Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
The doctrine of salvation by grace through faith is the most important of all New Testament teachings. It is for this reason we will limit the discussion of faith to one specific area of faith and that is the faith which regenerates the soul.
While the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 is not particularly the regenerating faith of the New Testament, the principle is the same; the difference being the object of the faith. In New Testament or evangelical faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only atonement for sin is the sole object of faith; while the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:1 is a faith in the faithfulness of the true God.
The faith of the Old Testament saints saved them, but it did not regenerate their souls in the New Testament sense. The love of God was not shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto them as it is in all New Testament believers (Romans 5:5).
The word “evangelical” means New Testament, so we will be discussing New Testament faith. In order for one to receive the New Testament experience of the new birth, he would have to have a New Testament faith. It would be impossible to receive evangelical experience without evangelical faith. The faith of the Old Testament saints saved them even though their faith was not a specific faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only atonement for sin. It would have been quite impossible for Moses or Abraham to confess with their mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in their heart that God hath raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9) before Christ was crucified or even born! However, their faith was counted to them for righteousness (Romans 4:3).
I have been and am alarmed at the instructions given to seekers for salvation in many churches. Someone comes forward to the altar in a revival meeting or maybe in a personal contact, and after a few minutes or seconds of prayer, the “seeker” is instructed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If the seeker hesitates a little, he is encouraged to believe even more strongly.
The personal worker will ask questions something like this: “Have you confessed and forsaken your sins?” “Yes.” “Are you yielding to God on every point, great and small?” “Yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Well then, believe! Believe you are saved. Take it by faith and stand on the promise of God.”
Of course, the seeker, not wanting to dishonor God or “call God a liar by not believing” (as the worker suggests) forces himself to believe that he is saved. Of course, he is just as dead and dry as ever; no joy, no peace, no assurance. As time goes by, such a one will probably convince himself all is well by quoting certain Scriptures, but through all of this there runs a doubt, an element of uncertainty that cannot be silenced. This, he is told, is the devil trying to make him doubt away his salvation and he is instructed to keep on believing and force the doubts out of his mind. In the midst of all this the nagging uncertainty is still there. Is this really true? Am I really saved? Now this is presumption and not real saving faith. But this, or less than this, is the kind of “faith” that most “believers” have! It does not work either. It doesn’t save from sinning and gives no real peace and joy.
Then this “believer” is instructed that he needs to be sanctified and goes through this ritual the second time, hoping that this “second blessing” will cure the problems, but instead the problems are multiplied. Now he professes two works of grace, instead of one, and is as dead and lifeless as before.
Occasionally he will get in a “good service” and get kind of “worked up” and “shout around,” but after the service is over, he will revert to the same routine.
Now this is not saving faith or generating faith. The faith that regenerates the soul does more than that. Let’s look at the Bible definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the substance of what we hope for. Now we notice this, that faith is the substance and faith is the evidence. Notice that it does not say that faith is believing, but that faith is the substance or assurance, the evidence or conviction of the unseen. The marginal rendering of substance in many Bibles is ground or confidence. The New American Standard Bible renders it assurance. And the word evidence denotes a proof or test. The faith is the assurance or confidence of things hoped for. The proof of things not seen. Faith, then, is not believing without any real confidence or any evidence or proof, as many mistakenly think, but faith is confidence, faith is evidence.
Now let’s examine from what source does this assurance or confidence come. Are we to keep telling ourselves over and over certain things are true until we convince ourselves and have within ourselves a kind of self-made confidence or evidence that certain things are true? In other words, are we to believe them or repeat them until we have a confidence that they are really true? Is this the kind of confidence and assurance that a believer is to have? No. the assurance and confidence that a believer is to have does not arise from within himself, but must come from a source outside himself. It must come from God!
William Burt Pope in his Compendium of Christian Theology has this to say as to the nature of faith:
But if the faith that saves has this moral character, it must be wrought in the soul by God the Holy Ghost: there is nothing right in man towards God that comes not from His influence; and the primary feeling after a Savior as well as the trust into which this is elevated is of Him. Hence our faith is said to be of the operation of God” [Colossians 2:12] (2:382).
This, of course, is in keeping with the Scriptures where Peter states, “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Here we see all things that pertain unto life eternal come from God and are gifts from Him. And in Acts 11:18 we read, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” We see by this that even repentance is a gift of God, for God has granted repentance unto the Gentiles, referring, of course, to Cornelius and his household. Of course, God does not force us to repent, but the broken heart, the conviction of sin, the grace of God that restrains our moral corruptions enabling us to repent are all gifts of God. So it is with true faith. While God does not force us to believe, He does enable us to believe. Hence faith is said to be a gift of God.
