The Objective Mooring of Faith
Historically, the nature of saving faith has been explained by theologians with the Latin words notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Faith understands the truth to be believed (notitia); it is persuaded by the truth as it is revealed (assensus); and it trusts in the truth when it is received (fiducia). This explanation of faith was not intended to dissect the psychology of faith; it originated to demonstrate the nature of faith as a response to objective truth. Clearly, there is a subtle danger in examining faith as a psychological phenomenon. By its very nature, faith looks outside of itself, not deeper within self. In fact, the moment a person orients his faith inward, it ceases to be faith. The pleasing power of a life of faith is not found in the faith itself, it is found in the object of the faith. God is pleased by faith and promises to reward faith, but there is nothing meritorious about faith that deserves such a response.
The efficacy of faith lies in the worthiness of the object, not in the sensations of the subject. For example, I might have complete confidence in someone who is, in fact, a liar. In that case, the vigor of my trust in him makes no difference in the situation, since the liar (unlike God) has no intention of fulfilling his promise. Faith, for it to be of any value, must be understood in relation to the objectivity of truth. This is why the church has historically formulated its understanding of faith in relation to the truth. Without truth there is no faith, because if you don’t know what you believe, then you don’t believe. In order for faith to be genuine, it must know, accept, and trust in the truth revealed by God in the Scriptures. Faith receives grace by believing and surrendering to truth.
If it seems impersonal to emphasize truth to this degree, remember that God made His truth personal when He sent His Son into this world. Jesus came into this world “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, emphasis added; cf. v. 17) and He continues to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis added). Emphasizing the role of truth in the formation of faith isn’t impersonal because Jesus is the truth, and the truth of the Bible is where we find Him. In this present age we do not have sight of spiritual realities; we have truth that must be believed. The truth of Scripture teaches us to trust and rest in the God of Scripture. The clearer we see the Person and promises of God on the pages of Scripture, the more confident we will be in Him. This is why we must inform our faith with the deep truths of the Bible if we want to see it increase. As Calvin put it, “Faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth.” In order to believe in what we cannot see, we must hear about it from the Bible. Romans 10:17 confirms that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Put simply, the truth produces faith, and faith responds to truth.
The objectivity of truth-informed faith is the only way to guarantee that our subjective affections are actually directed toward Christ and not some idol of the heart. I might experience all the inward sensations in the world, but if I am not believing in what the Bible says about Christ, then those emotions are idolatrous, not worshipful. True worship only takes place when the spirit is engaged with truth by faith (John 4:24).
We are sanctified when we look to Christ as the author and perfecter of our faith, but the only way to behold the transformational glory of the Lord is to believe what we find about Him in the Bible (2 Cor 3:18). Christ’s glory cannot be seen or experienced apart from the truth found in the Bible. Additionally, the sanctifying beauty of Christ will have no effect on those who do not entrust themselves to Him. No one can love Christ and find joy in Him unless they first believe what He has said about Himself and trust in what He has promised to do for them. As 1 Peter 1:8–9 reminds us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
Genuine love for Christ stems from genuine faith in Christ. In Galatians 5:6 Paul writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Paul is not arguing that the need for affectionate love overshadows the role of simple belief. In fact, the grammar of the passage clearly communicates that love is what faith does. The principle embedded in Paul’s logic is that faith, not rituals of self-righteousness like circumcision, is what produces fruits like “waiting for the hope” (v. 5) and “love” (v. 6). Thus, the more we trust God, the more we will love Him and will be freed to love those around us. This makes sense when we recognize that this entire section of Galatians emphasizes the priority of faith over works (vv. 4–5). For the Galatians, a reversion to the Old Covenant laws of circumcision would have severed them from Christ (v. 4) and prevented them from truly keeping the law of love (vv. 13–15). From a broader theological perspective, it is crucial to recognize this distinction, because if we place love for Christ before faith in Christ then we have placed a work of the law (v. 14) before believing. Human efforts to produce justification always prove powerless to save and powerless to produce fruit.
By contrast, simple faith in Christ possesses the God-ordained efficacy to bring us into a right relationship with God and produce fruits consistent with His law (e.g., love). Rather than trusting works of the law to gain entrance into the faith, we can trust that simple faith will result in our justification, and it will produce the fruits of justification in our lives (vv. 5, 22–24). Thus, love does not generate faith; it is the outworking of faith.
This in no way demeans the role of love in the Christian life; it merely demonstrates how the Spirit produces the fruit of love in our lives. “Faith is not a competitor of love and good works, but rather a sponsor, and gives foundation to them because it acknowledges the grace of God” (G.C. Berkouwer). Love for God consists of obedience to His Word proceeding from faith. Any so-called love without the root of faith is human effort, and any so-called faith without the fruit of love is dead (1 Cor 13:2). As Walter Marshall explained, “That love which is the end of the law, must flow from faith unfeigned.” We must walk by faith in order to walk in love. Sovereign grace flows through the channel of faith to produce joy, love, and every spiritual fruit. Thus, as a result of God’s grace in the process of sanctification, our love and all other forms of law-keeping become faith-driven acts of worship. This is how God glorifies Himself and makes us worshippers.
This article was adapted from the book, Free to Be Holy: Conference Edition, by Jerry Wragg and Paul Shirley. Jerry Wragg serves as the president of The Expositors Seminary and the pastor of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL. Paul Shirley is a graduate of TES and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.