Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Origin of Our Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Second installment on faith)

The basic problem we have in the realm of faith in God is our human nature. Our fallenness works against trusting someone else completely. We don’t mind trusting someone as long as we maintain some control, but our Heavenly Father requires absolute trust, which translates as no control on our part. You and I must relinquish command of the situation in order to exercise faith in God. The Lord requires a dependency that relies completely on Him. This way, trust means trust. You really do trust God so that you are able to take your hands off and rest in Him.

But this is not natural to our humanity. And although we are redeemed with new natures we still have fallen human nature, i.e., flesh, which is opposed to the spirit of faith in God. Therefore, our problem is part of us wants to trust God and part of us wants to trust ourselves. How then can we have faith in God?

The answer to this all-important question is found in how we were able to exercise faith in Christ when we were converted. How could a sinner, dead in trespasses and sin, diametrically opposed to God to the degree that he hated God, ever wind up putting his confidence in Him? The answer is grace. God grants to the sinner faith. It is a gift given to all who will believe, otherwise none would believe. In Philippians 1:29 the Apostle Paul says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” What does he mean, “it has been granted on behalf of Christ . . . to believe in Him”? Would it help to know that the word granted is translated from a Greek word that means to give graciously? In other words, it is a gift of grace. To believe in Christ is a gift of grace given to us by God.

Does not the Bible say that to every Christian God has given a “measure of faith”? Are we not told “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)? There is no other explanation for how a God-hating, sin-loving, self-centered, Christ-rejecting sinner can suddenly trust the One he has never trusted. It is a gift of God’s amazing grace. It is part and parcel of what it means to be born again. The new birth is the beginning of a new life. Whereas the old life was full of self-trust and empty of God-trust, the new life created by God is the opposite. It is full of faith in Christ and empty of faith in self.

We can say that faith is a gift given to a person as much as we can say forgiveness is a gift. You did not manufacture your faith in God. You did not just, all by yourself, decide one day to cease your unbelief in God’s promises. Nor did you, apart from God’s grace, decide you could now trust the Lord. It is a part of the miracle we call the new birth.

Someone may ask, “Why then do I still find it, at times, hard to have faith in the Lord if God has given me faith?” Well, the answer may ring a bit with simplicity, but it is, nonetheless, true. The answer is that although God grants faith, you and I must exercise it. God will not do our trusting for us. We are involved in the very act of faith. That’s why Jesus often scolded the disciples for their lack of faith. If He didn’t expect them to exercise their faith but God to do it for them, then Jesus would not have rebuked them. And if that was the way faith worked and Jesus would have censured them, the disciples could have replied that the fault was not theirs but the Father’s since He had not moved them to believe.

God gives us faith but it is ours to use it or not. The measure of faith in Romans 12:3 that Paul says every believer has received, is an ability to trust God and not the very act of faith. It must not be confused with the “gift of faith” listed in 1 Corinthians 12. I must will to act on this ability to trust. It is exactly here that the battle to believe is waged. The flesh will be opposed until we learn how to bring the flesh into submission to the Spirit. How this battle is to be engaged and won will be the subject of our next entry. Until then may the Lord help you to trust in you less and Him more.

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