Chris Seglenieks writes: The question of what it means to believe is one that has shaped much of my researching New Testament studies. Faith is central to Christianity, but we don’t always stop to reflect on what it involves. When it comes to the gospels, I have found that many people assume the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all talk about faith in the same way. They apparently copied stories from each other, so it might sound like a reasonable idea. But if we look more closely, they each have their own ways of talking about faith. What I want to do here is explore how Luke talks about faith and faithfulness to see the unique contribution Luke makes to our thinking about what it means to believe.
Faith in Luke 1
We can begin where Luke does, with the stories of the birth of John and Jesus. These two stories are tied together, in many ways similar, but showing Jesus as greater than John. Both stories also include reference to faith—and of course it is not the babies that show faith, but the parents. Truth be told, the first time it is a lack of faith that we see, as the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that “you have not believed my words” (Luke 1:20). The parallel with Mary is more positive, as we read Elizabeth saying “blessed is she who believes that what was spoken to her from the Lord will happen” (Luke 1:45). Mary is contrasted with Zechariah as she is the one who responds rightly.
For both Zechariah and Mary, believing is a matter of accepting the message the angel brings. Gabriel speaks to each of them, bringing a message from God. Zechariah does not accept the message, but Mary does. But it is also a matter of trusting the messenger. Especially for Zechariah meeting an angel in the Temple, he ought to have seen that this messenger was reliable and trustworthy. The idea of a trustworthy messenger is one that Luke himself picks up on, as he begins his gospel by presenting himself as a trustworthy researcher who has written a reliable account (Luke 1:3–4). Mary’s confident acceptance models the certainty with which the audience is to accept the message of Luke’s gospel itself.
Another dimension to the story can be seen if we read this alongside the end of Luke, with the giving of the Spirit and the commissioning to mission (Luke 24:44–49; compare Acts 1:8). Mary’s belief leads to the desired response of participating in the mission, as she then declares the message about Jesus in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55). Her proclamation follows the action of the Spirit in conception (Luke 1:35), just as the disciples begin their proclamation after the action of the Spirit at Pentecost (Luke 2:4). Mary gives a model to follow of faith that includes proclamation.
The story does not stop with the single assessment of Zechariah either. While he failed to believe at first, that is not his whole story. He is overall a positive character, righteous and blameless (1:6), serving loyally in the Temple (1:23), and the Lord’s hand was with him (1:66). The story of Zechariah offers hope for those who are uncertain about Jesus, that they may still accept the message and join in the mission of his disciples. We are not explicitly told that Zechariah comes to believe, but his actions show that he does as he, like Mary, turns to proclamation (Luke 1:67–79). By focusing on Zechariah’s faith in action rather than what he was thinking, Luke points to the idea that when we accept the message, we are to act in accordance with it.
So there are three things we can see about faith from the beginning of Luke. The first is that faith is at least in part about accepting a message alongside personal trust. While some recent scholarship has shown that relational trust is primary in the language of faith in the world around the NT, propositional belief plays a role in biblical texts, including here in Luke. Second, Luke presents faith as a dichotomy—either someone believes, or they don’t—and doesn’t talk about the internal development of faith in the way that Matthew and John do. Third, faith is to lead to joining the mission, participating in proclamation, as faith entails action. We can now turn to the rest of Luke to see if these ideas are sustained throughout the Gospel.
Faith as Propositional Belief or as Relational Trust
The initial attention to faith as the acceptance of a message continues through Luke. Believing is parallel to ‘receiving the word’ (Luke 8:13). The identity of Jesus is the message that the Sanhedrin will not believe (Luke 22:67). Jesus praises the faith of the centurion, a faith demonstrated in the centurion’s understanding of Jesus’ identity (Luke 7:8–9). When Jesus calms the storm, he asks his disciples, “where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25), a question that leads directly to them pondering his identity. Their lack of faith is linked to their lack of understanding of who Jesus is, in contrast to the centurion. These all point to the importance of propositional belief for Luke. However, faith can also be contrasted with fear (Luke 8:50), suggesting trust is more the focus at times. Indeed, it is often difficult to distinguish a focus on either relational trust or propositional belief, for Luke weaves the two together.
We can see this best with the expression that most readily indicates trust in Jesus, “your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). While trust is central to these stories, faith is not only about trust. The one time there is a simple call for healing that Jesus meets, that is also when one of the most distinctive titles is given to Jesus, “Son of David” (Luke 18:38–39). That reflects some form of Christological belief alongside trust in Jesus. The other three times the phrase is used, there is more extended interaction with Jesus. Jesus affirms their faith after the one he healed acknowledges Jesus’ action verbally (Luke 8:47; 17:15–16), or after public actions showing love for Jesus (Luke 7:47). Not only does this reinforce the point we saw earlier about faith leading to proclamation, but it reflects that there is a message to be accepted and conveyed, alongside trust in Jesus.
