God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

Heidelberg Catechism LD 7: Justifying Faith (Genesis 15:4-6 and Hebrews 11:1-3)

            In our last Vesper Service, Bro. Ruel explained to us that not all men who perished in Adam are saved by Christ. the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that the ones who are saved are only those who are ingrafted to Christ and received all his benefits by true faith. In other words, the instrument that is used by God to apply the benefits of the saving work of Christ to a person is faith. Faith is a very important element of our salvation because it is the means by which we are made partakers of the Mediator and because the preaching of the gospel won’t profit us anything without faith.

            Now, we all know from the Scripture that aside from the fact that not all people will be saved, Jesus also said that only a few people will be saved as compared to those who will perish. Matthew 7:13 says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 

            However, when we look at around, it is as if many will be saved and only a few will perish because almost all of the people we know claim that they profess faith in God, in Christ and His Word. And the contrary, we do not know a lot of atheist, agnostics or people from other religions who deny the things that we believe. In fact, we are literally surrounded by people who profess faith in Christ.

            As for me, I believe in what the Scripture said that only a few will be saved and many will perish, although I will not say that I am happy about it. I know that not all people who profess faith in Crist will be saved because that is what exactly our Lord said in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” But I don’t think that I don’t think that all of those who are professing faith in Christ, who unfortunately are not saved, are lying about their faith.

            It is true that there are people who are just pretending that they are believers even though they don’t really believe in the Doctrines of the Church, but there are also people who honesty believes in Christ but are still not saved not because they are lying about their faith but because the kind of faith that they posses is not the kind of faith that saves.

            In today’s sermon, we will be talking about the kind of find that saves, a justifying faith or true saving faith. We will also talk about its elements, efficient cause and its and effect in us. In order to explain all of that, we will be going through two (2) sermon points:

  1. Faith in General and the Different Kinds of Faith in the Scriptures
  2. What is Justifying Faith?

The basis of our sermon is Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answers no. 21. Before we proceed, let us go to the Lord in prayer:

Heavenly Father, we acknowledge you as the source of all good gifts including our faith. You are truly the fountain of all blessings and grace to your people and we thank you for continually revealing and explaining to us through your word how precious your gifts are to us. Today, as we study about the subject of faith, may we be reminded that of how blessed we are to be recipients of this precious gift and that without the work of the Holy Spirit, it will be impossible for us to believe and trust in the saving work of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.  

Faith in General and the Kinds of Faith in the Scriptures

Faith according to common definition is a certain knowledge of facts or conclusions to which we assent on the testimony of faithful witnesses, whether it be God, or angels or men or experience.

In its most common distinction, faith can be classified in to two: 1) Faith in Human Affairs; and 2) Faith in the Divine.

Faith in Human Affairs is the kind of faith that we give or exercise to fellow human beings, to human institutions, human relationships and other human affairs. So, when you believe in the reports or story of a friend, you are exercising faith. When you believe in a person who professed his feelings to you and eventually marries him or her, you are exercising faith.  When you enter in to a contract with another person while believing that the other party will honor the terms of your contract, you are exercising faith. And for the timeliest example, we know that the election for the various government positions is drawing near. When you believe in the promises, credentials and platforms of a certain candidate, and you eventually gave him or her your vote, you are in fact exercising faith.

Now, faith in the divine is the assent to a certain knowledge of what is revealed concerning God, his will, works, and grace, in which we confide with divine testimony.  It is to yield assent to the word of God delivered to the church, in the law and gospel, on account of the declaration of God Himself. Both faith in human affairs and faith in the divine involves the acquisition of a certain knowledge and an assent to it. The only difference is that the object of faith in human affairs are secular things while the object of faith in the Divine are divine or spiritual things.

According to Zacarius Ursinus, faith in the divine is further divine is further divided in the Scripture into four (4) types of faith which are as follows:

  1. Historical Faith
  2. Temporary Faith
  3. Faith in working Miracles
  4. Justifying or true saving faith 

Historical Faith is a merely a knowledge and assent to the existence of God and to those things which He is said to have done, or now does, or will hereafter do. This kind of faith, although involves believing in God and the things of God, is not coupled with trust and rejoicing and will definitely not result to the salvation of the person possessing it. An example of this kind of faith is found in James 2:19 where it says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”. Both humans and demons a like may believe in the one true God without trusting in Him and rejoicing in him and still perish.

