Thursday, May 20, 2010

True Faith

We all know people who have at some time in their life had faith, but then later seemed to have lost their faith.  Why is this?  How does this jive with the "perseverance of the saints" that is one of the 5 points of Calvinism?

These four sections that were read today somewhat answer those questions.  When I first started thinking about how I would summarize each section, I looked at Battles' notes and he had little to say.  Normally, he breaks down each section in an outline with multiple sub-points.  Sections 8-10 were one small outline with one point per section then 11-12 were also lumped together.  Hopefully I can get enough straight from Calvin to pass on to you.

On Monday we read about certain scholars who tried to make a distinction between "formed" and "unformed" faith.  Calvin called this a false distinction.  Some of these scholars used 1 Corinthians 13:2 to defend their position: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."  Calvin writes that Paul used the word "faith" here to mean "power" as he often used those words interchangeably, especially when he is speaking of the ability to work miracles.  This is one meaning of the word "faith," but it does not mean here the gift from the Holy Spirit which makes us aware of God's special grace and mercy, allowing us to believe in Christ and giving us hope for eternal salvation.

Calvin discusses quite a bit those persons who seem to have faith for a period of time, but then seem to lose their faith.  He refers to Luke 8:13, "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away."  Calvin writes, "We do not doubt that such persons, prompted by some taste of the Word, greedily seize upon it, and begin to feel its divine power; so that they impose a false show of faith not only upon the eyes of men but even upon their own minds."  This is not true faith, but only a show.  I was listening to RC Sproul give a lecture one time where he was discussing this false show of faith.  Those who are not among the elect but seem to have faith for a period of time are seeking the benefits of knowing God, without actually knowing God.  People want to know about their eternal life, they want to feel protected from evil, they want to feel that there is someone in charge, they want to feel that there is a higher power for them to be able to turn to.  They want these benefits that God offers, but they don't really want to serve God.  The Holy Spirit has not changed their hearts in order that they might become true believers, but they are greedily snatching up what they hope will be the benefits of knowing God.  Calvin says about these people even deceiving themselves, "The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself." 

He continues in the next section speaking about how the reprobate will sometimes deceive himself into believing that he has faith.  "For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect."  If even the reprobate are fooled into believing that their faith is true, how can someone who is elect be confident in his election?  Calvin answers this way, "although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father.  Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever, so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure" (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15, 1 Peter 1:23). 

Calvin goes on without saying much new in the last section for today.  He continues to tell us that some people may recognize for a period God's love, but then they drift away.  It is the Holy Spirit who gives the elect true faith and "the Spirit of God is for them the sure guarantee and seal of their adoption."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.13-3.2.16

1 comment:

  1. So, how does one know if they are the elect, never to drift away from the faith, if it is possible to be deceived into believing that one is of the elect?


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