Saving Faith (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART V – The Gospel Commands

Lesson Twelve: Saving Faith

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9; NKJV).

 

We saw in our last lesson that repentance and faith are commanded of all who hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. These are not mere requests or invitations any more than a criminal might be requested or invited to stand before a judge or an officer of the law might request or invite a lawbreaker to put his hands in the air. Faith and repentance are required of all who hear the gospel under penalty of eternal judgment.

Last week we considered the command to repent. We also considered the grace given to God’s children to repent. This week, we will examine the same aspects of saving faith. As we mention last week, faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. Thus, whereas we are commanded to repent, we are commanded to do so in faith, and whereas we are given grace for repentance, that grace also works in us the necessary faith that works repentance.

The command to believe. In our study, we have considered the purpose of evangelism (the Great Commission), the messengers and the recipients of evangelism, God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the central messages of God’s redemptive revelation. There are many other very important doctrines of the faith but, taken as a whole, these are the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely a message to be heard, though. It is also a message to be believed. It is a message in which we are to place our full trust, hope, and allegiance. In order to understand what we mean by saving faith, let us take it in three parts. John Murray explains, “There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 110)..

When we confess that faith is knowledge, we do not mean to deny that faith requires belief. What we mean to say is that faith is belief that is not divorced from knowledge. Faith in Scripture is never presented as being blind faith. Rather, biblical faith is always married to biblical knowledge. Afterall, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17; NKJV). And what is the word of God if not knowledge of Him received from Him. When we talk about faith, then, we are talking about a substance, an object in which we believe. When we speak of faith, we are speaking about a body of knowledge. We mean to draw our attention to something that ought to be preached, something to be defended. Faith, in this sense, is knowledge.

When we confess that faith is conviction, we mean not merely that we know something, but that we affirm it. It is one thing to assert a truth. It is quite another to agree with it, to assent to it. When we share the gospel with a person at the workplace or catechize our children in our homes or Sunday Schools, we equip them with knowledge through the hearing, but God requires their assent. He requires that they agree with the message that has been preached. He requires that they affirm its truthfulness.

9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” (Rom. 10:9-11; NKJV).

God not only requires that we know the truth. A man can know a tremendous amount about Buddha or the golden tablets of Moroni without ever being convicted of it. Knowledge and conviction, then, are two very different but necessary elements of saving faith. It was not only necessary for Abraham to know what God had said. He also had to believe Him: “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,’” (Gal. 3:6; NKJV). He had to be convicted of the truthfulness of the word that had been spoken.

Finally, when we confess that faith is trust, we recognize not only that it is a body of knowledge and that it we must be convicted of its truthfulness. We also confess that we must entrust ourselves unto it. The recipient of the gospel message is not merely being asked to join a club or buy a product. He is being presented with a Savior into Whose hands he is now commanded to entrust not only his eternal soul but, perhaps even more difficult, the remainder of this earthly existence.

The demand that is made upon the life of the disciple of Christ is quite weighty. Christ doesn’t demand bits of the believer here and there. He demands the believer’s whole being. As a skydiver entrusts himself to the parachute the moment he throws himself from the plane, so too the new disciple entrusts himself to Christ from the moment he first bows the knee until he draws his final breath.

The grace to believe. Like repentance, faith is impossible apart from the sovereign grace of God. Let it be known that the whole of the Christian life is all of grace. All that is required of the Christian, including faith, is only accomplished by the sheer grace of God bestowed freely and lovingly upon His children.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9; NKJV).

Grace comes to us as a gracious gift from the God to whom belongs all things and from whom all things are freely given. From heaven the plan of redemption was laid. From heaven Christ came to live the perfect life we could never live. From heaven Christ came to receive the punishment that we deserved. From heaven Christ was sprung from the grace that, for three days, held His body captive. After Christ’s ascension, we received the Holy Spirit from heaven. From heaven also, we receive the minds to perceive and the hearts to believe in the glorious gospel that is afforded us in Christ, from heaven.

Thus, we see that our faith is not merely all of grace. It is more accurately to be stated that our faith is all of Christ. He is both the Author and the Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He is both the Source and the Object of our faith. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen,” (Rom. 11:36; NKJV). As John Murray explains:

“It is to be remembered that the efficacy of faith does not reside in itself. Faith is not something that merits the favour of God. All the efficacy unto salvation resides in the Saviour,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 112).

Surely, “without faith it is impossible to please Him,” (Heb. 11:6; NKJV), but we mustn’t be so foolish as to believe that we can somehow muster this faith on our own. The canal through which our faith is given birth is not the mind, the heart, or the will of man, but the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. No hope, then, is to be placed in the faculties of man.

This knowledge should give us great boldness in our evangelism. When we know that our evangelism does not hinge on man who is prone to fail and err, but on our infallible and inerrant God who has promised to work through the power of the gospel to save souls, we can go in confidence to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world with great confidence. Far from being hindered by sovereign grace in our proclamation of the gospel, we are instead given wings!

Why I Am Not Opposed to Accountability Software

I’ve heard the arguments: “If you are truly indwelt and walking by the Spirit, you should not succumb to the temptation of internet pornography.” “External systems of constraint don’t solve the internal issue of the soul.” “You don’t mortify sin by mere external means.” To all of these I fully agree. No work to mortify the flesh will ever be complete apart from regularly partaking of the ordinary means of grace. Is that really the question, though? Let’s apply this logic to another area of Christian warfare.

Business People Sitting Around TableLet’s say a physically attractive pastor is counseling a young, physically attractive woman who has just found out that her husband is cheating on her. By the logic used above, the pastor should have no fear of counseling her alone, should he? I mean, if he is truly indwelt and walking by the Spirit, he should not succumb to the temptation of adultery. Besides, having others sit in with them won’t solve the internal issue of their souls. Seriously, though, you can’t mortify their lusts by mere external means, right?

For all of the arguments I’ve heard from some pastors against using accountability software for internet use, I find it quite hypocritical that they still use common sense when guarding themselves from sexual sin. The problem is not with the use of online accountability software; there’s wisdom in it. The problem is when people become sola software in their battle against pornography.

We are to be Sola Scriptura in our approach to all matters of faith and obedience. However, we are not to be Sola Scriptura to the exclusion and utter denial of “the light of nature and Christian prudence” (LBCF 1.6). There are certain aspects of the Christian life which require that we operate with the common sense that God gave everyone. Accountability may not have worked for David (2 Sam. 11:3-4), but that’s not because he didn’t need accountability. It’s because he relied solely on accountability without addressing the deeper issues of his soul.

But what about Paul’s warning against asceticism in Colossians 2?

If you have died with Christ [x]to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23; NASB).

Notice what Paul says about the nature of the things he is talking about. He defines them as “things destined to perish with use.” In other words, they are things created for a good use that do not defile the body. Pornography is not among these things. Thus, in regard to pornography, you are not an ascetic if you “do not handle, do not taste, and do not touch.” In fact, Paul further goes on to argue that the things to which he refers are “in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men.” However, when we talk about accountability and self-control in the area of pornography, we are talking about the commandments and teachings of God, not men. So, Colossians 2 obviously does not apply to this situation. To seek accountability in battling lust is far from “self-made religion”; it is of God.

So, the next time you counsel someone on how to handle his pornographic sin, don’t be so quick to discount the wisdom of accountability software. It won’t work all by itself, but neither will accountability in the preacher’s counseling office. The issues of the soul must be remedied in a manner that’s in keeping with Sola Scriptura, but not to the expense of “the light of nature and Christian prudence.”