#1. Faith is born
I had a “faith adventure” this week and I just can’t keep the information to myself! Although I am leery to put on a “teacher’s hat” (“My brethren, be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” James 3:1) it is impossible to set aside my pure joy in being taught by God through His Word and Holy Spirit (“Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” Gal. 6:6).
Let us all be in remembrance of these two commands:
“(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth); Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” Eph. 5:9-10. And,
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth [dividing right from almost right].” 2 Tim. 2:15
The big lesson God taught me this week is about “faith”. I’m so humbled and grateful that He loves me enough to keep on enrapturing me with a total reverential awe in His presence. I can barely explain to you here the emotions and experiences I have during prayer and study including all the times He drives me to my knees in breathless wonder (either that, or crocodile tears are run down my cheeks because of His love and mercy).
Through His Word, and by His Spirit our fellowship is so so so sweet that when I have to painstakingly get up and do what I do throughout the day, I actually feel a void. Jesus is the prize of my life hands down. I love that He is my prize now and better yet, He will be my prize in Heaven! I can understand why Paul claimed that dying would be gain and I couldn’t agree more (“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:21).
My goal here is not to carelessly throw around all kinds of information without backing it up with God’s Word (false teachers do that). God forbid I share anything false with you, or any half-truths, void of direction by the Holy Spirit. A dire scriptural truth is that we’ll all be held accountable one way or another (“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10), so perpetuating anything false would be very bad.
“…prove what… that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God [is],” (Rom. 12:2)
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
#2. Word meanings
In the spirit of proving and establishing a foundation of what I learned, I want to first clarify some essential points (let’s get the glass of milk poured and drunk before we get into the “meatier” aspects!). Sometimes when Christians are regenerated later in life, these milk parts of scripture don‘t get taught to adults (it‘s assumed they already know them- in fact, the teachings normally experienced in Sunday school in the early and teen years get missed). More often than not, newly born adult followers are trying to eat adult food with an under-developed digestive system. Fortunately the good news in this sad truth is that God never stops being faithful even when we are lost and can‘t find our way! God is clear that He will never leave us nor forsake us and much to His praise and glory He is more than faithful to take those hungering for His Truth under His very own wing… and lead them Himself.
Ok, let’s start with some word meanings:
What is “Belief”?
Acceptance of [a] truth of something: acceptance by the mind that something is true or real, often underpinned by an emotional or spiritual sense of certainty.” (Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005)
What is “Faith”?
Faith has both an active and a passive sense in the Bible. The former meaning [in the active sense] relates to one’s loyalty to a person or fidelity to a promise; the latter [in the passive sense is] confidence in the word or assurance of another. OT faith is never mere assent to a set of doctrines or outward acceptance of the Law, but absolute confidence in the faithfulness of God [through] a loving obedience to His Will [either revealed or unrevealed]. In the NT, “faith” and “belief” occur almost 500 times. The NT makes the claim that the promised Messiah had come and that Jesus of Nazareth was this promised Messiah. To believe on Him meant to become a Christian, and was pivotal in the experience of the individual. Jesus offered Himself as the object of faith and made plain that faith in Him was necessary for eternal life.” (The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance © 2001)
How does the Bible define “Faith”?
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
What does “Substance” mean?
1. material: a kind of matter or material. 2. tangible physical matter: physical reality that can be touched and felt.
What does “Evidence” mean?
1. sign or proof: something that gives a sign or proof of the existence or truth of something, or that helps somebody to come to a particular conclusion. (Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005)
What is “regeneration”?
A. To form again, or become formed again
B. To recover from decline: to return from a state of decline to a revitalized state, or cause something to do this
C. In religion: to restore somebody spiritually: to restore and renew somebody morally or spiritually
(Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005)
“The new birth, the inner recreating of fallen human nature by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. It changes human disposition from godlessness, lawlessness, rebellion, self-seeking, and unbelief to a desire to love and serve God.” (The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance © 2001)
How does the Bible define “regeneration”?
OT: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
NT: “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)
#3. It’s just so confusing!
Now that we have established this foundation of word meanings (which will be helpful throughout what I am writing here), let me begin explaining the journey God took me on.
