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Why Faith? What is ‘Faith’ According to the Bible?

24 March, 2008

b and lilyWhy do we in the ‘classical’ Reformed tradition make so much of salvation ‘by faith alone’ (sola fide)? I’m not trying to get at whether we make a lot of faith alone (which I really don’t think is that difficult to see in the tradition, even if it’s often questionable today). I’m asking, Why should we make so much of salvation solely by faith? And just as important, what do we mean by ‘faith’? Especially in the contemporary Reformed world, ‘faith’ has taken on several different (and in many ways competing) definitions, even in dealing with faith’s all-important role in justification — which characterization of ‘faith alone’ is biblical?

It seems to me one of the more important things to consider in these discussions is that the Bible’s very lofty language about faith and the virtue it attributes to faith, seem to contradict the traditional Reformed understanding of faith as merely a resting on and receiving from Christ all our salvation. The Bible talks about faith as powerful, as worthy, etc., which to many today seems a lot like something more than ‘wholehearted trust’ by itself. Which is it — is faith something virtuous and worthy we do or looking to Christ alone?

I think Thomas Goodwin has a great discussion about how we should understand the character and role of faith, particularly in our justification, according to the Bible’s own understanding of faith. Here is an excerpt talking about part of what it means to understand faith as an ‘instrument’, worth chewing on thoroughly:

It is such an instrument as, in all that is attributed to it, Christ who is the object of it, and God who is the worker by it, are magnified and glorified when it is commended. So that in commending faith, and desiring you so earnestly above all else to believe, we do desire you but to set up Christ in your hearts above works, and above obedience, and to let him be all in all. We desire you but to magnify God’s free grace above your own merits, and what you can earn, and to magnify God’s power above your own. If God had used any other grace [gift], some honour would have reflected upon it, and so much have been taken away from God; but ‘by grace ye are saved, and through faith’ (as the instrument), Eph 2:8. And why is it of faith, and not of any works or disposition in us else? ‘Lest any man should boast’, v. 9; for, Rom 3:27, ‘boasting is clean excluded by the law of faith’; that is, an ascribing anything to a man’s self, or to anything in a man, is excluded, for that is meant by boasting. Did not faith do all? Or if works did anything, a man would boast; for whatever faith is said to do, Christ is still as fully said to do, as if he did it without the help of faith; for faith is but the bare fetching it from Christ, or receiving it from him, or suffering Christ to do all in me. And therefore, what is said to be done by faith, is all one in Scripture, and in God’s account, and in the believer’s esteem, as to say, that Christ doth it; so that Christ is no whit afraid you should attribute too much to faith.

  1. In Scripture phrase, therefore, to be justified by faith, and to be justified by Christ, is all one; to be in Christ, and to be in the faith, is all one and the same; for faith doth all by going to Christ. Memorable is that place, Acts 3:16, when Peter speaks of healing the cripple, he says, ‘Christ’s name, through faith in his name, had made the man whole.’ What he attributes to faith is wholly attributed to his name, and to faith but as in his name, and his name manifested through it; and so his blood, through faith in his blood, justifies: and therefore it is promiscuously called ‘the righteousness of faith’, and ‘the righteousness of Christ’; for it is all one. Faith robs Christ not a whit; and so to live by faith, and to have Christ live in me, is all one, Gal 2:20.
  2. And thus it is in a believer’s account also, for it is the very instinct of faith, the form of it, to attribute all to Christ; it is not faith else; it is the property of it to do so; ‘I live by faith’, says Paul, Gal 2:20, ‘yet not I, but Christ live in me’: faith still comes in with yet not I.
  3. Thus it is in God’s account; and therefore Christ cares not how much he attributes to faith, for he doth but closely herein attribute all to himself: when he says, ‘All things are possible to faith’, Mark 9:23, he derogates nothing from himself, he doth not put faith into commission with himself, but it is all one as to say, all things are possible to my power, which faith makes use of. Christ, when he had done a miracle, or pardoned a man, would seem to put off all from himself, in saying, ‘Thy faith hath saved thee’, and ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole’: which was enough to have made any man proud of his faith; and had it been any other grace, it would have done so; but he knew that that faith which was in their hearts whom he saved and healed, said within them, Lord, thou alone hast made me whole. Thus faith doth trust Christ, and Christ doth trust faith. So as when we attribute so much to faith, we do but attribute it to Christ, and desire you but to honour him.
  1. thomasgoodwin permalink
    24 March, 2008 1:04 pm

    Thomas who?

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    24 March, 2008 1:27 pm


    He’s an old guy, wrote some stuff a long time ago — I’ll explain later. 😉



  1. Brannan and Goodwin on “What is Faith”? « Heidelblog

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