One particular genre I always enjoy and in which we can see a great deal about who we are is music. There is a list of songs as long as the Mississippi river that mention faith. Faith is a very widespread concept in popular culture. But faith in this respect is usually spoken of in relation to a lover, or has having faith in yourself. Both of these fall enormously short of the Biblical idea of faith.
In the Bible when the word faith is used it more resembles an idea of trust, a believe, hope, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, and dependence upon God Himself. In question 86 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism it asks “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the gospel.”
Think of it like this – when we turn from or repent of sin we don’t turn towards nothing…we turn to faith, and not just faith in general like so many people speak of but faith in a Person, namely, the Person of Jesus Christ. And what happens in the heart once we turn? As the catechism says there are two things that happen: a receiving of Jesus and a resting in Jesus.
A Receiving of Jesus
As the Apostle John begins his gospel and begins unfolding the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh he says this in 1:9-13. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people, did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So Jesus came into the world that He had made. He came into to His own, yet His own did not know Him or receive Him. Then in v12 we find the wondrous moment of contrast where John points out that not all rejected Him, some did receive Him. What does it mean to receive Jesus? v12 continues and explains it for us, “…to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name…”
To receive Jesus, therefore, is to believe in His name. This word ‘believed’ in John 1:12 is the Greek verb ‘pisteuousin’ which is used by Paul in its noun form ‘pistis’ which we translate as ‘faith.’ So, to receive Jesus is to believe in His name. And, to believe in His name is the same as having faith in Him. v12 shows us what it means to have faith in Jesus, v13 shows us the origin of our faith in Jesus. When you receive Him, or believe in His name, or have faith in Him John says you become a child of God who is born, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. So the sovereignty of God is on display in the faith of man, in that, just as God grants repentance, so too God gives faith to His people. That’s why v13 is placed after v12.
That God gives faith as a gift to His people is confirmed in Ephesians 2:8-9 when Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” There are many important things to glean from this verse, it’s one of the pinnacle passages describing justification by faith alone. But one often overlooked thing in this passage is the small phrase “And this” in the middle of v8. What is the word ‘this’ referring to? Paul has just spoken of us being saved by grace through faith, so grace and faith are in view. When he continues on and starts the next sentence with “And this” he means “And grace and faith” are not your own doing, it is the gift of God. So both grace and faith are gifts from God.
A Resting in Jesus
To explain this idea of resting in Jesus I want to describe the conversion experience of Martin Luther. Some of you already know this story, but I know some of you don’t. Here’s how it played out. Looking back throughout Luther’s life there’s an intriguing pattern to notice. Every five years he was involved in, or had himself, a major controversy. In 1505 he was almost struck by lightning and ran into the monastery. In 1510 he visited Rome on an errand and became disenchanted with Roman Catholicism by all the wickedness he saw. In 1515 he had what proved to be his most pivotal controversy, and to this day it is called ‘The Tower Experience.’ After doing much in depth study of the Scriptures Luther came to believe that the proper way to interpret the Bible is to find the ‘sensus literalis’ which means we should interpret the Bible according to it’s literary genre. Well, later that year Luther was assigned to teach through Paul’s letter to the Romans. So in his private study in preparation for his lectures he came to Romans 1:16-17 and came to a screeching halt. That passage says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written (quoting Habakkuk 2:4) ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
Luther came to a halt because he found v17 repulsive. It was the word ‘righteousness’ that haunted him. He said, “I hated that word ‘the righteousness of God’ by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers that God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.” This, for Luther, was a barrier to God, a chasm between the holy God and his unholy heart that cannot be crossed. Luther saw no way around it and despaired of all hope. He was not righteous, thus, he could not live by faith. But, then Romans 1:17 broke upon his soul. He saw that what Paul was teaching was that there is a righteousness that is received as a result of faith and not as a result of works, and that once a person received this by faith they were reconciled to God.
What made the difference for Luther was that he was now studying the Greek text of Romans, not the Latin. You see, in the Latin text of Romans the word for righteousness is ‘eustificare’ which comes from the Roman legal system and means to make righteous. So the Latin meaning of this word in Romans 1:17 is that God’s very righteousness is in view. But in the original Greek the word was different. The Greek word for righteousness was the word ‘dikaiosune’ which means to count or to declare one as righteous. This was Luther’s awakening. Luther saw that Paul was teaching, not of God’s own righteousness, but of a righteousness God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have a righteousness of their own. Then he read St. Augustine on Romans and saw that he also believed this. Then Luther said this, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
This ‘Tower Experience’ explains a lot of why Luther was the way He was. Luther was so unwavering and steadfast against the onslaught that would soon come his way for teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone because he knew that when looked upward he beheld a reconciled Father because of Jesus’ work, not an angry Judge. Luther received Jesus by believing in His name and having faith in Him and as a result Luther rested in Jesus.
Phil. 3:8-9 confirms this rest of soul that comes by faith and shows us what all of this leads to. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
Luther’s boldness as we’ve seen, and our boldness comes from this. We can live like v8, we can count knowing Christ as better than all things, we can count all things as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus our Lord because God has done v9 to us! He has given us a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that stands full and final in our account never to be removed.
See a pattern in all of this:
Receiving Jesus leads to resting in Jesus.
Resting in Jesus leads to recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things.
Recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things leads to risking all for Jesus.
Receiving, resting, recognizing, risking – begun by faith, sustained by faith, and Lord willing…finished by faith.