Last week I was contemplating these two issues in my mind:
Option A. Jesus’ work on the Cross plus something
By the “something”, I’m referring to anything you have to do to be FULLY considered “saved”, i.e, “on your way to Heaven or Kingdom of Heaven”. This could be anything ranging from God’s OT laws, or Law of Moses, or keeping Torah, etc. like the Sabbatical, Dietary, Festival/Feasts laws of Judaism (orthodox or not), to the edicts of Catholism, i.e., being part of the “One True Church”, Mary as intercessor, confessions to a priest, the creeds, the Apocrypha, etc. or anything in-between those two examples. To summarize, it is: “The belief that one can not be truly saved by Jesus’ work on the Cross alone.”
Please do not misunderstand; I’m stating this with absolutely zero condemnation or malice. Either you believe this, or you don‘t- one or the other. Seriously, I was hashing this out in my brain privately and prayerfully weighing it out in contrast with:
Option B. Justification by faith alone
“Alone” meaning a belief that assumes or indicates no further act on our part- that we are absolutely in right standing with God based on our belief or faith in Him.
So, which is it?
Could a person simply believe what God has said to be true on that knowledge alone and be saved? For real? The truth being Christ died on the Cross to pay for our sins, therefore upon this belief He will allow us entrance into Heaven with Him forever (aka, John 3:16 and Eph. 2:8-9)? To the best of my ability, the understanding that I have right now (including all my growing up years) is to simply believe what Jesus did, know that there is nothing I can do to save myself and that by hoping on Him and the sinless life He lived it’ll be the best I can do…
…and that by adding anything to that definition (“works”) would render it a “false gospel”. This is what I know.
After all, wasn’t righteousness imputed to Abraham simply because He believed God (Rom. 4)? Isn’t that what most Protestant and Baptist churches know to be true in the justification by faith alone doctrine? I mean, most of us have been raised with a clear understanding that we cannot work our way to Heaven (that is why the Messiah/Redeemer came to earth is it not?) and that salvation is a free gift of God (“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Eph. 2:8-9)?
If that doctrine just listed in Option B is found to be false, then by necessity we must have to rely on Option A which is using Jesus as some kind of half-way point. Logically speaking, it would indeterminately lead those to conclude that Jesus did the really hard work (like being crucified, redeeming mankind by His blood and taking the cup of God‘s wrath for sin) by becoming God’s perfect sacrifice and now we must do the rest.
In the hypothesis of a false Option B, Jesus didn’t adequately grant us full or complete entrance into Heaven, therefore we must now pick up the slack by doing the easier stuff- like, making sure we obey God’s Laws of resting, feasting & celebrating, carefully selecting our foods or abstaining from them, making incense, or whatever… Or, at the other end of the spectrum, take on Catholism’s way of claiming the Pope to be the head of the church, pouring our money into all the crucifixes and rosaries in order that we pray better, baptizing our infants, petitioning the release of our dead relatives trapped in purgatory, etc. With all these things, wouldn’t that comprise of a unified team of working together encompassing an all-out team of salvation? Jesus’ work plus our work, makes us pleasing enough to the Father in order that He let us into His glorious Kingdom? (Believe it or not, I’m very serious and I’m trying really hard not to come across snarky- forgive me if it appears that way).
A. Those who believe that left to our own devices, there is no way possible to Heaven outside of God’s pure gift of salvation through Jesus Christ (“faith alone”).
B. Those who believe Jesus does most of the work on the cross, and we pick up the rest (“faith” + “works”).
There are 2 ways here… and wouldn‘t you know, Jesus said there were 2 ways? Actually, Jesus was very clear about those 2 ways: The right way and the wrong way. The hard path and the easy path. The narrow road and the broad road (as John MacArthur puts it, both roads are labeled, “Heaven”). There is the good fish and the bad, the wheat and the tares, a good tree and a bad tree, good fruit and bad fruit, the path that leads to righteousness or the path that leads to destruction. I think you get the picture.
So once again, the age old battle becomes:
“Jesus plus something” vs. “Jesus plus nothing”
WHICH ONE IS A FALSE GOSPEL?