Yet surprisingly, Luke does not give much attention to exactly what is to be believed. Aside from in Luke 1 where it is about believing the message of the angel, the only time Luke specifies what is believed comes in Luke 24:25, where it is about believing all that is written in the prophets. This points to a broader focus for Luke, that faith is the appropriate response to any message from God. So while there is a message to be believed, Luke doesn’t focus on summaries of Jesus’ identity (such as we find in John 20:31) but emphasises an attitude of acceptance. This attitude is one that the audience is to have towards the Gospel overall, which is presented as an account that ought to lead to certainty (Luke 1:1–4).
Faith as Objectified and Dichotomous
The second characteristic of Lukan faith that was identified in Luke 1 is a dichotomous picture of faith. This continues as the characters within the narrative either have faith or lack it—those who are healed have faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), whereas other times Jesus questions the absence of faith (Luke 8:25; 18:8), and there is no ambiguous middle. Luke refers to people having faith (Luke 17:6), seeing faith (Luke 5:20), or finding faith (Luke 7:9; 18:8), suggesting that faith is something that can be possessed or observed. An objectified faith contributes to the dichotomy, as a person either has faith or does not.
This pattern is supported by the sorts of words used by Luke to talk of faith. Luke prefers the noun “faith/belief” over the verb “to believe/to have faith” when compared with the other Gospels. (See for example Luke 5:20; 7:9, 50; 8:25, 48; 17:5, 6, 19; 18:8, 42; 22:32. The noun appears in Matthew 8x; Mark 5x; Luke 11x; and John 0x. The verb appears in Matthew 11x; Mark 10x; Luke 8x; and John 98x.) The noun more readily depicts faith as something either present or absent, where the verb may point to an ongoing response. Indeed, at times Luke deliberately omits the verb when compared with Matthew and Mark (Luke 7:1–10 compared to Matt 8:13; Mark 9:42/Matt 18:6 vs Luke 17:2; Mark 13:21/Matt 24:23 vs Luke 21:8). So too, if we compare in Luke 9:37–42 with the parallel in Mark 9:14–29 we see that Luke omits where Mark draws attention to developing faith, the cry “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). While Matthew also leaves out this part, he includes reference to the disciples’ “small faith”, indicating that their faith needs to grow. These comparisons show that Luke uses “faith” in a way that refers to people having faith or not, while avoiding drawing attention to either an ongoing aspect or development within belief.
The third feature identified in the faith of Luke 1 is action, and our focus here is on the adjective “faithful”. To be faithful is primarily a matter of outward actions that align with what one ought to do and appears in three of Luke’s parables (Luke 12:35–48; 16:1–13; 19:11–27). These three parables depict faithfulness as the practical outworking of faith. So too the only time Luke speaks of “small faith”, the focus turns immediately to practical action (Luke 12:32–34). This is part of a Lukan pattern where the disciples are assumed to have faith, but they need to exercise it (Luke 8:25, 17:6–10). Thus, rather than Luke being unconcerned with ongoing faith, his focus is upon ongoing faithful actions. The concern for faithful action also appears at other points, such as the woman whose practical demonstration of love is seen as the outworking of faith (Luke 7:47–50), or in the parable of the sower where those who do not go on believing are those who do not bear fruit (Luke 8:13–15; cf. 8:21).
Luke has an evident concern in moving his audience towards active faith. In this context we can see the purpose of presenting a dichotomy of faith or unbelief. It helps to ensure that actions are shown as integral to what faith is. If faith is presented as developing, then faithful actions could be assigned to a later stage in faith, a goal but not a necessity. However, for Luke there is only faith or no faith, and faith includes action. Luke doesn’t just call his audience to greater intellectual certainty, but to certainty that leads to action. The other gospels are similar; Matthew calls out the disciples’ “small faith” when they fail to express their faith (Matt 6:30, 8:26; 14:31; 16:8), while John connects abiding to bearing fruit (John 15:1–8, 16), where fruit is a visible result in the life of a believer. Luke’s presentation adds urgency, for there is only faith or unbelief and having faith means being faithful.
In the opening chapter of his gospel, Luke depicts a paradigm of faith that continues throughout the narrative. For Luke, faith is both propositional belief and relational trust. The propositional dimension is primarily about an attitude to a message with a divine origin. The audience are encouraged to receive Luke’s written gospel itself as such a message to believe. The dimension of trust is especially found in trusting an authoritative messenger, like the gospel author as well as the gospel subject, Jesus. Faith, for Luke, is an either/or proposition, and he does not give attention to the internal dynamics of faith. This allows him to present faithful action both as an integral part of faith, and as the ongoing dimension of faith. Luke calls his audience to a faith which involves a confident acceptance of God’s message alongside trust in Jesus—a faith that is known and expressed in action.
