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A Hearty Trust: Faith according to the Heidelberg Catechism, Part 2

31 July, 2009

corcpicsmallIn the last post I looked at the first two elements of true faith from Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 21, which are knowledge of God and his ways as he has revealed himself through his word, and assent to the truth and reality of  this divine self-revelation. Now we come to what I called the ‘hinge’ of true faith, trust:

What is true faith?

True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Without ‘a hearty trust’, the knowledge of faith isn’t a deep and personal understanding of God, but mere cognition; without trust, the assent of faith isn’t acknowledgement of the God who is himself the truth, but a mere awareness of the truth of those things toward which we have, not peace and confidence, but rather bitterness and fear. You believe that God is one? Even demons believe — and shudder! (so James 2:19). In other words, without trust, the knowledge and assent of faith aren’t true faith. They’re not truly believing knowledge of and assent to the revelation of God and his ways.

It’s important that HC 21 says ‘not only’ is faith knowledge and assent, ‘but also’ trust, therefore, because of the crucial role that faith plays in salvation. We are saved ‘by faith’, and this makes exactly what faith means very important to understand. Faith isn’t primarily knowledge, so that it’s complete when we know and understand certain things about God and his ways from his self-revelation. And it’s not primarily assent, so that faith is complete when it agrees that what God has revealed is true. Rather, in true faith both knowledge and assent lead to and find their expression in ‘a hearty trust’ in the God who has truly revealed himself in scripture.

In Romans 4 we have the example of Abraham, the man of faith par excellence, who not only knew about God and considered him true, but believed in the God ‘who calls into existence things that do not exist’:

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Rom 4:18-21)

In this amazing illustration of true faith, notice that faith in God and his promises is contrasted to being without hope, to distrust, to wavering, to being unconvinced. A fantastic description of true faith over against all these is…’a hearty trust’. True faith says ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Heb 4:16).

This trust is intimate and personal. It is the assurance ‘that not only to others, but to me also’ salvation is given from God in Christ by the Spirit: ‘O God, you are my God!’ (Psalm 63). Listen to Paul’s powerful and personal testimony:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:7-14)

Paul immediately adds, ‘Let those of us who are mature think this way’ (Phil 3:15). To say that faith is primarily or ultimately a hearty trust, is not to say that unless we feel hearty and confident and trusting toward God constantly and fully, then we don’t really have true faith. If this were the case, who could stand? We always have to be careful not to make the accuracy or strength or even assurance of our faith itself our salvation — God is our salvation; Christ is our righteousness. What the Catechism is rightly getting at is that insofar as faith is true, it’s trusting. When we are lacking in confidence in God, we don’t call that ‘having faith, only without much trust’. We call that having faith that is weak. That doesn’t mean it’s not true faith, but rather means that we are even as believers sinful and frail, constantly battling the opposite of true faith in our own hearts: not true knowledge but a rebellious twisting of the truth, not true assent but unbelief, not true trust but self-confidence rather than confidence in God alone.

Next I’m going to look at the content of true faith and faith’s object, before finally I look at how God brings people like Saul the persecutor (people like us!) to say the things he said as Paul the apostle.

  1. Donna (Ellis) Burrell permalink
    2 August, 2009 9:07 pm

    Once again I have received more knowledge of God’s word through your teaching, THANKS

  2. 3 August, 2009 9:07 am

    What makes Paul’s testimony perfectly right is that his faith, in accordance with the basic teaching of Jesus Christ, was generated not through hearsay but by the powerful demonstration of “God’s powerful weapons” put in display right at the death of Jesus Christ on the cross producing continuous visions of “the son of Man’s” (Jesus’) absolute power in heaven and on earth (JOHN 1: 47-51). Although lost to posterity, this light continues to shine in darkness!

    It worked also for me for which I have been thanking the LORD for 35 years. PRAISE THE LORD!!!!!!!

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