Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
– Heb 11:1-2
What is faith? This simple one-syllable word (two syllables in Greek and Hebrew) spawns a nest of definitions and qualifications, which infest your mind with confusion. If faith simply means you believe something exists, then why isn’t the majority of the Western world saved, since most people believe in God? Okay. So there’s got to be more to it. In fact, I implied that faith meant believing in God, but is that really accurate? Well, according to Jesus we should believe in him and in God (John 14:1).
Let’s just make things simple and say that belief involves our faith in Jesus and the Father. But what sort of belief? We can’t merely believe in God and Jesus’ existence (see above). Additionally, we can’t only believe the brute fact that Jesus saves through the father. I believed that for years before I became a believer. It looks like faith has a tricky mind knot, which needs untying.
For the better part of a decade, I have served in evangelistic ministries. My range of activity has spanned from knocking on doors, going to college campuses, speaking at events, and street-preaching. With that background, you’d guess that I would have no trouble with evangelism or thinking through the Gospel. Actually, that’s about as true as saying the sun is dark. A back-pack full of stones has weighed me down throughout these years as I struggled to connect what I was doing with what the Bible teaches.
One weight that I burdened me was the meaning of faith. I wondered about what essential concepts Christians need to believe in to be saved. At first, I considered that we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus? While that’s central (1 Cor 15), how does faith and repentance fit in, and why does the Bible talk so much about the kingdom of God. Actually, Jesus preaches the Gospel about the kingdom according to the Gospels (Matt 4:17, 23). But I never for a minute preached about a kingdom—I told people to believe and repent in the Gospel. Yet that was the problem, for I couldn’t quite grasp just what the Gospel was. Continue reading
The idea of Gospel driven sanctification (basically, sanctification means overcoming sin by growing in faith) is becoming more and more popular — and rightly so. Without the Gospel that so transforms the affections, change is impossible. Through responding in faith to the good news that Jesus both died for your transgressions and rose for your transgressions, we are saved, transformed and ultimately resurrected in a body that resembles the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul can say, “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). But I do worry about how we understand Gospel driven sanctification.
A problem that I see with this movement towards Gospel driven sanctification is not the idea itself but a common misconception about it. What I mean is that we often try to change by simply focusing on the Gospel as an abstract thing. In other words, you find yourself lying, being lazy, or having lustful thoughts so you decide to remember the fact of the Gospel. “Remember, Wyatt, Jesus died for you so be better,” is something I could be tempted to think. But this thought would be dire to my spiritual life, since the Gospel is not only propositions but a rich and comprehensive story about what God has done though sending Jesus into the world. Continue reading