This exploration is based on: Christopher Seglenieks, “Faith and Faithfulness in Luke,” Australian Biblical Review 70 (2022), 48–64, which can be accessed here.
45 thoughts on “What does ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ mean in the gospel of Luke?”
Faith and faithfulness
Luke seems to mirror what my informed instincts take to be the teaching of the NT. In OT narrative I would think faith is largely revealed through actions. All the more salutary that in Genesis we read ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness’. Further it is to Hab 2:4 – the just shall live by faith – that the NT on three occasions takes recourse. Paul sees it as a seminal gospel text,
In both Abraham and Habakkuk faith in God is called for against all odds. Theirs was no academic faith but revealed the core of their being. Habakkuk knew the land was soon to be invaded and devastated and nothing of substance left. The crutch of Judaism itself would disappear. All that was left and all that was necessary was faith.
Of course, in both cases faith was active trust for Paul can speak in Romans (twice as bookends) of the ‘obedience of faith’. True faith is faithful.
I fully accept faith implies faithfulness but pastorally it is a very fine line to walk. Place too much emphasis on faith and you end up with mere fideism. Place too much emphasis on ‘faithfulness’ and you end up with ‘salvation by works’. I know the latter from personal experience. It’s an easy shift if your thinking is largely reformed.
I note John Piper has brought out a book on faith. He argues, apparently, that love for Christ is intrinsic to faith rather than an adjunct of faith. I like Piper a lot but I don’t think I agree with him in this. Love for Christ will grow and be a hallmark of mature faith but I doubt it is of faith’s essence. Faith is the cry to God of a drowning man who once rescued will begin to appreciate all his rescuer has done.
Faith above all invites us to loo away from faith and focus on faith’s subject, namely Jesus.
It would be interesting to have faith/faithfulness followed through, as it applies to Jesus.
Books have been written on one of the Reformation adages, sola fides, as is well known.
‘In OT narrative I would think faith is largely revealed through actions’
I think the operative word in the O.T. is ‘wait’. Abraham’s action was to wait. He messed up by not waiting and Ishmael was the result.
Wait for the LORD is the theme of the O.T.
Faith in His work on the cross characterises the N.T.
Faithfulness is the result of both.
Faithfulness is and was the result of both
Isn’t waiting one of the hardest things for faith to do?
I was thinking that for mot of us initial faith is often weak, frail and not very well informed. Faith grows, like a muscle,, with use. Over the years circumstances test faith and should deepen it. Alongside this is a growing appreciation of who Christ is and what he has done.
One result is not only a greater knowledge of Christ but a greater jealousy for his name and glory. I find it harder at times to stand back a bit when he is abused.
Of course, my faith, certainly in terms of my input to it is still pitifully weak. If persecution should come I shall look continuously to the Lord to maintain my faith
You put thing so well. Thanks.
For me, the heart of faith in God is relational.
It’s not simply believing something exists.
I may believe the Devil exists, but I don’t have faith in the Devil.
Likewise with my wife, I obviously know she exists, but when I say “I have faith in you” what I mean is that I trust who she is, and believe in her as a person… her values, her care, her fidelity.
In the same way, when it comes to faith in God, for me it is fundamentally about **trust**.
Belief in who God is, God’s goodness, care, commitment to us (in Jesus’s case, to the point of no turning back).
To a contemplative, faith involves a lot of ‘gaze’ and waiting on God, and not mostly ‘seeing’ God, but trusting God is there, gazing back in love, in givenness, and commitment.
Faith based on trust becomes a relationship that maybe deepens over time. I think trust is everything at the heart of the relationship, and giving to God, and being given to by God… and can lead to such a felicity of meeting, and quiet place of togetherness.
Prayer is fundamental.
The outworking of this trust and relationship and faith, will of course also lead to opening to God, to God’s love, and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts and lives and actions.
So much in the Bible resonates with the love we encounter in relationship with God. We recognise the God we are in relationship with, reflected in so many verses.
We find a recognition, too, in other people we meet… that’s happened for me with some people who post here.
We recognise the love of God in them.
Early in the morning in chapel, in the darkness, I sit and wait on God. God is like a lover. I gaze past the things of this world, into the cloud of unknowing. And I learn to trust, that even when I cannot see God, God is always there. And so so given to us, and in our little ways we open and try to give back, gaze exchanged with gaze, givenness and little givenness. And there is love. Devoted love.
To me, that trust and givenness is the beginning and the heart of faith. Not believing factually. Believing IN God, because God’s worth it. Trusting God.
Of course, to be real, there is also doubt! That’s a thing too. But God is patient, and waiting for us, when we give ourselves again in trust. Different people, with different personalities may have different pathways to their relationship with God. But I do think it’s so much about the givenness and fidelity of God. It can be a love affair, really, but it also involves practical mundane life and opening to God in that as well.
