Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Convicting grace shows us the consequences of our sin and our inability to save ourselves. This convicting, or convincing, grace should always be accompanied by two commands. The first is the command to repent of our sins; the second to place our trust in Jesus Christ. Convicting grace makes repentance from our sins possible, and repentance makes faith in Christ possible. Before talking about the assurance that faith brings, let’s review how we are led to faith.
God has handed humanity over to their own desires. They are self-seeking and imagine they are the center of the universe. In essence they imagine that they are God. In this state they justify their sins and imagine that though they are by no means perfect, they are far from wicked. This blindness will naturally remain until God steps in with His convicting grace. They cannot repent, because they don’t imagine they are all that bad in the first place. Even if they seek to reform certain areas of their life they do it for their own purposes, and according to their own standards. Whatever reforms they manage to bring about, they will still be in rebellion to the only Law-Giver and Judge. In His mercy God confronts them in their self-deluded state. By convicting grace He convinces them of their rebellion to His sovereign rule. He makes it clear to them that they have spurned His holy reign and sought to establish their own kingdom. And He makes them fully aware for the first time in their lives that they are definitely on their way to hell. Convicting grace doesn’t stop there, but cuts even deeper. It comes to convince them that they are not merely flawed, but corrupt to the core. God convinces them that they are not just going to hell, but that they deserve to go to hell. God removes every ounce of hope they have left of redeeming themselves. This gracious revelation of their corruption and guilt leads each individual to one of two decisions. Either they will set their faces like flint to resist the truth until the season of conviction passes, or they will receive the beginning of wisdom by fearing God, turning from their sins and despising their own filthy righteousness. They will either resist the Holy Spirit or they will obey the command to repent. Unless one obeys the command to repent, He can never obey the command to trust in Christ. A person that is unwilling to forsake their own will and way for Christ’s cannot possibly trust in him. And one who still hopes in his ability to make his life pleasing to God cannot hope in Christ. So, convicting grace makes repentance possible, and repentance makes faith possible. Convicting grace makes repentance possible, but it does not make it inevitable. God temporarily removes the blinders of sin so the lost soul can choose to accept or reject the gracious offer of salvation. The ability comes from God, but the decision comes from man. This is why the Bible says that God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). God opens our eyes to see the error of our way and the truth of His, but we have to turn our feet to his way. We are responsible to respond to God’s command. In the same way, repentance makes faith possible, but not inevitable. Judas repented over betraying Christ, but he killed himself in despair instead of trusting in the mercy of Christ (Mat. 27:3-5). On the other hand, Peter’s “faith did not fail him” (Luke 22:32). Though Peter denied Christ, he later repented, “wept bitterly,” trusted in Christ and then “strengthened his brethren” (Mat. 26:75, Luke 22:32). People must obey the Gospel, not just hear it. They must respond in faith and receive the promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Repentance rejects the old life, which is a condition for receiving a new life. Faith is that holy decision of our hearts where we accept the new life in Jesus Christ. For this reason we preach against sin. By so doing God uses us to convince people that they are corrupt and guilty before a holy God. And after preaching against sin, we command people to turn from their sins. And we further command them not only to repent of their sins, but also to place their hope in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. Those that accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit about their sinful condition, repent of their rebellion and place their trust in Jesus Christ will be forgiven of their sins and adopted as a child of God. Those that resist the Holy Spirit will be doubly condemned on the Day of Judgment.