This kind of faith may also be found in Acts 8:13 which says, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” Here we can see that Simon believed in the gospel and was even baptized. However, we were told by the Scriptures that he offered money to Peter to acquire the power to lay hands on people and make them receive the Holy Spirit. Peter then said to him “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” This only shows that Simon, despite his believing in the gospel and his amazement in the signs and wonders, is still not saved because the kind of faith that he has is a mere historical faith or a knowledge and assent to the gospel that he heard.

The second kind of faith is Temporary Faith. It is an assent to the doctrines of the church, accompanied with profession and joy, but not with a true and abiding joy. This definition is drawn from what Christ says in the explanation of the parable of the Sower in Matt. 13:20, 21: “He that received the seed into the stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and anon with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while, for when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, by and by he is offended.”

There are many possible causes of joy of a person who has temporary faith. Some may rejoice because over hearing the gospel because he was placed in a controlled environment where his emotions was stirred up by sentimental background music, deem lights, the sound of weeping people around him accepting Christ or the sight of people coming forward in an altar call. Some may have joy over hearing the gospel because they were impressed by its clear explanation and the passionate delivery of the message by the preacher. Or perhaps the person is going through a crisis in his life and the hearing of the gospel gave him temporary relief because it was delivered in a “feel good way”. What is clear in temporary faith is that the joy may come from various causes, but it was never caused by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of that person, for if that was the case, then the joy would abide despite being confronted by tribulation and persecution.

As compared to historical faith, both involve a knowledge and assent to the things of God. In the historical faith, it is just mere knowledge and assent, but in temporary faith, there is a presence of a temporary joy which eventually vanishes together with the faith after being confronted with tribulation and persecution because its possessor has not root in himself. It is understood that both kinds of faith do not result to the salvation of the person possessing it.

The third kind of faith according to Zacarius Ursinus is the faith of miracles. It is a special gift of effecting some extraordinary work, or of foretelling some particular event by divine revelation. It is a firm persuasion, produced by some divine revelation, or peculiar promise in regard to some future miraculous working, which the person desires to accomplish, and which he foretells. The Apostle Paul spoke of this kind of faith in 1 Cor. 13:2: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

This kind of faith was mentioned by Christ in Matthew 17:20: “He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” This text may not be literally talking about moving a mountain from one place to the another, but the context of this verse is about working miracles. Jesus made this statement to his disciples after he casted-out a demon which they failed to cast out.

It can be inferred that the faith Jesus is pertaining to here is not justifying faith because if that is the case, then all Christians who have true saving faith will be able to do miracles. In the Bible and even in church history, we know a lot of great men and women of God who possess not only a little faith, as small as grain of mustard seed, but a tremendous amount of faith in Christ, and yet, not all of them were able to do miracles. This only shows that the faith that Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20 is of a different species.

While historical faith and temporary faith are both based on the general word of God, faith of miracles comes through direct special revelation which gives the person receiving it a sure confidence that the miracle will actually happen.   This faith cannot be drawn, simply, out of the general word of God, unless some special promise or revelation be connected with it.

Like historical faith and temporary faith, faith in miracles does not guarantee the salvation of the person possessing it. This is very clear in the case of Judas who has been given the faith to work miracles by Christ but in the end, it was made clear that he was never saved because Jesus said of him in John 6:70 that “he is a devil”. And then as previously read in Matt 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Justifying Faith

Now that we have identified the first three kinds of faith in the Scripture, no we will go to the fourth and last kind of faith which was also the subject of Question-and-Answer number 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism, the true faith or the justifying faith. Let us read Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 7, Question-and-Answer number 21:

Question:  What is true faith?

Answer:  True faith is
not only a knowledge and conviction
that everything God reveals in his Word is true;
it is also a deep-rooted assurance,
created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel
that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,
not only others, but I too,
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
and have been granted salvation.