I remember reading John Murray, a Presbyterian, define faith as ‘whole-souled commitment’. He meant that faith involves our whole being. You describe the relational sense of faith very eloquently. However, faith that is authentic is also intellectual (propositional) and obedient (volitional). There is a who of faith and a how of faith.
The who of faith is the God of the bible, revealed supremely in Jesus but also revealed from Genesis to Revelation. He is a God of love but his love is a holy love and a righteous love. I know you have found a way within yourself to reconcile the dissonance between what the Bible teaches and what.you believe. I wonder if you have so stressed the affective (relational) that the intellectual and volitional elements required of faith are seriously muted?
Thank you John.
I agree that the repercussions of faith involve the volitional and the propositional, and I appreciate you raising this important point. I believe relationship and real trusting belief in who God is like the life source and absolute fundamental of our faith, providing we that involves an underlying attitude of repentance which recognises we are dressed in rags without God, and in need of God for our eternal reality.
I don’t believe faith is like passing an exam. I don’t have to be an academic. I don’t have to get everything doctrinally precise and pure. What I have to do is, the best that I can, to give myself, my heart to God. To open to God’s love and givenness to us.
If we had to get our doctrine all the same, and all totally pure, then I think that would be a sort of faith by works. We just have to do our best, make sense of God as best we can, and open in trust to God and the flowing love of God’s Holy Spirit.
Love is not, primarily, about rectitude though we should try to live good lives. Sin and selfishness is corrupting. But primarily love is about givenness and trust. Givenness to God first, and givenness to others.
The absolute priority is love. Nothing is more important. God has already given, totally, to us… to the point of no turning back. God wants us to open to a relationship of trust, to open to the Spirit, and let the great flow of the power of the Love of God to team through us, and through us to others.
That flow of love is the streams of living water which Jesus promised would flow through us, by which He meant the Holy Spirit.
And yes, God is holy. Holy, holy, holy.
In contemplation, we encounter a God who is so utterly Holy that we know our own destitute rags for what they are. We also encounter evil, though of course never seek to. But most of all what we discover is this amazing thing: that God wants a personal relationship with us, a covenant of love and trust and friendship.
Sometimes, not very often, in contemplation… God suddenly comes in perfection and tears open the thin fabric that separates this passing world from the deeper and eternal country of God. And that is staggering and overwhelming. God longs for us to build relationships of prayer, so our trust and givenness may deepen.
But again, different people with different temperaments have their pathways to the life with God. But if you ask what at core characterises faith, I’d say: TRUST. Belief in God, because God is so good, so caring, so committed… and worthy of being believed in.
Of course, words trail off… a contemplative in particular knows this.
We are loved. Can we trust to devote back, as God devoted to us in sacrifice?
‘we that involves’… typo… ‘we understand that involves’
I was unaware of the book of Piper that John mentions, but I think this link may be a reference, where Piper responds to a critique of it.
I ‘ be made something of heavy weather skimming it. The discussion seems to be somewhat convoluted.
I do think Piper is following the whole drift of his Desiring God and Christian hedonism, Enjoying God trajectory. Or we glorify God BY enjoying Him forever, as Piper slightly but substantially alters the Shorter Westminster Catechism.
And I certainly have no contention with Piper’s Treasuring Jesus as an aspect of faith, (our treasure in heaven) even though I far too frequently, fall far too short. His citation of John Owen among others, reveals how cold I am. It also knocks on the head the idea that the reformers
and puritans were cold detached intellect only, doctrinists scholars.
I think it was Gordon Fee who coined the phrase that the distinction too often came down to *fools on fire, or scholars on ice* whereas there should be *scholars on fire*.
Geoff – thanks for the link – a very good read. It would seem to me that the differences between the two guys Piper and Perkins are based on counterfactuals: `What if Mahatma Gandhi had come from Belfast? Would he have worn warmer clothing?’ If you believe, then this belief will express itself – and it’s therefore impossible to separate `saving faith’ from `treasuring Christ’. Theologians might try to do it – but for ordinary Christians it’s purely academic. The article you linked to does bring us to the basis of our faith.
My issue with Piper’s “Christian Hedonism” is that he entwines it inseparably with his definition of saving faith. In other words, if one does not have the subjective experience of “treasuring Christ” and being satisfied with him then one is not a Christian.
To put it bluntly if Piper is right then I am not saved. I have struggled for along time with the issue of assurance, especially when it comes to the affections and emotions that are supposed to be associated with faith (I have found them lacking in myself). Piper’s doctrine on this seems to me to be very close to justification by feelings rather than faith.
To make matters worse if he is right, then there is nothing I can really do, as under Calvinism it is up to God’s random choice whether or not he decides to give me the gift of “treasuring” faith. You can find similar sentiments from his Piper’s hero, Jonathan Edwards.
