Friday, May 21, 2010

The Meanings of Faith

When I read the title of the section, "Different meanings of the word 'faith' in Scripture," I was a little confused.  I knew Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," but I was not sure about "different" meanings of the word faith.  I just thought it meant I believed in something without enough evidence for the entire world to also believe.

Sometimes faith means "sound doctrine of godliness."  Paul uses this meaning in his letters to Timothy.  Look at 1 Timothy 3:9, "holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience."  Or 1 Timothy 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons..."  Both of these passages refer to sound doctrine.  Sometimes faith is confined to a particular object.  Matthew 8:10 is one of these cases.  Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"  Matthew 9:2 reads, "Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.'"  This is also talking about a particular object of faith.  In a previous reading from Calvin, we learned that Paul sometimes referred to the gift of performing miracles as "faith."  In other places, Paul refers to faith as the teaching whereby we are established in faith.  The word "faith" has several nuances that I never recognized until reading this section from Calvin.

There is even more to the understanding of what faith means.  Faith is related to knowledge.  Calvin writes, "When we call faith 'knowledge' we do not mean comprehension of all the sort that is commonly concerned with those things which fall under human sense perceptions.  For faith is so far above sense that man's mind has to go beyond and rise above itself in order to attain it."  In order to have faith, we must be "persuaded by divine truth."  Because of this, we often refer to faith as "recognition."  Calvin writes, "...the knowledge of faith consists in assurance rather than in comprehension."

This assurance of faith can also be expressed as having certainty.  Calvin says, "We add the words 'firm and sure' in order to express a more solid constancy of persuasion."  Later he writes, "faith...requires full and fixed certainty" of God's faithfulness.  This certainty helps us overcome our doubts which reveal our hidden weakness.  It helps to rid us of our "miserable anxiety" when we our "in doubt whether he [God] will be merciful."  But we are reassured in Ephesians 3:12, where we are told that through Christ "... we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him."

Calvin wraps up by giving us a picture of what a true believer is.  "Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all thongs on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation."  Later he continues, "No man is a believer, I say, except him who, leaning upon the assurance of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death; as we are taught from the masterly summation of Paul: I have confessed that "neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come...can separate us from the love of God which embraces us in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:38-39 p.).

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.17-3.2.21

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