Therefore, in Hebrews 11:1, we see that faith is the divine assurance, the divine evidence, a supernatural revelation of Christ to the heart! A revelation that Jesus died for me! Not just a deduction or conclusion arrived at by reasoning and Scripture, but a supernatural revelation of God to the heart. Did I hear someone cry mysticism? Duncan Campbell said, “Religion must be mechanical or mystical. May the Lord deliver us from a mechanical religion!” Paul speaks of Christ being revealed in me (Galatians 1:16). Hence, we see that this faith that saves, this divine revelation of Christ crucified, must come from God. To think otherwise is to try to save yourself in the strongest sense possible, namely a false faith that is created within ourselves by a simple act of our will.
Again, the object of our faith must be a crucified Christ and not that I am saved. For the knowledge that I am saved is communicated to me by the Holy Spirit.
The faith that precedes this knowledge must be of divine origin as well. When we are seeking forgiveness of sins, we are to seek forgiveness through faith in Christ and His finished work. The first revelation that God will give is that Jesus Christ died for me and rose again. The “trying to believe that I am saved” is unscriptural. The knowledge that I am now saved is communicated to my heart by the Holy Ghost and is not something that I must try to believe.
We are saved not because of our faith, but because of the finished work of Christ. W. B. Pope had this to say, “That He is my actual Savior, and that my belief is saving, cannot be the object of faith direct; it is the reflex benefit and gift of the Holy Ghost” (2:383). Pope is saying that the knowledge that I am saved is not to be the object of my faith. The object of my faith is to be the crucified Christ. The knowledge that I am saved must come from God to my heart. I fear many today are staking their salvation on a mere presumptive faith and their assurance is only intellectual.
Let me quote from Nathanael Burwash in his introduction to Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons,
“But the evangelical doctrine was not without its peculiar danger. The doctrine of faith, by what appeared to be a very slight modification, but which was in reality a total perversion of its principles, was easily imitated by an antinomian theory of salvation by logical deduction . . . and a resting in an intellectual assurance instead of the God-given witness of the Spirit, these were the elements out of which was constructed an imitation of evangelical religion, which, even in Mr. Wesley’s day, threatened to pervert the great work of grace which God has wrought through his preaching” (p. xvii).
Sounds as though it was written for today, doesn’t it?
Notice that it is said that what appeared to be a slight modification in reality was a total perversion. The perversion was resting in an intellectual assurance rather than a God-given witness. It is salvation by logical deduction rather than a God-given faith. It appears at first as only a slight modification. Wesley had to fight against this in his day and it is not less prevalent today. Wesley cautioned his converts never to profess without the divine assurance or witness of the Spirit.
From his own testimony we read concerning the matter of faith being the gift of God. He said that he became thoroughly convinced that faith was the free gift of God and by the grace of God resolved to seek it as a gift unto the end. Afterward as he sought it as a gift, he tells of the time that he received that glorious gift at Aldersgate Street where he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed,” while someone was reading Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans about a quarter before nine and while he was describing the change wrought in the heart through faith in Christ he felt his own heart strangely warmed. “I felt I did trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sin, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death” (Journal, 24 May, 1738).
It is obvious from the record of his own experience, that Wesley sought saving faith as a gift from God and that it was received as a gift. The faith that most so-called believers today are resting in is not that kind, but one of their own making. Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they attempted to light the fire of God by sparks of their own kindling.
In Wesley’s sermon “The Lord Our Righteousness,” notice:
The righteousness of Christ is the whole and sole foundation of all our hope. It is by faith that the Holy Ghost enables us to build upon this foundation. God gives this faith. In that moment we are accepted of God; and yet not for the sake of that faith, but of what Christ has done and suffered for us” (Sermon #20, [par.] 13).
It is evident that Mr. Wesley also believed that salvation, as well as faith, was a gift of God. This is also in keeping with Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
After a seeker has repented of his sins and confessed and forsaken them and looks only to Christ for salvation and still does not have any assurance, what is he to do? He is to rest on the promises of the Word of God, not going back over his sins again and again, but rest on the promises of God and rely wholly and fully upon Christ as his Savior until he receives a divine assurance that Jesus died for him. And believing in that revelation, believing in that truth will bring the regeneration that converts the soul.
Quoting again from Mr. Wesley,
O, beware you do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Do not imagine you have attained that grace of God which you have not attained. You may have much joy; you may have a measure of love, and yet not have living faith. Cry unto God that He would not suffer you, blind as you are, to go out of the way; that you may never fancy yourself a believer in Christ till Christ is revealed in you, and till His Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are a child of God” (“The Nature of Enthusiasm,” Sermon #37, [par.] 35).
