Monday, November 26, 2012

Living Faith

Today I visited a blog that I occasionally read because reading the posts there often moves me to dig more deeply into what the Spirit has given us in His blessed doctrine in His Holy Scriptures.  The blogger very often says much that sounds right, because parts of the truth are presented.  Yet these things only sound right to those who do not listen for the truth as a whole.  The truth cannot be broken apart with only part of the truth being embraced and told.  If this is done, what is told is not the truth, but only part of the truth.  The statements made are true insofar as they reach, but without the rest of the truth these true statements are false.  The various articles of the truth cannot stand alone.

I share this not as an attack upon anyone, but so as to remind us all that this false premise that the truth can be in any way truncated is truly a false premise that causes us to cling to a faith that is powerless to save us.  This false premise manifests itself in the ways that we express ourselves concerning the faith and life as Christians.

In We are Christians not Faith-ians the blogger attempts to address a very serious faux pas or false step among those who profess to be Christians.  The issue that Pr. McCain attempts to address is truly a serious issue.  It is good that he and others recognize this and desire to correct the misstep.

However, if one is careful in reading this post, one observes that the true problem is not really addressed. McCain’s concern is the misunderstanding of what it is that makes one a Christian and gives absolute assurance of one’s salvation and security in that salvation.  This is a valid concern.  He makes some valid points regarding this concern.  He attempts to direct his readers to the true definition of the faith in which true believers have their hope.

He makes a very valid point when he says:
Do not confuse faith in faith, with trust in Christ. There is a key difference.

What he is expressing is that the individual’s personal faith is not the faith that regenerates the person into the kingdom of God.  A common way in which this faux pas is expressed by those who profess to be believers is to call this “personal faith in Christ as one’s personal Savior.”  If one pays attention, the problem with this becomes “self” evident.

In this regard, consider this question:

Does a person who believes tell oneself,
“I must believe”?

McCain writes: “Never look to your subjective feeling that there is faith in your heart.”  And again he says:

Salvation rests on objective realities that have absolutely nothing to do with feelings or emotions. Faith is merely and only the receiving hand God gives us and into which He pours His good gifts, it is not the cause of our salvation.

We are Christians, not Faith-ians.

His warning against the feeling that people mislabel as faith is certainly correct.  But does that really get to the issue?

He says that faith is not the cause of our salvation.

How then will one respond to those who object to this quoting the Lord Jesus saying: “Your faith has saved you”?  How will one respond to the many “by faith” passages in the New Testament Scriptures, especially in the epistles of St. Paul?  For example, how many times does St. Paul write that we are justified by faith?  Actually, he writes “out of faith.”  Does this not call to remembrance what the Lord Jesus teaches Nicodemus concerning Baptism in John 3 and what St. Peter declares in 1 Peter 3?

Can we really say that faith is not the cause of one’s salvation?

Is this really even the issue?  Could it be that the real issue is one of a false definition of faith being embraced?  Could it not be that the real issue is what is taught by the author to the Hebrews?
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:2)

Is not the real issue the one whom we count as the worker of faith for us?  Is it not true that the problem is not really that we count faith as the cause of our salvation, but really that we only give lip service to counting God and His means of grace as the cause of our faith?  Additionally, is the problem not also that we look to our personal faith rather than the faith of Jesus in which all true Christians have their being?

St. Paul writes: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17) This is a quote from Habakkuk 2:4,
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

The Septuagint translation gives an interesting insight as one observes how they translated this text:
If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him: but the just shall live by my faith.
With Hebrews12:2 in mind, does this not bring clarification to the issue under consideration?

Does this not bring to the fore that the real issue is not whether we are Faith-ians, but rather, whose Faith in which are -ians?

When a person understands the life of being a Christian from this perspective, it changes the person’s entire understanding of life as a Christian.

It is notable that McCain does not even mention the means of grace in this article.  Some of those who commented mentioned them, but this seems not to be what McCain had in his mind as he wrote this.

Perhaps this is because the means of grace are not regularly thought of by people as the means of faith.  It is common, especially among those who call themselves Lutherans, to speak of faith as God’s gift and the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel and through the Sacraments, but then to look away from them as if what has been said is not what really matters.  A powerful example of this is the way that 1 Corinthians 11:28 is misapplied concerning the Sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord.  This misunderstanding and misapplication leads to people and entire churches counting one’s personal faith as the cause of worthiness for coming to the table of forgiveness and life in God’s kingdom.

But the apostle is teaching the opposite.  He is teaching that a man, as the head of his wife and household should examine himself, that is, his household, to be certain that they recognize their need for the body and blood of their Lord so as to be moved by the faith that He has worked in them to come to the table, and that this man also examine himself to be certain that the table to which he brings his family is truly the table of the Lord and not a table of adulteration of the Sacrament.

When people share in this understanding, what is taught is that each head of each household should be instructed and reminded to look back with his entire household daily to the promises made in their baptism, that is, God’s promises made in their baptism.  Looking back to one’s baptism causes one to realize that being a Christian is not the product of one’s faith, but rather one’s faith is the produce of being remade to be a Christian.  Perhaps this point should be repeated.
Looking back to one’s baptism causes one to realize that being a Christian is not the product of one’s faith, but rather one’s faith is the produce of being remade to be a Christian.

This realization then moves the person to rise up from the false reliance upon one’s own faith so as to approach the Table of the Lord’s Remembrance, where he remembers whom He has made us to be and with His body unites us with Him in His remembrance and renews us again in the forgiveness and life in His blood.

This is how God works His grace in us and for us, which we perceive through the faith that He engenders in us.  Then we simply say “Amen” to what He has done, as He continually gives and teaches it to us anew through His means of grace so that we do remember that He is the Father and we are the needy children.  Then we rejoice in the doctrine that St. Paul very carefully sets before us:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
  (Ephesians 2:4-10)

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Unknown said...

Dear Paul,

You correctly point us to the Holy Scripture as being one perfect whole, with its various articles of faith each being perfect expressions of God's Divine Means of Grace out of which He effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare (Luther's Catechism, Holy Baptism, It's Use.) His effective Means of Grace communicate life to the dead. The repentant sinner is granted Jesus' vicarious merit. That faith is credited to him as righteousness. God the Father, eternally pleased with His Son, the God / Man, our Savior, adopts into His family each individual so justified out of the Spirit's gift of faith.

The Triune God has carefully revealed Himself through His Word. He comes to His children to live with them and in them by means of this Word. His children's worship arises from and takes its shape out of this very same Word. Their worship is their living sacrifice effected our of His life-giving Word. This faith is always at work through their individual lives, always to His glory, even though their sinful nature still battles against Him and them. This faith is always victorious.

Yes, as you note, the question is in whose faith-are-we-in? May it be the faith of the One, Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, which is the Bride of Christ whose life is thus divinely assured. Peace to all who confess this.

Gary Cepek

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Hi Gary!

Thanks for your words of affirmation.

I would like to make a special effort to emphasize a point that people often do not realize, that even when we speak of "the faith of the One, Holy Christian and Apostolic Church," this is our faith only because God has engendered it in us. This is His faith that He brings into being within us, pouring it into us with the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism. This is the very cause of existence of God's Church on earth into which He continually pours and works the faith of Jesus.

While we commonly speak of the Church possessing this faith, it is important for the saints to remember that this is similar to saying that a body possesses the dust and ashes of which it is made.

Luther's explanation to the Third Article of the Creed is a marvelous explanation:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?—Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

The hymn "The Church's One Foundation" also teaches this wonderfully.

At this time in history, it seems that this careful distinction cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

Thanks again for your commentary.