I normally agree with Piper and I agree with his calvinism. I think your description of calvinism is mistaken. It involves a fatalism that is not found in Scripture. Biblical faith always involves the volitional. We are encouraged to trust to the saving of our souls..
However, i so identify with your struggles with assurance which have troubled me from time to time in later life. My poor ‘performance’ as a Christian sometimes erodes my assurance. Not so long ago I had a problem with whether I really loved Christ. I did not want to go to hell but I was not sure that love for Christ was why I wanted to go to heaven.
My approach to these kind of issues has a few prongs. Firstly, I remind myself that I am being drawn into a dangerous introspection of sinking sands. There is no solid ground in introspection. Faith functions precisely by looking away from self. Secondly, I recognise that God is not finished with me yet. There are real evidences of faith even if that faith is not as rounded and mature as it ought to be. Faith always senses the need for the cross. Thirdly, without embarking on a ‘works’ programme or being beguiled down an introspection route I may challenge the ‘accusation’.
For example, the accusation of not treasuring Christ is one I have grappled with. I felt there was some justification in the accusation. Of course most accusations have a measure of truth in them that is why they accuse. I find they are however exaggerated and distorted. My approach on this occasion was to remind my heart why I should treasure Christ more consciously than I did. In other words I looked at all that made Christ ‘a treasure’. Principally I thought off the lengths he had gone to and the suffering he had undertaken because he loved me, even me. I thought too of the many blessings that are his which he has shared with me. Such thoughts soon made me love him and cherish him as my renewed nature responded to his grace,
I think we probably are not very good at this quiet meditative reflection which can deepen our faith.
I also said something like, ‘Lord I love you, you know that I love you, help me to love you more.
Not a million miles from Jn 21.
I think we should remember, again and again, that it is God’s faith and covenant love which saves us… not just our own (which will always be paltry, inconstant, fallible by comparison).
It is God who holds us, not we who hold God (although of course it is good to hold on to everything of God we can).
Our salvation rests on God’s total fidelity in covenant… in the demonstration of that love and total givenness in the way God, in the person of Jesus Christ, went all the way for us, to the point of no turning back.
We waver, and fail, and forget, and neglect, or show insufficient fidelity towards God… but our God never wavers, our God remains true in love, our God is faithful.
All our efforts are in many ways rags, in which we come before God. We cannot work our way into eternal life, even in the actions of a faith life, because that would still be ‘works’.
We inherit, undeservingly, because God has made this great covenant love for us, and doesn’t turn back when we mess up (again).
Because it’s God’s fidelity which keeps us safe, God’s fidelity and treasuring of us… we are invited to be ‘the sheep of God’s fold’ and ‘the apple of God’s eye’, and we are held forever in the faithfulness of God.
God is our keeper, even in the dark night of the soul, even when we cannot find God in times of darkness and despair.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine…
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…
Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you…
Do not be afraid, for I am with you…” Isaiah 43
Thank you Susannah. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and find myself in an agony because my pastoral advice to you is different. The covenant love is for failing saints but the blood that undergirds it does not embrace wilful disobedience. For a message fundamentally defied there is no warm embrace only the promise of wrath.
Don’t throw away a birthright Susannah for a mess of pottage.
I thank you for your forthright honesty, and decency, and I know you speak out of compassion and desire for my well-being. I see your goodness. I am very sure God does too.
Susannah ‘it is God’s faith and covenant love which saves us’ If we will allow ourselves to be saved.
I was simply trying to encourage John that at times when we falter (which we all do) it is God’s fidelity that holds us. I was offering encouragement, not a theological argument for universalism!
It is God’s faith and covenant love which saves us. God who holds us. God who loves us. We will falter and fail God all through our lives. We can never be perfect. But the Covenant rests on God’s givenness – the shed blood of Jesus Christ – and if we open, and offer, and give ourselves in response – even though we sometimes feel God far off… God is so close to us, holds us, dwells within us, is ‘God with us’.
And all that’s because of God’s fidelity. Our little fidelities in return are sometimes scraps and rags… but we should never lose hope. We should trust in God. God is the God who doesn’t turn back, has made a covenant forever, loves in fidelity. Is light when we feel in darkness. John confided times when faith isn’t all easy. I recognise that too, and was just offering reminder that in those times, it’s God who stays 100% faithful to us.
And loves us so tenderly! Isn’t that amazing!
“Fear not! I have called you by name. You are mine!”
Can of worms, Ian.
Thanks John for that encouragement. With regards to Calvinism, see my response to Geoff below.
Jon – I suppose it boils down to: what do you mean by `treasuring Christ’. If it is something touchy feely like ‘I spend my whole time thinking about how absolutely spiffingly wonderful Jesus is’ – hoping for a nice warm touchy-feely glow inside because of this, then you’re absolutely right. If it’s all about getting the same high from thinking about Jesus that Californians got from taking their hippy drugs in the 1960’s, then you’re right about this.
