The Reformed site Puritan Board recently had a discussion about faith.

In response to a question on their forum — ‘Faith: what is it?’ — the Revd Bruce G Buchanan of ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, Central Lake, Michigan, gave an excellent response.

First, he said that all of us — including unbelievers — exercise a certain amount of faith every day: we trust our floors will be sound and our toothpaste non-toxic.

He then went on to list the components of biblical faith, which differs from the ‘blind faith’ atheists accuse us of. Emphases in the original below:

One component of faith is knowledge. Is.43:10 “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.'” Promise typically comes to us in the form of information; although that information does not always come to us in propositional form. It can be personal as well: so for example a mother makes promises conveyed to her infant by presence, by care, by comfort and provision; but not to begin with by verbal propositions at all. Jesus preferred people to believe him and the words he said; but if that was too difficult, he counseled them to “…believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him,” Jn.10:38.

Verbal communication allows promises to take disembodied form, thus permitting the extension of knowledge and confidence, particularly when the form of communication is fixed and permanent. Revelation takes place when formerly unknown, or otherwise unknowable, truth is attained or imparted. God’s revelation to man is centered on Jesus the Son of God, the Incarnate (re-embodied!) Word (Jn.1:1,14), by whom God comes at last to us (Is.7:14; Mt.1:23) and speaks to us, Heb.1:1-2.

A second component of faith is assent. Assent means acknowledging the truth of something that has been spoken or revealed. Not everything spoken nor impression left (but unspoken) is true. But even if it is true, it may be disbelieved. This is the opposite of what faith does with truth. Israel acknowledged Jehovah as God and Lord alone at Sinai (and often afterward); but in their hearts and by their behavior they showed how far from heartfelt assent they were, by worshiping a golden calf. Every sin of ours is a bit of our innate denial as well.

Act.24:9 “And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.” These people gave witness that to what was previously spoken they heartily agreed. 1Tim.5:19 “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Here is a text that commands the church NOT to admit a charge (of sin); it tells us NOT to receive or believe one man’s word against another. We are not to give it credence or assent to it, unless/until it meets a better standard.

2Tim.2:25 “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Some are confronted with the law who refuse to acknowledge it. Whereas others are granted the ability from God not only to encounter the Word, but also to be convicted thereby unto repentance, which is a full assent of the truth of God, knowing our just desert and having hope in Christ alone. Tit.1:1 “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.” Here are THE faith (speaking of fact/content) and (full) knowledge composed, which things alone produce godliness.

But knowledge and assent are not all of faith. We have not yet come to what Heb.11:1 is getting at. Jas.2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Superficial devotion to God, to his Word, may gain acceptance of truth. But consent characterized by fear is not full faith; nor is “dead faith” (which James is there criticizing). Faith is also trust. Faith actually rests upon what it claims to have heard and consented with. Jn.7:17 “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” This verse ordains that upon the (genuine) commitment of the will unto divine revelation–i.e. God’s will–shall issue full assurance. In other words, faith’s blessing can only be obtained in the exercise of faith. One may desire to rest one’s legs from weariness; a chair has been provided for him, and he has looked it over (it seems sturdy enough to support his weight). But unless he repose himself upon it, he has not trusted it in fact.

Illustrating this ultimate element of trust is the aim of the author of Hebrews. He describes faith, 11:1, as that substance, basis, confidence–the sure resting–and the conviction, the discovery, the evidence–really, that which is found by the resting–though it is not seen, or gained by the senses or even by any bodily experiences whatever, possibly even contrary to such experiences (as the OT saints repeatedly demonstrated).

That final sense of assurance is properly “of” faith, but we like to say it is not “of the essence” of faith, so that without a full enjoyment of assurance faith is not realized. If that were so, then those whose faith was weak could scarcely be comforted, hardly encouraged to persevere in faith no matter how weak. Is.42:3 “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” But assurance is not only possible, it is positively encouraged: 1Jn.5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” Faith ought to result ordinarily (and again and again) in blessed assurance of God’s favor. Feelings fluctuate, but God never changes, 2Tim.2:11-13.

More could be said about faith. Certainly faith is not what name-and-claim practitioners teach. Faith is not an achievement, nor is it a tool for pulling on the Cosmic Vending Machine of Pleasure. Christian faith is a gift of God (Eph.2:8; Php.1:29). Faith is an insight into spiritual things not attainable by human efforts, Jn.3:3. Note the way John associates faith with spiritual sight; compare that expression with the way Paul contrasts faith and physical sight, 2Cor.5:7. Even our eyesight is something that happens largely apart from any effort of our own. We need light to see (cf. Ps.119:130; 36:9); we need the eyeball and faculty of sight (Ps.19:8; Mt.6:22-23; Act.26:18); we need life or the eye will remain useless (Jn.8:12; 2Tim.1:10). All these are gifts, whether of physical kind or spiritual.

To summarise: faith is a gift from God which comprises our knowledge of Him, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our assent and acknowledgement of divine revelation as well as our trust in this eternal truth which, with grace, brings assurance of the promise of life everlasting.

May we be forever grateful.

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