“To every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
In light of the Scriptures I cannot understand why some resist so strongly the scriptural teaching of faith as being the gift of God and at the same time do not seem to have any problem with the scriptural teaching that salvation is the gift of God. According to the Scriptures both salvation and faith, in fact all things that pertain to life and godliness, are gifts of God (2 Peter 1:3). Repentance, faith, love – all of these are gifts of God. Sure, I know that the Bible commands us to believe in Jesus and condemns us for not believing, but the Bible also commands us to love Jesus with all of our hearts and condemns us for not loving Him. The Bible also commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and condemns us for not doing so. But this does not mean that it is within our power to do these things at any given time. We cannot just suddenly love God with all of our heart. God must work a work in our hearts before we can love Him. Also He must work a work in our hearts before we can love our neighbor as we ought.
The Scripture says, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6) and also “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground” (Isaiah 44:3). If a man is perishing with thirst and about to die and someone offered him a drink of water (of course he has a free will and he can refuse), would he refuse the water when he is crying out for water and he is perishing for the lack of it? No. He will drink it naturally, easily and eagerly. It will not be a struggle or a fight. And so it is with a soul who is thirsting after God. A penitent sinner hungering and thirsting after God, who desires peace with God more than anything else in the world – can such a one refuse to believe in a crucified Christ when He is revealed to his heart? No! He will believe because God has worked a work of repentance in his heart and his heart and mind are in such a frame and nature that he could not refuse. But an impenitent sinner, one who is not awakened to his need, one who has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost, may reject the same offer. Jesus said, “Neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). The Holy Ghost reveals Christ only to the truly penitent. This protects the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith from abuse.
I would like to point out something here in connection with this. Only God knows when a sinner has repented. Only God knows when a sinner is relying in the finished work of Calvary and not on his repentance and restitution for salvation. Only God knows our hearts. We cannot know our own hearts. Therefore, the darkness of our own hearts is not a safe guide and we cannot know when we have reached the end of ourselves. Only God knows that. Therefore, only God can offer the crucified Christ to our hearts. Only God can offer unto us Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit alone is able to reveal Him to our hearts. It is true that a preacher or personal worker can explain this and prove it by the Scriptures, and these are aids to the seeker and will serve as a means of grace to the seeker, but the actual revelation of Christ to the heart is a work of the Holy Spirit. This is the missing element in almost any article or tract on faith. And may I add, it is a very essential element. For by this “slight modification,” saving faith is reduced to an act of the will only, and presumption and intellectual assurance are substituted for real Bible faith. It is actually a perversion of the whole scheme of salvation! And so subtle is this that few seem to ever notice it! Very few cry out against it. A mistake here is fatal! This is the very basic teaching of New Testament religion!
Faith among the fundamentalists today, whether they be Calvinist or Arminian, is basically a strong intellectual, firm, unwavering faith in the Bible, which is to be admired. Of course, there is nothing wrong with believing the Bible, but the Bible alone cannot tell me that I am saved!
Let’s think for a while back when Paul and Peter were preaching before the New Testament was written and before we had Bibles, when few could read. Paul was preaching to the heathen who had absolutely no religious background about the true and living God. They had not knowledge about the Old Testament. But what did he preach? He preached Jesus Christ; that they should turn from their idols and look to the living Christ whom God raised from the dead! They did not have Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, or even the New Testament, or a knowledge of the Old Testament, but yet they believed! They believed on the crucified and resurrected Christ. They were saved and born again. Incredible yes, but true! They did not have the written word of God to stand on. All they had was the word written in their hearts! How then did they believe? A miracle! Exactly! A divine assurance; a divine revelation! Jesus said, “When he [the Holy Ghost] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). This repentance of heathen without knowledge of the Scriptures was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We appreciate the Bible today and I am not depreciating the importance of the Holy Scriptures, but they can never take the place of God-given faith and the supernatural revelation of Jesus to the heart. Remove the supernatural from Christianity and you have a dead letter!
Most of our fundamental churches, including the holiness churches, are running on mere intellectualism. They talk of receiving Christ and still battle with all kinds of sins. They still get mad, “fly off the handle,” hate one another, gossip, lie, and are dishonest in business dealings and other areas, but they say they are not mature yet; they need to grow some more. The holiness churches have similar problems, but they tell their people that they need a second work, but the truth is they need to be genuinely converted or born again. The reason of this condition (I believe with all my heart) is an improper understanding of what the bible means by saving faith, not understanding the nature of faith. Candidates for salvation are instructed to believe before their repentance is perfected, before Christ is revealed in them, and their faith is of their own making. This is actually trying to save yourself. The trust is only the Holy Ghost can instruct us when our repentance is complete and enable us to believe to the saving of our souls.
“Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses [witnesses of faith], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
From: Brush, Robert L. “Evangelical Faith.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, vol. 1, no.1, 1980. http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-arminian-magazine/the-arminian-magazine-spring-1980/. Web.