Thursday, May 07, 2009

God’s Gift of Faith

It would be difficult to miss Paul’s emphasis on the importance of faith in chapters 3 and 4 in the book of Romans. Paul in Romans 3:22 tells us that God’s righteousness by which we are justified is credited to us through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, from that point on through chapter 4, he uses the words “faith” and “believe” more than twenty times.

It is clearly apparent that Paul appears to feel strongly about the contrast between justification by faith and justification by keeping the Law. This is why it is essential to drive home the point that faith must be composed of complete denial of trust on our own righteousness through the Law, and a complete and total dependence on Jesus Christ and His righteousness. [1]

Faith is a gift of God. And this is out of necessity. In our lost state, we were dead in our sins and trespasses, and could not reach out to God, nor did we truly desire to do so.

“7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8, ESV)

The term “dead” is speaking of our spiritual condition. We were totally unable to respond to God. Even if we engaged in religious acts, we were still dead. Paul himself was zealously religious, persecuting the church in the name of in religion. But he was spiritually dead.

Before we came to saving faith according to Scripture, we were completely dead, spiritually speaking. Ephesians 2 describes the dire state of our spiritual condition.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
(Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

In our unsaved state, we are unable to receive God’s truth according to 1 Corinthians 2:14. While we may have been able to understand the facts of the gospel intellectually, we are unable to truly comprehend the full meaning of the gospel, at least to the point of genuine conviction and surrender. It requires the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s truth for us, opening up our hearts to receive and embrace the gospel. In our natural or unsaved state, we are blinded by our sins and unable to truly grasp the meaning of God’s revealed truth. It is through the illumination of the Spirit that we are able to respond to the ministry of the Word as it conveys the effectual call to salvation.

In our unregenerate state, being dead in our trespasses and sins, we were inclined to follow the ways of the world. The term “world” describes human society’s propensity to operate in opposition to God. This includes not only those whom we would readily classify as sinners, engaging in vile acts, but also those who are considered religious who are attempting to better themselves apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The world encompasses all attitudes that are in variance to God, regardless of the degree of opposition, whether mildly indifferent or outright rebellion and hostility. [2]

Paul also points out that we were under the influence of Satan in verse 2 of Ephesians chapter 2. Regardless of whether or not we consider or recognize this fact, this is what the Bible says about us in our sinful state. We may not be as completely bad as we can be, but we were blinded by Satan to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).

We were completely blinded to God’s truth and were in bondage, held in captive to Satan’s dominion. In our lost state, we cannot recognize our lost condition and our need for the Savior.

Scripture paints a very vivid and dismal picture of our lost condition. But this is what makes God’s Grace so amazing and so sweet. In fact, the description of our hopeless state, the fact that we could not choose to reach out to God on our own, is what magnifies God’s Grace and brings Him all the glory! It was all of Him and none of us. It was not a case where He met us half way and then the rest was up to us. No! It was all of Him and absolutely none of our effort! The faith that we exercised was a gift of God Himself.

Paul quite often paints a very grim picture of our spiritual condition before giving God’s remedy for our sinful state. In Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul says that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, and that it was God who had to make us alive in Christ. What can a dead man do? Nothing! He cannot respond, cannot do anything to revive himself. It takes someone else to rescue and revive them.

Scripture is replete with passages that affirm God’s sovereignty in salvation. John 1:13 says that those who do believe “were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Acts 13 describes the response of the Gentiles to the message of the gospel. Verse 48 says that “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” The word order is extremely important here. It does NOT say that those who believed were then appointed to eternal life, but rather those who “were appointed” then believed. Lydia in Acts 16:14 first had her heart opened by the Lord in order to respond to the gospel.

God’s sovereignty in salvation in no way negates human responsibility. People must repent and believe in order to be forgiven. Scripture demands a response to the gospel message. But the reason that we respond is through the sovereign work of God to open our hearts in order to enable that belief to take place. Without that work, we are dead in our sins, unable to respond. In our natural unregenerate state, without the work of the Holy Spirit, the message of the gospel seems foolish to us (1 Corinthians 2:14). But the work of the Holy Spirit precedes our faith, and ultimately causes our response in faith to take place.

The fact of our total inability is abundantly emphasized in Scripture. When we truly understand how utterly helpless we were, it magnifies God’s grace, and should humble us, producing a deep appreciation for what Christ has done on our behalf.

[1] Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg.115
[2] Ibid, 117