How can one simply believe God, live anyway they want their WHOLE lives with no laws to follow (Matt. 7:21-23) and STILL gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven?! It just doesn’t seem fair or make sense. How can anyone declare that “justification by faith alone” is the Truth? But on the other end, how can anyone possibly stand at the foot of the Cross, look upon to our precious Savior‘s bloody and beaten face, see the whip marks that tore the flesh off His back, all the while knowing full well that in the Spiritual realm He swallowed every last drop of wrath from God’s cup and still be able to tell Him out loud that what He is doing is NOT enough to save us?!
These questions tore at me. They bounced around in my head for a while. You have two polar opposites: God does all the work or He doesn’t do enough of it; which is right? If there is a right, then there is a wrong and I’m sad to say there are many who will find out they are wrong when it’s too late. The sadness about these questions is the reality that a lot of people believe themselves to be on the right path to Heaven when they actually aren’t. In this life, our eternal destiny is a pass or fail test. And no one truly knows when they are passing or failing when they are deceived.
Deception: enter stage left.
A good point to remember is if you could SPOT deception, it wouldn’t be deception (we are warned 36 times in scripture about it, whether directly or indirectly). Furthermore, you do not know if you are deceived, if you are; and you can even deceive yourself (that’s called “self-deception”). It is with that formidable knowledge that I pray all the time for discernment. I beseech my God to give me wisdom to know right, from almost right (C.H. Spurgeon). Some things can sound SO true, even to the point of making the most sense in the world, but in fact be absolutely wrong. My #1 life verses are:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And
see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24)
#4. With God, there is no confusion
After much prayer and thought tossing, it was almost like a light-switch went off in my brain. It can best be described by a feeling of scales falling off my eyes when that still small voice gently asked this question, “Do you really know what “faith” means?”
I can remember exactly where I was standing when it happened (although I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, I do remember the moment!). It was a dawning realization in the form of a second question that washed over me- have many of us been deceived or possibly tricked by the enemy into believing a false definition of faith? I think its quite possible that I have been ignorant, unschooled or even deceived about faith (I think maybe it’s been all three!).
After pouring through commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, books in my own library, and books in the church library, this new-found knowledge has me swept off my feet in joy. I have been just so happy and at peace about what I’ve learned. God truly deserves all the credit and praise…
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy,” (James 3:17)
This is the first set of truths that I learned (and I‘ll explain each one):
“Belief” is not always the same as “Faith” (they can hold two different definitions)
Justification by faith alone (Option B), is the TRUTH
Saving faith is evidenced by “works”
“Works” aren’t always classified as being attained by human effort
The second set of truths is this:
Salvation is a gift of God, wrought only in the power of God (Rom. 1:16, Eph. 2:8-9).
Faith is a gift of God and one of the nine fruit/characteristics/manifestations of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 5:22-23).
This is the biggie right here: there is such a thing as “true faith” and a “false faith” (James 2:14-20).
For some of you scholars out there this next part may sound really elementary. But for those of you slow-learners like me, I was thankful and excited that God was gracious enough to give me a simple (and neat!) illustration to explain these truths and it goes like this: let’s say you came to my house to minister to my need because I have a broken leg. During the visit, we‘re talking so much, having so much fun, I say to you, “Wow, I’m so thirsty right now, I could really use an ice-cold bottled water. Unfortunately I do not have any bottled water in my house… Would you get me a bottled water from the convenience store about a mile away from here right down the street?” And because you love me desperately, you agree! Yay!
Now. You have no reason not to believe that I’m telling the truth about a store approximately a mile from my house, correct? Because I have never lied to you before, you are convinced that I am telling you the truth; and because of that conviction, you believe me enough to take action by walking 3 miles to the store to buy me a bottled water.
The key word in that story was the word, “action”. You believed me that there was a store- and because of that belief, you proved it by moving into action, and bringing me water, get it?
Let’s go back to Romans 4 and the story of Abraham (Paul uses the illustration of Abraham quite a bit, along with James and the writer of Hebrews). Abraham “believed” God and it was imputed to Him righteousness, or in other words he was in right standing with God. Because Abraham believed what God said, He proved it through action by taking Isaac into Moriah to sacrifice him.
“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.”
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,”
He gave his belief, what? Remember that word, “evidence”? That tangible proof IS FAITH. It is the “substance”, “verification”, “demonstration”, and “confirmation”!
His faith was the proof that He believed God.
