What Is Faith?
One who believes he can create his own response to grace is dismissing the very channel God has provided for access to His grace. Salvation is “by grace through faith.” Whoever has read Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:3-8, and many other passages too numerous to mention, will arrive rapidly at that conclusion. In fact, no other conclusion could be reached. The concept of salvation by grace through faith is simply not debatable; it cannot even be questioned! The real question, though, is not whether we are saved by grace through faith, but “What is faith?”
The Real Question Is Not Whether We Are Saved By Grace Through Faith, But “What Is Faith?”
“What is faith?” Our temptation may be to answer this question from a historical perspective, or from a pre-digested theological stance based on creedal or traditional knowledge. But, can we afford to answer that way? Would we not be required by the sheer need for grace to answer: “Faith means whatever God has said that it means.” We know already that God’s definition will not be arbitrary, that it will answer to our real need. What definition does the New Testament give to faith? If we discover this fairly, should it not become our working definition which outlines for us the meaning of the faith response? We want to avoid all merely traditional answers and allow God to define faith for us. It is a radical inquiry, but can we be content with less?
We noted earlier that man’s sinfulness had invaded his whole being (Romans -28). We would expect, then, that God’s delineation of the faith response would be appropriate to this total need. This is precisely where the apostolic message of grace centers. Man’s sinfulness is mental, emotional, and physical in nature. We know that man’s outlook is sinful in perspective. His mentality is futile, vain, insensitive to God (Ephesians 4:17ff). We would expect that the apostolic definition of faith would say something about the human mental attitude.
This it uniformly does. The intelligent life of man is so dwarfed by sinfulness that he is constantly reminded to “repent,” which means to change his mental outlook radically. The initial proclamation of the Gospel on this side of the resurrection of Jesus occurs in Acts 2. The restored Peter preaches a sermon which centers on Jesus as the risen Messiah. When God’s message breaks through the wall of sinfulness surrounding the hearts of the persons listening, they are moved to shout: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts ). If Peter possessed any divine knowledge of the human need and the God-given answer he would surely have used it here. In fact he did:
Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in reliance upon the name of Jesus so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift (vs. 38).
At this point in his sermon Peter addressed the mental problem head on. “Repent” he said to the lot of them. Repent is from the verb metanoein, which incorporates two words, meta (change) and nous (the mind). Metanoein means to alter one’s thinking in a radical manner. God’s grace had confronted these people with the fact of their own sinfulness and then graciously offered them the way back to His favor. The first move in that direction is to alter one’s mental outlook so that one perceives the sinful condition of the soul and recoils from it. This is the creation of a wholly new mental perspective that delivers from insensitivity to sin. Without this nothing further is possible, for people who will not open their minds to God cannot be helped by Him.
People Who Will Not Open Their Minds To God Cannot Be Helped By Him
God makes this possible. In Acts 10 the same Peter visits, reluctantly, the Gentile home of Cornelius. Later, in accounting for this unprecedented intrusion into a Gentile’s home, Peter explains to the inquiring brethren that God had ordered this new direction. Cornelius was to hear words “by which you and all your house will be saved” (Acts ). The investigators rejoiced at God’s gracious reaching out to the Gentiles in these words: “God has indeed given to the Gentiles repentance unto life” (vs. 18). God had made it possible for Gentiles to find repentance as He had caused His Word to be preached unto them.
Our repentance adds nothing to the cross. It is the first necessary move of faith that we make to receive God’s grace. This action is possible because God makes it possible. God’s word has furnished the spiritual realities about our distorted mental state which brings the necessity of repentance home to us. Only God’s thoughts are powerful enough to deliver a perverted mind.
Man’s emotional life, as Paul outlined in Romans , is also perverted. In returning to God there is a need to re-orient the heart of man. The Bible does not use the word “emotion” in quite the same way we do today, but the heart of man is recognized in Scripture as that combination of perception and feeling which needs to center on God. “You shall love the Lord you God with your whole heart…” Jesus directs in Matthew 22:37. Here the heart is distinguished from the soul (psuche) and the reasoning power of man (dianoia). The heart (kardia), according to Arndt-Gingrich in their A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, frequently means “the source and center of the whole inner life” (p. 404).
The analysis conducted by Paul in Romans 1:18ff on man’s sinfulness demonstrated that man had a problem with sin in all his being. The physical distress of dishonoring the body (vs. 24) grew out of “lusts of the heart.” This same connection is maintained in verse 26 where their passions (emotions) are dishonorable. In other words sin has gripped man’s inner being and his emotions and physical body are used in the service of sin. We have seen where man has to come back to God mentally; now we see man has to come back to God from the center of his being, his emotional and volitional life.
Faith requires that sinful persons make a heart-decision about Christ. The center of man’s being must cry out to the One who has the power to deliver him from his sin. Mankind must admit the centrality of Christ and admit also His claim to be Lord and Savior. Paul points to this truth in Romans 10:
Because if you will admit (confess) with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for if this is believed with the heart justification results, and if this is admitted to (confessed) with the mouth salvation results (vss. 9,10).
The form of this though is parallel. Justification and salvation are synonymns (sic) for the same process, not separate actions. There is to be no separation between what the heart believes and what the mouth confesses. What happens in this faith-admission? The inner being of man cries out to the Lord Jesus for cleansing and a new center. No longer will the lusts of the heart be dominant in such a life:
Now let thanks be expressed to God because though you were sin’s slaves you obeyed from the heart that type of teaching you were committed unto (Romans ).