Grace and Faith

Grace and faithWe who consider ourselves to be part of the Reformed school of theology are big on grace. Big on teaching it, highlighting it, studying it, appreciating it, and naming our churches after it. Speak the word ‘grace’ to a Reformed guy and he’ll start to get warm and cuddly feelings on the inside like a girl with her first crush.

Mention things like faith preaching, faith ministries, faith for miracles, faith healings and sometimes even the world ‘faith’ in general and an uneasiness begins to settle in on many a Reformed believer. They believe in ‘faith’. They know it’s a biblical word and concept but they are nervous about throwing it around lightly because of the way the word has come to be used over the years.

In much of the evangelical world the word ‘faith’ has become somewhat synonymous with a formula for getting what you want. When you are struggling or desire something it is not uncommon in the evangelical world to simply be told to ‘have faith’ as a remedy for your troubles or as a means to achieve what you desire.

For Reformed thinkers the word ‘faith’ holds the extra connotation of being somewhat representative of the other side of the debate about what to emphasise in the process of salvation. Generally, if we were to ask the question ‘How are we saved?’ a Reformed thinker would answer ‘by grace’ and a non-reformed thinker would answer ‘by faith’.

Both are true in scripture. The bible says we are saved ‘by grace’ (Eph 2:5) and that we are saved ‘by faith’ (Luke 7:50). Ultimately the way these two concepts work in tandem is best summarised by Ephesians 2:8 that says ‘By grace you have been saved through faith.’ Grace is the source and inspiration of our salvation but faith is the means God has chosen to achieve our salvation.

My purpose in this post is not to focus on how these two relate together, however. That has been covered in depth elsewhere. My point is that those who consider themselves to be a part of the reformed school need to spend just as much time studying faith as they do grace.

The word ‘faith’ is used 296 times in the New Testament in the ESV translation of scripture compared to just 124 usages of the word ‘grace’. This statistic is somewhat skewed because on numerous occasions the word faith is essentially used as a synonym for ‘the way’ or ‘the new system of belief’ that Jesus taught. It does help us though  to see just how much time the New Testament authors talked about faith.

According to scripture our faith makes us well (Mark 10:52), is crucial to having our prayers answered (Matt 21:22) and is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is counted to us as righteousness (Romans 4:5) we are justified by it (Romans 5:1) and we are to live by it and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). So its obviously very crucial to our Christian life.

As a way to start some further study on the topic of faith (and to demystify it somewhat) why not take the biblical definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1 and apply it to scripture. Hebrews 11:1 says ‘Faith is the evidence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.’ Read through the rest of Hebrews 11 and instead of reading the word ‘faith’ each time you see it, try reading ‘the evidence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.’ Its an encouraging and enlightening exercise that I hope you’ll get a lot out of.

God bless.

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4 responses to “Grace and Faith

  1. Soli deo gloria

    I guess the summary of our present Christian climate might be put like this – superficial, confused, academic, and self centred. I don’t know many who would want to be called ‘reformed guys’, and perhaps some would deeply regret this dumbing down of what some of us hold precious, in that we see this as bringing glory to Christ first and foremost.

    A secular friend has been telling me about his reading of Isaac Newton’s works, and that Newton often spoke of the great men of the past who had written weighty works on mathematics and science. Newton referred to men like Aristotle (for example) as his friends. I know what he means. In this age of relativism, and silliness even in the area of Divine things, we should take care who we keep friends with. There are some great works from minds and hearts much greater than ours. Its no substitute for our own hard work in the scriptures, but they are faithful and tested guides.

    Take the subject of faith, for example. Its not for theological debate (as I take it you are saying too), but it has a profound effect in the ordinary christians life (thats you and me!).

    The good Bishop Ryle had some very helpful things to say about faith, and here is one snippet. Enjoy!

    • SDG, I detect you may not be comfortable with the ‘reformed guys’ label. I know that I feel uncomfortable with it.

      Well, actually, I don’t like labels at all.

      Calvinist – am I a Calvinist? Depends – I’m not a follower of Calvin; I’m a follower of Jesus Christ – so I will gladly accept the label ‘Christian’ because it’s biblical, but Calvinist? Mmm.

      As I agree with most of the way John Calvin has systematised biblical theology, if in the eyes of some that makes me a Calvinist, so be it. Personally, I reject it as a label because with that label and most others comes a lot of baggage. And, unfortunately, even the terms “Christian” and “evangelical” have become almost meaningless.

      Perhaps labels just don’t matter. It’s the way we live out our faith that counts.

      As I’ve been visiting my dying mother in the hospital these past few day I’ve had lots of time to think about her life and its influence on me. The only label that fits her life in my eyes is, ‘my Mom’.

      What has influenced me most about her is her simple child-like faith. No labels – in some ways no theology – just a simple trust in Jesus as a child would trust a loving parent. Jesus words, “Let the children come to me, … for to such belongs the kingdom of God”, so fit my mother. I will miss her daily prayers for me and my family.

      If the truth be known, perhaps this is what God sparks within His chosen children – an uncomplicated unquestioning faith – a faith that is truly a grace-gift from God.

  2. Soli deo gloria

    Don,
    Labels are used for all sorts of reasons – something to hide behind, something of a club label, and ( as with the Puritans ) a mark of contempt from their enemies.
    I’m with you – look for an authentic life and fidelity to Christ and His word. The great men you mention would be my ‘friends’ but I would not follow them slavishly. They were godly and gifted teachers, sinners, and Christians. They were very human, and I have no doubt they would agree with you on the issue of the value of a godly praying Mum.
    We need a clear faith. We need to be clear thinkers. But we also need hearts of compassion motivated by love for Him.
    Remembering you at this special time.

  3. SDG – thanks, friend, your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

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