But isn’t ‘love of Jesus’ almost equivalent to delighting in God’s law and the desire to keep His commandments? John 14 (perhaps John 14:15 and John 14:23,25) would seem to bear this out.
So if Piper is suggesting some ‘touchy-feely’ definition of ‘treasuring Jesus’ then I probably agree with you, but I don’t think that’s the meaning.
“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 1: 4-5]. What is random about that?
Indeed. God’s love for his own is deeply personal, specific and active. Jesus love for his disciples exemplifies this love.
Where does Treasuring Jesus amount, be reduced, to feelings? Especially in trials and tribulations?
It is seeing Jesus for who he is, delighting in him, or as Piper mentions in another of his books, *Seeing and Savouring Jesus*, freely downloadable. It includes seeing him in his word, enlivened by Holy Spirit.
As for Edwards *Religious Affections* it bears full careful reading. Students of Edwards have been careful, not to reduce the word * affections* to emotions alone.
It it somewhat odd, that many who denounce Calvin and other reformers as mere hard hearted intellectual scholastic are now being seen as promoting salvation by feelings. I think that would get short shrift from any of the reformers, let alone, Piper.
As for full assurance, that comes from, not our works, but Christ’s. We can not add anything to it. To do so would be to diminish him.
I am not saying that Piper explicitly equates joy and treasuring with mere feelings. What I am saying is that the overall impression I often get from reading his material on “Christian hedonism” is that if he is right then I am hugely lacking joy in Christ, therefore I am damned. The following link is topical section on website for articles on this subject:
At the top it explicitly says “Joy is not optional. It’s essential.”
True, in Piper’s more pastoral responses (eg “Ask pastor John”) he can be a lot more variable in his counsel. Still, there is a great contradiction here between some of his advice and the Calvinism he espouses. For example, in the following Q&A article he prescribes (about half way down) focusing on Christ and focusing on the cross as one approach for gaining assurance:
However, under Calvinism’s doctrine Limited Atonement, how could you ever be sure that Christ actually died for you? Moreover, in this article he also says that being able to see Christ as sufficient and “satisfying” provides grounds for assurance. That word “satisfying” is a subjective, emotional word. What if I focus on Christ, but because of my temperament and doubts I find it hard to feel him as satisfying?
It becomes a vicous spiral when you doubt whether your saved, as the counsel focus on on Christ can all too easily lead to focusing on Christ as someone who maybe hasn’t saved you, or is refusing save you/rejecting you. Under such conditions, no joy is going to come about!
When it comes to Edwards, he is even worse. Take this sermon, for example:
Here Edwards asserts a rather bleak picture of salvation where one must essentially grovel before God for days, weeks, months or even years before being saved. Trusting and believing in the promises of God are not enough, apparently. No wonder that many of the puritans were infamous for doubting if they were elect or not.
A disclaimer though, to finish with: Despite what I have written here, I am not anti-calvinist. Although I am not one myself, I have benefited from some Calvinists on this very issue Examples would be Sinclair Ferguson’s book “the Whole Christ”, Dane Ortland’s “Gentle and Lowly” and also Joel Beeke’s book on assurance. I even had a short but meaningful and encouraging conversation with Paul Washer a few years ago at a conference.
Nevertheless , the emphasis from Piper and his influences is what has caused me trouble in this case.
I ‘m familiar with Ferguson, in fact at at meeting bought a second copy of that book to give away. Ortlands follow up book is worth a look. I have Beekes book on Assurance, but not got very far even after owning it for years.
Another book at the lay level, for me is Our life in Christ by Mike Reeves.
But to ground faith. Personally I’ve found Ferguson’s teaching on Union with Christ very helpful. Other teachers are available.
Thanks for engaging.
I’m unsure whether you are getting a full view of the reformed view of limited atonement. Don’t have any books to hand.
Yours in Christ.
I can understand this. It is a weakness in Piper. What ought to presented as aspirational may be presented as essential. To be sure faith opens up possibilities for deepening faith in many areas (intellectual, affective and volitional) but we have to be wary what we impose lest we go beyond Scripture.
I enjoyed reading this -so many thanks to Chris Seglenieks for writing it – and to Ian for posting it.
It therefore seems a pity to draw attention to the one part that I wasn’t so sure of. I feel that Zechariah is given a bad press here – it is entirely possible to have faith in God about the ultimate things (i.e. being in the number of the Saviour’s family) without also believing either that God is going to make an exception to His own natural laws (Elizabeth past the age for child bearing might have a child) or, even if he accepts in the abstract that God will make a miraculous intervention, that Zechariah and Elizabeth are His chosen instruments for this. When Gideon asked for the sign of the fleece, his caution was considered to be a good thing – so if someone comes presenting themselves as an angel, we aren’t supposed to swallow the whole thing hook, line and sinker.
