By Robert F. Turner
We are seeking to explore the “bottom line” of some doctrinal differences that exist in the religious world — differences in basic ideas which affect the particular details of conflicts. An earlier article discussed various fundamental concepts of how we can know the things of God, and even before we began this series our article on “Two Concepts of God’s Grace” (G. 0. T., Mar. 20, ’86) presented “bottom line” arguments on that subject. Now, we move attention to “Faith.”
If you are already familiar with the Evangelical concept of Faith you know that in many debates on the subject the chief difference is overlooked, and pseudo arguments are made. We argue as though they were using “faith” in the same sense as we use “faith, repentance, and baptism”; and they argue as though we were saying one earns redemption by doing three or four things. They complain about man lifting himself by his own boot straps; while we say faith is a work; and both of us may be confusing the use of the word “faith.” Justification by faith is stated in a context which contrasts it with justification by meriting or perfect works; and indicates right-standing with God depends upon our trust in Jesus Christ rather than in ourselves. Rightly understood, justification is indeed by faith and not by works; but to say by “faith only” evokes a different concept of faith, and leaves a very erroneous impression.
Faith is used or applied in many different ways in the Scriptures. (1) It may mean simply a mental acquiescence, an agreement to the truthfulness of testimony; and of that “faith” it is said, “devils also believe,” and “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:19-20). But (2) the “believer” is sometimes contrasted with the “disobedient” (1 Pet. 2:7), and that I faith, I obviously includes obedience. The church consists of (obedient) “believers” (Acts 4:32). If baptism puts one into the church, baptism is necessary to be a “believer.” By metonymy of effect for cause (3) “the faith” is sometimes used to designate the word, the gospel message that must be believed. When Jude wrote “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered” (1:3) he referred to the truth, that which produces belief on our part. It is called the “revealed” faith in Galatians 3:23; the message of the new covenant. Then (4) in Romans 14:23 “faith” is used subjectively, in the sense of conscience. “He that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith. . .”
But when justification is the subject, we must take another look at faith. The early chapters of Romans are devoted to showing that God is just in condemning all men, for “all have sinned” (3:23). We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24), on the condition of faith (vv. 25-26). But Paul is not saying there is a “sole” condition, namely mental acceptance. Using a Greek text, note the absence of the article in Romans 3:20, as well as its insertion in portions of verse 21. “Because by works of – law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through – law cometh the knowledge of sin. But now apart from – law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (emphasis and indications mine, rt). This contrasts the Christian system with Judaism; but also with any system which requires perfect obedience to any law for justification. We are “free of guilt” (justified) by way of mercy, or forgiveness.
To seek justification via works of law is to be under a curse: namely, “Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things . . . to do them” (Gal. 3:10). But Christ freed us from “the curse” (v. 13) (i.e., of having to be perfect in our obedience), by dying for us. This makes it possible for man who is less than perfect in his doing, to have forgiveness — or justification — through the mercy of God. But this forgiveness is conditioned upon a faith that obeys — that seeks to do all possible in the service of the Lord. There is law in Christ, just as there was law under Moses, but the difference is far more than in the things commanded. Christianity is a system of faith – it is possible to so strive, from the heart, to serve the Lord, that He will forgive us even though we are less than perfect.. Such was not possible without Christ -for the Jew, or for anyone. This is not “automatic” (i.e., without conditions). It is ours by virtue of our faith — and because it offers forgiveness for sin, it is far superior to a system of law which justifies only upon perfection or merit. That is why “trust” in Christ more correctly identifies this “faith.”
Basic Concepts Concerning Faith.
But we have yet to get to “the bottom line” of faith arguments. The basic concept of Evangelicals, though sometimes unrecognized by adherents, is that the descendants of Adam are so depraved they can not of their own will move toward God. They must be “regenerated” by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit before they can have a saving faith, and therefore “faith” itself is a gift of God. They so interpret Ephesians 2:8 although this is not grammatically correct, for “that” is neuter, while “faith” is feminine. They deny the free will of man, and contend that faith which is generated by the word alone is “human faith.” We might ask, is it man’s faith? If so, of course it is human. They have confused man’s trusting in the source of the message (as he must), and in man accepting only that which he can prove by human wisdom (a lack of true faith). But if it is not, then they must accept the dilemma of God’s arbitrarily selecting those to whom He will give faith, and therefore save. Calvinism, though wrong in its premise, is consistent in these points.
The basic opposing concept treats man as a free moral agent; considers the Holy Spirit fully capable of presenting God’s message so that its intended hearers (the whole world, every creature) may understand and be moved to believe; and places no special, unwarranted definition on faith but accepts the word in its ordinary meaning. “Faith” is that which is believed: “believe” is to hold as true. It is the acceptance of testimony or evidence. First there is the fact which must be witnessed, then witness bearing testimony, and then belief of the testimony. The resultant faith may range from faith only, to acting upon that faith, and confident trust; but it all depends upon testimony. The Scriptures put it simply: “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” and “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17).
The difference in these to concepts is so fundamental as to cause a division in the ranks of Baptists: some saying there was no need for missionary work for God would save, without preaching, those whom he had predestined. It should be noted that Baptists who say preaching is necessary must be inconsistent with pure Calvinist tenets. Further: if man does indeed do the believing, then there is no consistency in crying “boot straps” when we point out that saving faith involves obedience to that which God says is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Getting to the bottom of “faith” is absolutely fundamental to a proper respect for an understanding of the gospel of Christ. It is on this basis that “the seed (of the kingdom) is the word of God” (Lk. 8:11); and church identity and succession is in the seed, not in rattling the chains of organized churches. We would like to encourage more “bottom line” preaching on this and other truly fundamental subjects.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 14, pp. 423-424
July 17, 1986