Then to Romans 5:1… “Therefore, being justified by FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words: “…being justified by [proving we believe what God says to be true] we have peace with God…”
This truth really hits home in the classic passage of scripture in James 2:14-20. Even my commentary agrees with what I learned through the Holy Spirit before I even read it! It has given me such assurance to the testimony of this very important truth: belief does not equal faith every time. James 2 in this passage is explaining what faith really means. He is defining it. The controversial debate isn’t between, “Grace vs. Works”, or “Law vs. Grace”, or “Faith vs. Works” – The debate is:
BELIEF + NOTHING vs. BELIEF + SAVING FAITH
The true equation becomes “Belief (in Jesus) + Faith (in Jesus) = Salvation”. Do you believe that? I’m getting used to it… The crux of the matter is- the right kind of faith. Is it a living faith or a dead one?
If you simply think believing is enough, guess what? “…the demons also believe, and tremble.” -James 2:19b. Do you even tremble? James makes this so clear: intellectual assent to a fact is not enough. Millions of people believe in God but they DO NOT demonstrate any saving faith. Millions more profess Christ and then remain in a perpetual state of sin & worldliness; they are therefore traveling that “broad road” to destruction with absolutely no assurance of going to Heaven, even though they think they are and may even consider themselves “believers” (1 John will also give insight to this). I suppose this can be controversial on some levels… And if you think it is, let the Lord give you understanding (2 Tim. 2:7).
#5. The proof of truth
True saving faith works or is works!! And a false faith (no evidence given) is dead. False faith does not save. Just in the story I used- simply believing me about the store ISN’T going to bring me any water. The most exciting thing I learned can be found in Hebrews 11:4-40. Do a little experiment some time: in place of the word “faith”, transpose with the words, “[By] acting on what God said to be true” and see how that reads for you.
It fits. And it’s wonderful.
These “hero’s” of faith didn’t just believe and do nothing, they MOVED- they DID- they proved that they listened to God and the end result was: obedience. The same goes for what Jesus said. Because I believe Him, I obey Him or I give evidence to my belief thru FAITH. Belief must be followed by a true living and saving faith. So when we say or are encouraged to have more faith in God, in essence we are really saying that we need to trust Him more, or believe Him more, not always or necessarily need to have more faith. More faith can mean more action, more demonstration, more evidence, more works… Think about how the disciples asked for more faith… and then contrast the man who asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief… Points to ponder! Hope you enjoyed this lesson, good-bye.
STOP!!!!!! [record scratching]
But wait… this doesn’t make any sense! I thought a works-based salvation is a false gospel- Joy, are you saying that we can’t be truly saved unless we do something, unless we “demonstrate“ or “prove” our salvation? Doesn’t that by definition make it a false gospel? Let’s face it- you’re contradicting yourself. What’s going on here?!
——If you are thinking the paragraph above, you are in good company because that is what I kept going back to over and over again. Even after that still small voice… But what I was learning about saving faith was only part of the puzzle. However at this particular junction, God got to me and really started opening up the understanding banks. Although faith can be considered a “work”, the actual gift of faith itself cannot be produced by our own efforts! It’s a conundrum, I know. However, this is where I point you back up to page 5, in the “second set of truths” section, it is written in #2:
“2. Faith is a gift of God and one of the nine fruit/manifestations of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8-8, 1 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 5:22-23).”
If saving faith is a “gift”, then you cannot work for it because a gift is not a work. If you work for a gift, it no more a gift, but a debt. The three passages that I listed clearly state that saving faith is a gift. This also can be found in Romans 4 (back to Abraham again), vs. 4- “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”
Also, if you do an in-depth study on the fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5 in conjunction with Christ’s fruits in John 15, it is clear that fruits and gifts can not be attained by human effort (John 15:5), nor worked for no matter how well you obey or do anything. If you are thinking you can just do something good enough (by keeping/practicing ANY laws, edicts, creeds, ceremonies, etc.) and that by doing so God will grant you something, again by definition it becomes a debt or a work- it stops being a gift.
How do we get this saving faith?