Nature of Faith
“For with the heart one believes unto righteousness…”
Believing is a function of our hearts. Faith is to our hearts what eyes are to our body. Faith is that function of our hearts that looks out and perceives something beyond ourselves. With our eyes we take something separate from us, even something as far away and as huge as the moon, and bring it into our minds. In the same way, faith looks out of ourselves and apprehends God and the grace that He has given us in Jesus Christ, and brings Him, with His indescribable gift, into our hearts. By faith we “behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
“Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’
Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” In this passage we are told that God gave a promise to Abraham and he believed that promise. In fact he believed it even though it was contrary to what he could see with his eyes. We are told elsewhere that followers of Christ “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Abraham “did not consider his own body” which was already as good as dead. Instead he was “fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to perform.” Abraham teaches us that our faith should not look at ourselves, but at the promise and character of God. Saving faith is being fully convinced that though we are corrupt to the core and worthy of everlasting shame, God in Christ Jesus has taken away our sins on his cross and given us the hope of eternal life in his resurrection.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
We just noted that faith is a function of our hearts; it is something we do. It is something we choose. Of course we cannot choose it without the convincing grace of God, but when He convinces us of our sins and the righteousness of Christ, we must choose to respond by placing our trust in his righteousness and refusing to hope in our own. Repentance is a necessary and natural condition for saving faith. Without repentance the heart is hardened by sin and cannot believe (Heb. 3:12-14). But faith is not just a natural condition for salvation, it is a divinely chosen condition. God by His sovereign wisdom and will has chosen that only those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved from their sins and adopted as His children. Why did He choose faith as the requirement for salvation? He chose faith for two reasons. The first is because it is something that is done by man. With our hearts we believe. In John 6:28-29 it is written:
“Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’”
God created mankind in His image and this includes the freedom of choice. It included the responsibility to follow our Creator willingly. The condition of salvation He sovereignly chose is in keeping with His original design for man. Men are response-able because, by His grace and plan, they are able to respond. The second reason God chose faith as the condition for salvation is that it is the only thing man can do that brings glory to God, and not to himself. Since faith looks out upon God and His grace in Christ Jesus, it makes boasting in ourselves impossible. Faith doesn’t look at what we do, but at what God has done, and is doing, for us. Abraham was “strengthened in faith,” and this in turn, “gave glory to God.” Saving faith cannot operate in a heart until self-righteousness is cast out of that heart through repentance. Saving faith and trust in our own righteousness cannot coexist in the same heart. The heart that is walking in faith boasts in the grace and promise of God that is found in Christ Jesus, not in its own ability to please God. Since faith beholds the Lamb of God, all self-righteousness is dealt the death blow.
Why Faith Assures Us
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the evidence of things not seen” and that it is “the assurance of things hoped for.” This means that faith gives us the certainty that the things believed are true. When one looks at a full moon with his natural eyes he is convinced that what he is seeing really exists; in the same way, when one by faith “beholds the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” he has assurance that the sins of the world have truly been taken away. So faith sees the grace of God, and certainty comes through this spiritual sight. In this way faith brings us assurance. In these lessons we are asking the question how we can be assured that we are saved and forgiven. So we need to know more than that the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. We need to know that he took away our sins. This is really the difference between historical faith and saving faith. Historical faith believes the general facts about Christianity, but in saving faith our souls entrust our salvation into the hands of God. We cast ourselves upon God’s promise of grace in Jesus Christ. We dare to hope that God has not just promised he will forgive those who trust in Christ, but that as we trust in Jesus, God actually and truly forgives us for Christ’s sake. Saving faith chooses to apply God’s general offer of salvation to our own particular case. With childlike trust we accept that if God offers that “whosoever should believe” in Christ “will not perish but have everlasting life,” then we can take that as a personal promise to us. We reason that God is trustworthy and that if He said “whosoever” that includes even us. Saving faith trusts that God genuinely, without hypocrisy, offers what His word declares He does. Saving faith trusts in the character of God and in His promise made to all sinners so much that our souls dare to believe that Christ has become for us “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Saving faith beholds Jesus Christ dying for our sins on the cross of Calvary. Saving faith sees Jesus Christ rising from the dead for our deliverance from the power of sin and death. Saving faith looks not to our own sinful condition, but to the character of God and his promise of salvation in the Gospel. Saving faith causes us to cast ourselves at the feet of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Saving faith assures us that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake and that we have been adopted as God’s children. Saving faith is the self-evident evidence of our salvation.