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God’s Word for You

Hebrews 11:6

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 9, 2014

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

This passage must not be taken as if it is the definition of faith. It would be far better to look at any or all of the verses in the Bible which talk about the object of our faith, because only when we understand the object of faith can we understand what faith is.

The object of faith, the thing or the one we believe “in,” is the important thing. Having “faith” all by itself without knowing who we have faith in is no faith at all. That kind of faith is only a wish; it isn’t trust. So whom do we believe in?

The first time the words “believe in” occur in the New Testament, combining faith with faith’s object, is Matthew 18:6: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin….” Jesus champions the faith of little children because he himself is the object of their faith. To say that they believe in him is the same as saying many other things: They trust him, they know him, they rely on him, they seek him, they grab hold of him, they are held by him, they are cherished by him, and they are saved.

I have a favorite saying from one of my predecessors as a Lutheran pastor, John Gerhard, who said about faith: “One must distinguish between the that (τὸ ὅτι) and the how (τὸ πῶς). The former, on the basis of Scripture, is possible and necessary; the latter is no concern of ours” (Pieper Dogmatics II 429n). He meant that Scripture shows us what the object of our faith is, what faith looks like, what faith does, etc., but nowhere does Scripture explain how faith can occur. It only tells us that faith is given by God and it is the vessel or channel through which God gives his other gifts. How does being saved come to us? “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

The object of our faith is God, and specifically his Son Jesus Christ. This has always been so. “Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld” (2 Chronicles 20:20). “Have faith in God,” Jesus said (Mark 11:22). “His disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11). “Many in the crowd put their faith in him” (John 7:31), and so on and on. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).

In this verse, as in the rest of the Bible, faith isn’t a deed or a work that we accomplish. It’s something we’ve been given through the gospel. There are different kinds of faith, and I will try to be brief:

Human faith (fides humana) is faith based on reason, persuasion or even, as the Muslims sometimes do, coercion, instead of from the converting work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, the gospel in word and sacrament. It is not saving faith.

Acquired faith (fides acquisita) is the kind of faith that is dead (James 2:17) and that even the demons have (James 2:19), a faith that only fears God, shudders, or blankly stares at God and does not embrace him. It is not saving faith, either.

Those who have heard and trust the gospel, have been baptized, and who look to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation have saving faith (fides salvifica), sometimes called actual faith (fides actualis) because it actually lays hold of Christ. This is also called faith of the heart (fides cordis) or “trust” because it doesn’t look to anyone or anything else for forgiveness, peace, eternal life, or any of the other gifts of God. It is a faith that rests in God alone (Psalm 62:1). This is saving faith.

Faith is connected to baptism in particular, since baptism is one of the means by which we are saved (Titus 3:5; Acts 2:38) and which apprehends the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:21, Colossians 2:12). A person can be saved without being baptized (such as the thief on the cross, Luke 23:43), but baptism should not be rejected. It washes our sins away and proclaims Christ (Acts 22:16).

After the gift of faith comes, we naturally want to know more and more about our saving God. This is what it means to earnestly seek him. Keep on trusting him. Keep on seeking him. Learn about the depth and breadth and height of his love (Ephesians 3:18), and that his mercy, so freely given, endures forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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