middle 1980's. It does not address everything the Bible does, of course, but, to my way of thinking, it hits the high points pretty well, emphasizing four doctrines: God, guilt, grace, and glory.
I have to admit that Article 8 is a bit unwieldy, starting with man's inability, going on to the source of saving faith, then comparing that faith to the Resurrection of Christ, closing with a swipe at Christians who believe otherwise, and warning us to beware of their influence. There's a lot in here, but I'll try to expound it the best I can without going on all day. Here it is--
We believe that all men until they are quickened by Christ are dead in trespasses, and therefore, have no power of themselves to savingly believe. But faith is the free gift of God, and the mighty work of God in the soul, even like the raising of Christ from the dead. Therefore, consent not with those who hold that God has given power to all men to believe to salvation.
The subject of the Article is Saving Faith, and in particular, where it comes from. How do you explain the fact that some people believe in Christ and others don't? If the Gospel is so clear and compelling and well-attested, whey doesn't everyone believe it? If it's manifestly a fairy tale, why does anyone believe?
TWO POSSIBLE ANSWERS
It seems clear to me that there are two possible answers, and they cannot be combined without making a muddle of both. Some believe and others don't because of something in them, or some people believe and others don't because of something in God.
SOMETHING IN THEM
The first answer is the more common of the two and much easier to present to people and defend. The reason John believes and Peter doesn't is because John is more open to God's grace than Peter. On the positive side, this affirms human freedom and defends God against the charge of favoritism.
Does God play favorites? The Bible says He does not, implicitly throughout, and plainly in Acts 10:34, where Peter says He
No respecter of persons.
Are we responsible to believe the Gospel? The Bible says we are, everywhere commanding us to believe and warning us that, if we don't, we will answer to God for it.
God is just and He holds us responsible for what we do and don't do. These are major themes in the Bible, and we dishonor God and His Word when we deny they are or water them down to win an argument or defend our version of the Reformed Faith.
NOT SOMETHING IN US
If this were all the Bible taught about God, sinners, and saving faith, we would happily agree with it. John believes and Peter doesn't because John is more open to God's grace than Peter.
The thing is, this is not all the Bible teaches about God, sinners, and saving faith and as the old saying goes--
A half truth told as a whole truth is an untruth!
What does the Bible say about man in a state of nature? It says a good deal--and what it says is none too flattering. Here's a sample:
The Bible says that the natural man is spiritually blind. In John 3:3, Jesus told the learned and devout Rabbi Nicodemus that--
Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God does not mean Heaven. It means the Rule of God under the Lordship of Christ. Now, if an unconverted person cannot see the Lordship of Christ, how can he believe in Christ? Is the name, 'Jesus' enough? Mustn't there be some content to believing in Him? Or is believing in Jesus as a teacher and a miracle worker (both of which Nicodemus did) the same thing as saving faith?
The Bible also says that the natural man is spiritually powerless--not powerless to tie his shoe (nobody says this!), but to please God! Romans 8:7-8--
For the carnal mind is enmity against God. It is not subject to the will of God, neither indeed can it be, so that those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Would 'believing in Jesus' please God? Yes it would. But if a natural man cannot please God, how can he believe in Christ?
Finally, the Bible says the natural man is spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:1--
And you...who were dead in trespasses and sin.
What physical things can a physically dead man do? None. What spiritual things can a spiritually dead man do? None.
The natural man's blindness, powerlessness, and spiritual death are figures of speech, of course, and mustn't be taken too literally. But, if they don't more-or-less mean what I said they do, what do they mean?
What do the images of blindness, powerlessness, and death conjure up in your mind: ability or disability? And if, the latter, what kind of disability, major or minor? Does the natural man have a spiritual limp? Or something much worse than that? I, for one, cannot see how any disability could be more disabling, than death!
This is what the Bible teaches: Not that man has no will (of course we do!), but that our will is blind, powerless, and dead, until such time as we are--
Quickened (or made alive) by Christ.
This is a direct quote from our Confession of Faith and Ephesians 2:1 (in the KJV) and 2:5 in every Bible.
This puts us in a terrible fix. The Bible plainly teaches two things: (1) Unless we believe in Christ, we are lost now and forever, and (2) We have no power to believe in Christ. On pain of eternal damnation, we have to believe the Gospel, but we have no power to believe the Gospel.
How do we get out of the fix we're in?
The Bible answer is: Faith is the gift of God. I don't mean God believes for us, He doesn't do that. The Bible teaches and experience confirms that it is we who believe the Gospel, or to say it another way, it is we who put our faith in Christ: it is not God's faith in Christ, but our faith in Christ.
This is what our text says and is agreeable to the whole teaching of the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-10--
For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not or works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
If you read the verses in the Greek New Testament, you'll see there's a question. Does it in v.9 refer to faith or salvation? In other words, which is the gift of God? Calvinists are eager to say faith is, while people on the other side, say it is salvation that is God's gift?
The fact is, it doesn't matter which reading is better since, if faith is part of our salvation, and all of our salvation is God's gift, then so is faith!
This is confirmed by many other verses in the Bible, four of which I'll cite quickly and with little comment. Acts 18:27 describes Christians as people who--
Believed through grace.
James 1:17, I Peter 1:3--
Every good gift and every perfect is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights, with who there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Just as His Divine power has given us all things which pertain to life and godliness though the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue...
If faith is a good gift, it comes from the Father. If faith pertains to life and godliness, it was given to us by God.
I Corinthians 4:7 sews it all up for me--
Who made you to differ one from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now, if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
The Corinthians were very proud of themselves for what they had. But Paul undercut their pride by reminding them of where it all came from. Everything they had, from knowledge to tongues to faith was received.
How do we square what seems to be a contradiction, or at least, a discrepancy? It is God who gives faith, but it is we who believe, and experience seems to say that we believe willingly, i.e., from the inside out.
We believe from the heart because God changes the heart. As I said a moment ago, we are quickened (or made alive) by Christ, and now, alive to Him, we choose to believe.
Pastors are not always as nuanced as we ought to be. I've heard some rant and rave against thinking of faith as a human decision. They're wrong on this: Faith is a human decision to trust Jesus as your Savior, and everyone is commanded to do this without delay! What they really mean is, it is not only a human decision. It is also the Gift of God, and a gift, I might add, that moves the mind, heart, and will to make the decision for Christ.
Is believing in Christ an easy thing? No it isn't. Ephesians 1 says it requires nothing less than the power God once used to raise Jesus from the dead, 1:19-20--
Who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.
This is not an off-hand comparison. Faith is the fruit of Eternal Life, a Life that can no more decay or end than the Life of our Resurrected Lord can decay or end!
Thus, the possession of faith in Christ supports our hope in life and death. We'll face many problems in the future, including death and a return to ashes. But not to worry, you will make it through and come out on top.
To believe in Christ means you are now risen from the dead spiritually, and when Jesus comes again, your body will follow suit.
In closing, don't be discouraged when someone says you're stripping man of his dignity, making us into robots, and robbing the unbeliever of hope.
You're doing just the opposite! By affirming faith as the Gift of God, you're putting God where He belongs, and when He is where He belongs, so are we.
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