            Like historical and temporary faith, justifying faith also involves the possession of certain knowledge and the assent to it. The knowledge that is being pertained to here is the knowledge that everything God reveals in His Word is true. And by assenting to this knowledge, we also approve that the message of the gospel is true because the entire Scripture is actually about the gospel. The gospel is not only a part of the Scriptures, but it is the sum message of the Scriptures. So, if we believe that the Word of God is true, it will necessarily follow that we also believe that the gospel of Christ is true.

            But in order to be saved, do we have to know all of the contents of the Word of God and believe them? I submit that the answer is no because many believers in the New Testament does not even have a complete copy of the Bible that we have today. If they don’t have a complete copy of the Old and New Testament, then it will be impossible for them to agree in all the contents of it. However, in order for us to be saved, it is necessary that we understand and affirm the gospel which represents the whole message of the Word of God as well as other truths which if we will not accept and believe, will make the message of the gospel absurd. For example, we know that explaining the gospel to a lost person is different from convincing a person about the Deity of Christ. So, the message of the gospel is distinct from the doctrine of the Deity of Christ, but they are so connected that if the person will accept the one and reject the other, he will lose them both.

 The peculiar thing about justifying faith and that is not found in historical faith and temporary faith is the presence of the element of trust in the message of the gospel which is inseparable from the presence of an abiding joy. As reformed Christians, I think we are all aware of the three elements of saving faith that was explained to us by the reformer Martin Luther. According to him, true saving faith is consist of notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia pertains to the content of the faith or our knowledge of the gospel, assensus is our agreement to the message of the gospel, while fiducia is our trusting in the message of the gospel. If we trust in the gospel and we believe that the benefits of it were imputed to us by Christ, then it would naturally result to a rejoicing which is not temporary but abiding because the source of it is abiding as well.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, the word that is used to convey the idea of trust in the in the gospel is the word “deep rooted-assurance” although in the other versions the word used is “wholehearted trust”. This deep-rooted assurance or wholehearted trust in the gospel is not the person’s natural response to the message of the gospel but a result of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in him. We can see this happen in Acts 16:14 when “a certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”

This super natural work of the Holy Spirit in the believer wherein He makes the person not only accept the gospel with rejoicing but also make him wholeheartedly trust in it is called regeneration or being born-again. In John 3:5, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” In the same way, no one can posses true saving faith unless the Holy Spirit, through His regenerating work, creates a wholehearted trust or a deep-rooted assurance in the heart of the believer that he received the benefits of the gospel.

It should also be emphasized that true faith does not only believe that Christ work of redemption is effective for the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of people to God and the granting of salvation them. When a person has true saving faith, he does not only believe that these benefits are true to others but that he also received it as well. I have met professing Christians in the past who do not claim that they are already saved despite their belief in the contents of the gospel because they want to avoid being presumptuous. They think that claiming that we are saved by God is an act of pride because at the end of the day, it is only God who actually knows who the elect is. However, this is not how true saving faith works.

As mentioned before, true saving faith is the instrument used by God to impute to us the righteousness of Christ and to bestow to us the benefits of that perfect righteousness. When God grants us those benefits, we are not left by Him in the dark to speculate whether we indeed received salvation from Him or not. The initial effect of true faith in us is an abiding joy and assurance that we are indeed forgiven of our sins, reconciled to God and granted eternal life. As Romans 8: 15-16 says, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

By way of application, we should examine our selves whether we possess true justifying faith and not a mere historical of temporary faith. It is not enough that we know the gospel and that we agree to it. Even if we can explain it to others clearly and accurately, without trusting and believing wholeheartedly that the benefits of the gospel has been granted to us, our faith cannot be considered a true saving faith. On the other hand, we cannot also force ourselves and others to trust in the message of the gospel because only the Holy Spirit can produce that effect in us. At the end of the day, we should remember that faith is a gift from God and it is given to us out of sheer Grace. So, if ever we recognize that we do not yet possess a true saving faith, let us come to the God and ask for it knowing that he is a gracious God and those who come to Him for salvation he will by no means cast out.

On the contrary, if we are sure that we possess the true saving faith that comes from God, let us be thankful to Him for giving us this precious gift. Let us continue to marvel at his goodness and strive more to make it evident to the world that we are indeed recipients of the grace of God.

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