“So then, FAITH cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
When the saints in the church of Galatia were being persuaded to follow the Law of Moses in order that they make their salvation complete (Jesus + Law) or saved all the way or an actual guarantee they’d get to Heaven or really please God, Paul cut right to the chase:
“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of FAITH?” (emphasis mine) (Gal. 3:2)
The only thing Paul wanted to know was how they received the Holy Spirit! If the Spirit bestows the gift of faith, how did they get the Holy Spirit? By doing something, or hearing something? Twenty-three times (I counted) the word, “faith” is used in the epistle to the Galatians. How do you receive the Spirit? By hearing about faith. How do you hear all about faith? By the Word of God. How do you hear the Word of God? By studying the scriptures. ALL of the scriptures, New and Old – 2 Tim. 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
In my own paraphrase of Eph. 1:12-13 & 15: “When we heard about Christ, we trusted Him. Then we shared with you and when you heard about Him, you trusted we were telling the truth and trusted in Christ too. Then at the time you heard and believed, you were sealed [indwelt] by that Holy Spirit of promise. How do we know all this is true? We heard about your faith, in Jesus… and heard about your love…”
See the pattern? This can also be found in Romans 10:14-17. People hear, trust, believe, are sealed, and then they demonstrate faith. But wait a second here; something isn’t adding up again. If the Spirit gives us the ability to prove we believe God (faith) as in 2 Cor. 12:9, how can we get the Spirit if we can’t demonstrate any kind of faith in the first place? Since demonstrating faith gives us the Spirit, and yet somehow without the Spirit we can’t get the gift of faith, how can we reconcile these two truths?
This is the picture I have in my mind:
Indwelling Holy Spirit à Gift of Faith
Gift of Faith à Indwelling Holy Spirit
Confusing? Yah, a little. But it doesn’t have to be. That is what the Holy Spirit is for!
“But the anointing (Holy Spirit) which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you:”
(1 John 2:27a)
Is there then two ways of receiving faith? That’s a good question. In the two verses I used a little while back, there is one word that comes to the forefront that I want to dig into before answering that question. Can you pick it out?
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2)
The word is: hearing
#6. Say what? Hearing with ears, Greek roots, & real progression
How can anyone receive anything without hearing about it? As far as I know there isn’t a single person who learns by osmosis. Furthermore, although it’s not impossible, I’ve never heard of anyone upon hearing the Gospel to instantaneously become a super-sanctified saint, nearing perfection right on the spot either.
Jesus spoke of a parable regarding spiritual growth found in Mark, chapter 4. In verses 26-28, He says this:
“And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”
My Scofield confirms in the Panoramic View Of The Bible #that,
“The Bible is a progressive unfolding of truth. Nothing is told all at once, and once for all.”
If something is progressive, then it has to have an origination point. If Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith as spoken of in Hebrews,
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;” (Heb.12:2)
It has to have a starting point… So where is it?
When we hear. But after we hear and we believe it to be true, it is that faith in the passive sense (see page 2) that begins, and I’ll parallel that understanding with Jesus’ words to those who believed Him and to those who didn’t.
In my study of the scriptures, there are three kinds of “faith’s” found in the New Testament:
No faith “Apistos”
Little faith “Oligo-Pistos”
True faith “Pistis”
The expression of “faithless”, or Apistos is found four times (only once in each Gospel- Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41 and John 20:27. The expression “no faith” is found in Mark 4:40). “Little faith” or Oligo-Pistos, is found five times (four of which are in Matthew (chronologically) 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8 and once in Luke 12:28). True faith or Pistis, is found 239 times all throughout, ending in The Revelation.
Of all those 239 instances of “faith” found in the NT, they are all Pistis. The defining words of Pistos in “little faith” are mostly adjectives or descriptions- Pistis carries more nouns or objects, and there are differences between nouns and adjectives. By using an allegory, the best way I can explain it would be to say- while “Pistos” describes what a car looks like; “Pistis” gets in a drives it.
I realize that this is a very long explanation of faith and I pray that I haven’t lost any of you way back on page 5! The short of it is, there is only ONE true faith; little and none do not count. In A.W. Tozer’s article, “Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine” he says,
“Because faith is so vital to all our hopes, so necessary to the fulfillment of every aspiration of our hearts, we dare take nothing for granted concerning it. Anything that carries with it so much weal or woe, which indeed decides our heaven or our hell, is too important to neglect. We simply must not allow ourselves to be uninformed or misinformed. We must know.”
He goes on to say,
“Specifically, my fear is that the modern conception of faith is not the Biblical one; that when the teachers of our day use the word they do not mean what Bible writers meant when they used it.”
