The Hearing of Faith
Simple Yet Profound
What comes natural to you? Not what comes easy the first time you do it, but what have you done enough to the point where you don’t have to think about how you’re doing it anymore? It can be a choral performance, a driving route home, a wrestling technique, a dance routine, or any monotonous process done at work. Once it starts it just happens, but the moment you start thinking about the mechanics involved in doing it, you begin to lose focus and the action falls apart.
I want to liken this action to the moment of saving faith, and even times of exercising faith after the fact. In 1883, Charles Spurgeon exposited a sermon on Galatians 3:2 called The Hearing of Faith. The verse has Paul asking this question to the church of Galatia, “This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Most translations have the phrase “or by hearing with faith” followed by a footnote that says “or by the hearing of faith”. This phrase has interested me lately and that’s how I came across the sermon. I’ve been curious about studying the nature of saving faith because in the last few years I have found that pastors and teachers who preach the same gospel tend to emphasize different aspects of this common faith. At first I was worried that they might possibly be preaching different gospels, and then I was concerned that maybe faith meant different things to them. As I grew to understand that these emphasized (sometimes overemphasized) qualities of faith were descriptors of the nature of faith, I began to do what I do best- introspect. These theological terms and phrases were things I hadn’t known about during the time I thought I was saved. If I wasn’t aware of all these supposed qualifiers to faith, had I really been saved at all? So I began to examine myself to determine if my faith was genuine, a biblical precept (2 Cor 13:5), but one that should be done with the end result of looking away from oneself to Christ and not done alone to excess, perpetuating an endless cycle of morbid introspection.
Things Get Complicated
This led to constantly analyzing my faith to see if there were any traces of these qualities. I should mention that I view faith as an irrevocable gift from God, not something I produce in myself (Eph 2:8), and it is inherently a receiving of Christ as he is presented in the scriptures for salvation. This is summed up in the common phrase “receive Christ as Lord and Savior”. But what about the nature of this faith? What do these two offices really mean, and is there more to it than that? After all, there is a type of faith that saves and a dead faith that does not (Jas 2:17), so I wanted to know what this saving faith looked like. Works evidences it, but I couldn’t always tell what the driving force was behind my affections and actions, so I looked at my faith.
- One aspect of this faith is repentance, recognition of my sinful state and a willingness to forsake that life for a holy life pleasing to God. This is a repentant faith, one that focuses on the aspect of the Lordship of Christ and the authority he has over my life. It involves the whole self, and though it is not works, it produces them.
- Another aspect of faith is affection (holy desires). Apart from the willingness to change, is there a desire to do so? Repentance includes this change in our affections toward God, once undesirable but now the treasure hidden in a field, living water, and our highest joy.
There are other qualities of faith, some overlapping, but these are some basic attributes of a genuine saving faith. They should be preached on, but to my frustration some overstep and make aspects like joy in God at any given moment of the essence of faith. That is, if one lacks joy in God (a work of the soul) they’d do well to wonder if they are saved. Statements like this are usually more nuanced, but that is what makes them troubling. If someone were to tell me to have joy right this minute, I’d be thinking of the process of producing joy, an activity that doesn’t really produce joy, especially if one is worried about his or her faith. This thought process is subtle. For example, I know my standing before God is not dependent on my constant joyful awareness of it, but in moments of self-forgetfulness where does my mind go? From where do I get my sense of peace or satisfaction in that moment? If the answer is not related to God being for me, could it be a sign of a deeper problem? That is a dangerous thought pattern to develop because it starts and ends with continuous self-evaluation, never looking outside oneself. Spurgeon comments on this process of constant faith and repentance evaluating:
Did you obtain peace while you tried to repent so much, to weep so much, to feel so much, or to do so much? No, brethren, not an atom of peace ever came to your spirit until you looked away from yourself to the Lord Jesus, of whom you heard that He was able to save even the chief of sinners, and in whom you therefore, believed.
"To my frustration some overstep and make aspects like joy in God at any given moment of the essence of faith."
Resolving the Issue
This ties into what Paul asked the Galatians. If they received salvation through faith and not their works, why would they try to maintain what they already had through a different method? So if faith came by looking away to Christ, why would I try so hard to sustain that faith by another method? Looking at the fruit of my life and the affections of my soul can be helpful, but ultimately my confidence rests in the objective facts of the gospel. The seeds of repentance, affection or whatever aspects are of the nature of faith are not grown through evaluating sincerity or authenticity, just like any of the activities from before can’t be performed rightly by analyzing the mechanics of how you’re doing it in the moment. Another simple way of demonstrating how faith operates is given:
Faith is the hand which receives what God presents to us, and therefore it is a simple child-like thing. When a child has an apple offered to him, the child may know nothing about the orchard in which the apple grew, and he may know nothing of the mechanism of his hand and arm, but it is quite enough for him to take the apple. Faith does the most effectual thing for the soul when it takes what God gives. All the rest may be or may not be, faith is the main thing. When God holds out to me, salvation by Christ Jesus, I need not ask anything further about it, but just take it to myself and be at once saved, for by faith the Spirit of God is received.
When salvation is offered, I don’t need to know about God’s election from eternity past or the mechanics of justification, sanctification, and glorification in that moment any more than the child needs to know about the orchard or type of apple to receive it. Likewise, I don’t need to be aware of all the intricacies and qualities present in saving faith in order to have it just like the child doesn’t need to know about synapses and muscles to extend his arm and grab the apple. You can examine your faith by looking at the qualities and evidences of it, but that faith is best seen when focusing not on the strength of it, but the object of it.
One Last Thing
I still think about the 'aspects of faith' I mentioned before. Sinclair Ferguson describes the issue I had been trying put into words in his article on the Psychology of Conversion. I added the link below.