There is nothing to suggest that Zechariah did not believe (in the sense of believing in his own salvation); on the contrary, he is presented as a sincere man of God who has difficulties with the Charismatic signs-and-wonders element of the church (and if we have a problem with charismatic tendency, then 999 times out of 1000, we are right). So I don’t see that the story necessarily offer hope to those who are uncertain about Jesus.
Jock Im not sure the definition of faith is believing oneself to be saved. Though Im still unsure how to actually define ‘faith’, as in we are saved by grace through faith. Most people would understand grace as a gift by definition, (and Paul may indicate faith itself is a gift) yet others say this ‘gift’ has conditions to be fulfilled. Peter said if you call on the name of the Lord you will be saved. Should we therefore be confident that all those who did so on that day as described in Acts were subsequently saved by God (and therefore will face no condemnation) ? Or do we have to wait for their (and our) ‘works’ to be judged before having such confidence? The NT seems to give differing understandings of ‘saving faith’ and so Im not surprised various commentators give various different and sometimes contradictory versions. Even if we take Abraham as the example, was he ‘saved’ because he ‘believed’ God (ie his promise) or was he saved because he obeyed and moved sticks?
If I was Abram in Ur I would have published a book about my new insights on deity and started a new cult called the Abram ministries. I would have used the money to build a new temple and installed My wife as priestess while I went on a speaking tour.
Peter – correct – that is not the definition, but it is a corollary of the definition. The starting point of faith is the necessity of the crucifixion, that I am, by nature, inherently sinful, by nature a slave to sin and that in the crucifixion Christ meets sin and death, my sin and death, head on and conquers it on my behalf – faith is believing that in his crucifixion he was dealing with my sin and death and that in his resurrection he has conquered sin and death for me, on my behalf.
I don’t think that the author of John’s gospel is playing tricks with language when he writes John 3:16. I take John 10:14 to mean that we can know (present tense) that we are his sheep, together with the promise of John 10:27-28, of eternal life.
Broadly speaking, John’s gospel indicates that death is the natural state that we are in and we are transported to life when we come to believe.
The wretched man of Paul’s Romans 7:14-25 is very important – and it is important to see that it is written in the present tense – current Christian experience of a mature believer (current experience of the apostle Paul at the time of writing his letter to the Romans). When we come to believe we are set free – free to do exactly what we want, which is to serve God. That is the innermost being that Paul speaks of which, during the course of this life, is continually under assault from the sinful nature – but the argument of Romans, especially Romans 8 makes it clear that the victory over the sinful nature and the down-drag of the flesh is already assured for the believer.
“was he ‘saved’ because he ‘believed’ God (ie his promise) or was he saved because he obeyed and moved sticks?”
I’m reminded of a quote from one of the reformation authors…
“Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone it is always accompanied by works”
Hello Ian H,
Abraham’s Believing (as opposed to believing*in*) God was counted to him as righteousness. And God *cut* a covenant with Abraham, during which Abraham played no part, as if he were dead.
The thing we are prone to fall into is when the responsive works, or sanctification, become the measure or cause of our salvation.
Another, is to consider salvation as merely an abstract or propositional thing.
In the new covenant, we get Jesus, not merely justification, atonement , forgiveness, but a union with him, a living relationship. Is that (an *indwelling* Holy Spirit living reality) beyond faith?
“The thing we are prone to fall into is when the responsive works, or sanctification, become the measure or cause of our salvation.”
So believing “works” saves us is to be resisted by good doctrine, right belief.
So I think the “reformer” is correct. Where faith is in Christ, his Spirit fills the believer, that presence results in a desire for and an increasing faithfulness to Jesus as Lord. Of course we all “wobble” until the Day when everything is made wholly new comes.
Attempting to ascertain the meaning and significance of the terms “faith/faithfulness”and basing the research upon a specific Gospel is undoubtedly a useful exercise.But the process is not without its demerits.
Now during the course of this post, it has been clearly articulated that there are two aspects to faith: trust and assent. However it appears to me that one ingredient is largely missing: faith’s object, or putting it more precisely and theologically, faith’s *subject*. How often have I heard someone say :” Oh, I wish I had his/her faith!”. To which I am always tempted to stay: ” Well actually, I wish you “had” his or her *God*. Faith (trust) is in the final analysis founded on divine revelation!
Luke is, par excellence, the synoptic theologian of the Holy Spirit! Mary is told by the angel that the Holy Spirit will “come upon” her [1:37]. And are we not informed that Zechariah was (a) filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore (b) prophesied [1:67]?
Doubt, (” How can I be sure” [1:18] ) was replaced by certainty ( “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel” [1: 68] ). Some of the foregoing misconceptions about Zechariah in particular and faith issues in general are, I humbly suggest, linked to uncertainties concerning God’s sovereign plan and purposes in salvation.
