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Redemption Freely Received from God: Faith according to the Heidelberg Catechism, Part 3

3 August, 2009

corcpicsmallLast time I wrote that faith is not only knowledge and assent to the revealed truth of God and his ways, but most especially faith consists in ‘hearty trust’ in the God whom we know and believe to be true.

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.

The knowledge, assent, and trust of true faith, because it is knowledge of and assent to and trust in someone whom we know has a certain character, because they’ve done certain things, has an object and a content. I’ll talk about content first, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

The content of faith — The mighty redemptive acts of God in Christ

The content of our faith is summarized by the HC as ‘forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation’ freely given by God. Notice Paul’s own summary in Rom 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul goes into more detail later on:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now a the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it -— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:19-26)

As Hebrews 11 says wonderfully and at length, the content of our faith is the precious promises of God fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ, worked in and among those whom he redeemed by the Spirit, either in the Old Covenant who looked forward to the coming of the promised seed who would crush the serpent’s head, or those in the New Covenant who look back to the fulfillment of this promise in the death and resurrection of Christ, and look forward to his return (Gen 3:15; Is 7:14; Mic 5:3; Matt 1:23, 25; Luke 1:34-35; Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 2:15; Rom 16:20; Heb 2:14; Rev 20:1-3, 10; Phil 3:20-21).

The object of faith — God in Christ

The object of our faith — in other words, the God in whom we believe through Christ by the Spirit — is known precisely by way of the content I’ve just talked about. We know God because he has acted powerfully and graciously on our behalf in history, and still acts. We assent to God’s truth because he has shown himself time and again to be consistent and faithful. He has won us to himself — he has gained our understanding and assent, despite ourselves. God has ‘freely given’ complete redemption. This is what God does, because this is who he is, ‘for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Tim11-13). God the Father in his love has chosen us in Christ before the world began (Eph 1:4-14). God the Son in his mercy has taken upon himself our humanity and its curse, bearing and despising the shame of the cross we deserved, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (Gal 3:20-21; 2 Cor 5:18-21; Phil 2:5-11; Heb 12:2). God the Spirit builds us up together as a temple in which he dwells, and ushers us into the newness of the age to come, the holy fellowship of which he himself is the very Life (John 3:5-8; Gal 5:25; 1 Cor 15:35-58; 2 Cor 5:17).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

This, therefore, is the God in whom we trust — the one who could not be more trustworthy! This is truly good news, the only news with power not only to create faith, but to make it fruitful in and through us.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4)

Next time I’ll look, finally, at how God creates, sustains, strengthens and makes fruitful this true faith.

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2 Comments
  1. john r permalink
    5 August, 2009 12:25 pm

    when christendom more fully embraces the three commandments of love and becomes MORE CHRIST CENTERED its communion will no longer be torn apart over differences of interpretation about the law. because then it will finally realize that the new covenant is without regulation, and has but one standard…………love.

    “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”

  2. 5 August, 2009 12:44 pm

    John~

    I agree with you as far as Christian freedom is concerned. Unfortunately, though, all too often in the church *our love* for God and one another is itself confused with or collapsed into the gospel of God’s love in Christ toward us: ‘This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins’, 1 John 4:10.

    Often, for example, we use ‘faith’ and ‘love’ interchangeably. If someone asks, How do I know I’m saved?, how often do they get the response, Well, do you love Jesus? If that person’s honest, they’ll say, Never as I should! There is no confidence to be found in our own loving; the confidence we have through the gospel is that God loves us despite our unloveableness and unlovingness, and works in us both to will and to do what is pleasing to him, all because Christ alone is ‘altogether lovely’.

    I’m not saying you’re denying this, of course — all I’m saying is that too often we in the church confuse law and gospel by equating love with gospel. Jesus and Paul, on the other hand, equated love precisely with law.

    All that to say, the one ‘standard’ of love for God and one another you refer to is absolutely right. My concern is that we so easily *trust in* our loving, by making our keeping of this standard somehow part of our acceptableness before God. And that’s a confusion of law and gospel, which is as such a misinterpretation of the law (and of love). The church (including me!) needs constantly to be brought back to the gospel that Christ is all our righteousness and life. Our response of love is the God-given fruit of the Spirit who clothes us in Christ’s own love and holiness, God’s crowing in us of his own marvelous work.

    Hope that clarifies my intent,
    ~B

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