That article has been a huge blessing to me. I read it about a month ago, before the Holy Spirit really started ministering to me about this very important doctrine. Now that He has given me further understanding, I have gone back to this article with fresh eyes, and the truths here are too wonderful to mention.
I have come to an understanding through this in-depth study that the beginning of faith starts upon hearing, but only when it‘s believed as something that‘s true. When that happens, Jesus starts “The Faith” wrought in the power of the Gospel which is the Good News message to the nations regarding the death, burial and resurrection of Himself (1 Cor. 15:3-4). In that beginning, passive sense it eventually develops into something progressive- it is never stagnate- meaning, if its not growing, it’s not true faith. Saving faith develops over time (it’s that tiny mustard seed (Mt. 17:20)).
When and where the Holy Spirit moves into this transaction can not be definitely known (if you can know it scripturally, I’d sincerely love to hear how!).
#9. The mystery of the re-birth through the Spirit, example Nicodemas
“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)
I believe the greatest example found in the Bible is that of Nicodemas, the Pharisee who came to Jesus by night in John 3. Here is a man, a stout religious leader in Israel, clearly believing He is right with God and on His way to Heaven… that is until Jesus meets with Him and unloads some very heavy statements shattering that belief.
In John MacArthur’s book, “The Jesus You Can’t Ignore” (Softcover edition © 2008) there is a great chapter on Nicodemas. Mainly, this book is a study on what we must learn regarding the “bold confrontations of Christ” and it dissects these scriptural passages and contrasts them with the current epidemic of Post-Modern Christianity. Post-Modernism holds the belief that dialogue is better than debate since the Bible and Christian ethics are all a matter of how one interprets it and cannot be known absolutely. This book clearly demonstrates through God’s Word that Jesus was anything but friendly and ready to calmly dialogue and “hash out” differing opinions on various belief systems.
Nevertheless, this book also covers in one chapter the spiritual rebirth using the example of Nicodemas as set forth in John 3.
Here is an excerpt (pgs. 61, 62):
“By the very nature of things, therefore, spiritual life cannot be the fruit of human achievement, a fact that contradicts every form of works-religion, including the fundamental belief system of the Pharisees.
On top of that, Jesus added, because spiritual rebirth is the work of the Spirit, it is beyond the control of either human works or human will power: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (v. 8). The effects of the wind may be observed, but its boundaries cannot be discerned by human senses, and the wind itself can neither be harnessed nor directed by human efforts or ingenuity. The Holy Spirit’s ministry operates in a similar fashion. He is sovereign and moves where He wishes, not at the whim of any human agenda. His workings are not contained in- or automatically dispensed through- any religious rituals or ceremonial protocols. In fact, the Spirit isn’t moved by what we do at all, but by His own sovereign will.
To a typical Pharisee, what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus would likely have come across as highly offensive. Jesus was attacking the very core of Nicodemus’s belief system, plainly implying that Nicodemus was lost, spiritually lifeless, and ultimately no better off in his rigid Pharisaism than an utterly immoral Gentile without God. (Indeed, as we shall observe throughout this study, Jesus said that very thing to the Pharisees quite often.)
This was a direct answer to Nicodemus’s questions (“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?). Jesus was telling Nicodemus, in language Nicodemus was sure to grasp, that not only was He not speaking of any superficial or fleshly self-reformation, but He was in fact calling for something Nicodemus was powerless to do for himself. This punctured the heart of Nicodemus’s religious convictions. To a Pharisee like him, the worst imaginable news would be that there was nothing he could possibly do to help himself spiritually.”
The following statement below which is stated earlier in this chapter perfectly correlates how the spiritual element ties in to faith,
“…the story of Nicodemus is a vivid example of how perfectly Jesus knows the human heart. Nicodemus, meanwhile, demonstrates how easy it is to respond positively to Jesus and yet fall short of authentic faith.” (pg. 55)
Here is a biblical illustration of how one can believe they are pleasing God, yet not actually be saved. They thought they had true faith, but Jesus can see full well into their heart and know that, in fact, that they don’t. That’s why He says, “Many will come to me in that day and say, Lord, Lord… And I will say, Depart from me…” (Matt. 7:23) (emphasis mine). Without the indwelling Holy Spirit regenerating us into a New Creature (2 Cor. 5:17), partaking of the Divine Nature,
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Pet. 1:4)
We can never hope to be re-born, or be divine partakers with totally new hearts by anything we do. All these gifts of God are wrought in Him, by His power alone.