Your last para, is explored in a little more depth by comparing and contrasting the faith of Mary and Zechariah by Dane Ortlund in “Surprised by Jesus,” but probably can be summed up as, with everything in Zechariah’s ( priest with wife in line of Aaron) favour the expectation of an immediate reaction by Zechariah would be one of faith- filled joy answer to prayer, not as a response, in effect asking for proof, and with everything going against Mary, the expectation would be a response of faithlessness. Mary meekly submitted in quiet wonder and was commended
The roles ought to have been reversed. Mary an *outsider* responds the way Zechariah, the *insider* ought to have responded
“The roles ought to have been reversed” ? Why ? One could argue that the Pharisee “ought” to have displayed enormous gratitude to God for all the ‘blessings’ he paraded before the Almighty; conversely the tax collector “ought” to have walked out of the temple under a cloud of judgement [luke 18:9 – 14].
Unfortunately Geoff, in Luke’s account the issue is not a question of who responded in a more ‘Christian’ way. The key issue is that each responded to the will and prompting of God the Father through his Holy Spirit ! Luke’s concern is not “compare and contrast”; it is to recall the wonderful part that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the prophet Zechariah have played in this overwhelming drama.
I reiterate my main point, but in a slightly different way : the problem that this post has highlighted is that it has raised too many issues of this type i.e. the *human interest* angle to the detriment of the glorious truths of the Gospel of God the Father mediating his plans and purposes for the world through his Son and the Holy Spirit.
To be fair the post is about ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ so it’s reasonable to ask what exactly do these mean in this life of ours? Does salvation = faith + works as some argue, or simply ‘trusting’ in what God has said He has accomplished in the cross and resurrection, as others say? Does calling on the name of the Lord effect salvation, or does it not without subsequent ‘works’. Is one saved at a point in time (from our pov) or is subsequent life lived a determining factor?
I think the comments so far show there is no consistent, clear answer to such questions.
Peter! It is precisely because the debate on faith and faithfulness has been virtually divorced from God’s sovereign activity in salvation that there is a lack of consistency! In Ephesians 2:8 we read,” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing, *it is the gift of God*, so that no one may boast”.
First, salvation is ‘by grace’, it is ‘the gift of God’; it is initiated by God ( see Eph.1: 3-5). Secondly, “you have *been* saved” is in the perfect tense i.e. it is an act of God created in the past, but with implications for the present and future. Thirdly, it is received “through” faith. ‘Faith is not the basis on which God’s saving activity is founded; it is the means whereby it is received. Fourthly, while it “is not a result of good works”, nevertheless “we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Jesus Christ, which God prepared beforehand, that we should *walk* in them. Good works are the fruit of faith. Hence the apostolic call to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who *works in you* both to will and to *work* for his good pleasure” [Phil. 2:12 -13]. Finally, no wonder the Apostle can declare: ” And I am sure of this, that He who began*a good work in you* will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” [Phil. 1:6].
I think it is absolutely vital to say that saving faith is looking to Christ to live (Jn 3). It is confessing Jesus as Lord and believing he was raised from the dead (Roms 10). That initial saving faith is the springboard from which all that faith becomes and births develops.
It is justification, the verdict of the last day pronounced now. Paul is clear if you believe you will be saved. We should not complicate this. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Roms 10:10).
I say this because every Spirit led activity of the Christian flows from a faith relationship. It flows from the sense that we are justified, forgiven, a child of God, a son of God. The Spirit works these in the heart of the one who has believed. Christians, in the NT, are simply believers.
There is no sense that we must wait until we have shown sufficient godliness before we can call ourselves a Christian. This would be simply salvation by works. No, we always work from salvation received to salvation that grows and deepens in our life. As soon as we fall away into any ‘works-based’ salvation we lose joy and assurance and fall back into a spirit of slavery and not sonship.
That being said, there is presumptuous faith. It is a specious faith for it believes that it can defy God and yet be certain of salvation. And so there are times when we must ask if we are seeking to be faithful and when we must turn away from sin that is gripping our lives. Faith will indeed result in faithfulness.
Is “doubt” the opposite of “faith”?
I’d suggest that it isn’t always and that “unbelief” is the clear opposite of “faith”.
Someone described doubt as ‘faith in two minds’. Of course, faith in two minds is not a good thing. We are to ask ‘nothing doubting’. Doubt is corrosive and leads to unbelief. We can counter it in two ways a) if the doubts are serious we can seek answers to them b) if they flow from a certain psychology or the like we can dismiss them from our mind and refuse them oxygen.
One preacher used to say ‘You’ve got intellectual doubts… tell me her name’. More than a little truth in this. Doubts arise when we want to follow a forbidden path.