Conclusion: the faith spectrum
Uh oh, have I traveled off the beaten path? What happened to the discourse on “faith”? You’re probably wondering how all this ties into faith. I’m wondering that too, LOL! Just kidding. Faith and being born again truly go hand-in-hand. Can you possibly have one without the other? Honestly… I don’t believe you could ever hope to gain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (the spiritual rebirth), or become a new creation in Christ without hearing about Him, then believing Him- leading to the beginning of faith.
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13)
Jesus went on to pray in His high priestly prayer to the Father in John 17:16-17 that the Comforter would come to abide,
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”
A key word in that first verse of 14 is the first word, “And”. That “And” is contingent upon the verse before it, v. 15.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father…”
Assuredly, one of those commands is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit comes of His own will through a true faith that begins upon hearing the Word of God, and believing what He says written in the scriptures.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Heb. 11:6
Scripturally, the pattern is this:
Hear, Believe, Trust
True faith in Christ in the passive sense is born, Spirit comes to abide
By a gift of the Spirit, comes an active faith, producing evidence of salvation
Others Hear, Believe, Trust- on the cycle goes.
However if there is any kind of breakdown in the cycle, it becomes imperfect (there shouldn‘t be any breakdowns in a scriptural pattern set forth). Or if there is no growth, no progression, no fruit in the life of the professed believer, then something has to be amiss. The only logical remedy according to the Bible is, self-judgment. It must commence to see if one has truly been in the faith to begin with (2 Cor. 13:5, 1 Pet. 1:10). If you are a true believer, but you don’t’ self-judge, then the Lord will, resulting in discipline (Heb. 12:7). If you are a professed believer, yet: practice sin/deviate from Biblical teaching/live outside the Father’s Will, and never receive discipline (through repentance/self-judgment or the Lord), then you are a bastard and not a true member of God’s family through the spiritual rebirth (Heb. 12:8). True faith is born when you hear and trust Christ for salvation. True faith grows through hearing and hearing and hearing God’s Word. When the Holy Spirit comes, He bestows that gift of active faith that evidences your salvation through the fruits of the Spirit (if you don’t know about the nine fruits, I urge you to find out!), therefore anything short of those things is not true faith, it is dead.
Also, I believe it would be profitable beyond measure for all of us to do our own studies on what Jesus has to say about:
Hearing (174 verses)
Believing (184 verses)
Trust or Trusting (35 verses)
Gifts from God (56 Verses)
In conclusion, please know that words cannot accurately express the overwhelming sense of peace I now have from doing this study about the birth and development of faith and how it directly ties in with the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that I can now wipe my hands clean of everything and put my Bible up on the shelf to gain dust! God forbid! This study has been like an exquisite drop of the finest liquid onto my tongue- a nectar so sweet that it propels me to search more and more for it. Every time God shows me more of Himself, I can only want more. I can’t ever imagine being bored by Him or sick of knowing Him, it sounds utterly insane. And this drive isn’t even to prove anyone wrong or to tout to others my newfound knowledge- its simply showing to everyone I can the treasure map I have that leads to Jesus through a Spiritual understanding of the Scriptures! All of our wisdom and treasure lie within Him! He’s alive right now, and He comes to those who search for Him with all their hearts. And, He’s already teaching me the next lesson: Being Filled With The Spirit… It’s so exciting!
I also want to give some loving encouragement to you brothers and sisters in the Lord and say that there is NEVER a question too foolish for God to answer. Let us never forget that by faith in Christ we become His sons and daughters… and He becomes our everything; wisdom, knowledge, understanding, etc. Many times I fear that there are new Christians who are too fearful of ridicule to ask a pastor or Sunday school teacher something as basic as, “What is faith?” It’s assumed too much that everyone knows these things. So if you didn’t know them before now, take heart, God is with you.
Never give up~ (((HUGS)))
“And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.”
Only the Lord starts the fire… [So] that no flesh should glory in His presence.
(1 Cor. 1:29)
All my love in Christ,
In His Service,