Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The confidence of faith

I've gone back to reading Calvin on faith in his Institutes - it's just wonderful stuff (Bk. III Ch. 2). Consider this question: what should faith look like as it approaches God? How about this for an answer:

'...the apostle derives confidence from faith, and from confidence, in turn, boldness. For he states: "Through Christ we have boldness and access with confidence which is through faith in him" (Eph. 3:12). By these words he obviously shows that there is no right faith except when we dare with tranquil hearts to stand in God's sight." (III.ii.15)

Now that's confidence! But it's true; he's hit the biblical nail right on the head. Through Christ we can do just that - stand in the presence of the God burning white-hot in his holiness with absolute tranquility.

But doesn't that sound somewhat idealistic - maybe even unrealistic? What about when we doubt and struggle with the temptation to unbelief? Does that mean I've lost my faith? Not at all, for faith is always imperfect in this life, and we must contend with the permanent battle between the flesh and the spirit (e.g. Rom. 7:13-25). But in those circumstances, the true believer will always be victorious. The example of David, and the struggles we see recorded in his Psalms is so encouraging here (III.ii.17). What is to be our response when the temptation to unbelief seems to be overwhelming us? We repel it with the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) which takes the word of God and repels such unbelief with the truths of what God has really said. For example, a Christian may feel they are experiencing God's wrath for their sin as they pass through difficult circumstances. Does this 'work' in such a situation?

'A proof of this is that while the saints seem to be very greatly pressed by God's vengeance, yet they lay their complaints before him; and when it seems that they will not at all be heard, they nontheless call upon him. What point would there be in crying out to him if they hoped for no solace from him? Indeed, it would never enter their minds to call upon him if they did not believe that he had prepared help for them.' (III.ii.21)

Faith, then, will always ultimately be victorious in the Christian life. It cannot be otherwise, for faith is at the heart of his identity as a new creation - without it there is simply no Christian. That must mean that it is unbelief that is now the foreigner in the Christian's life. Therefore Calvin can conclude with absolute confidence:

'Unbelief does not hold sway within believers' hearts, but assails them from without. It does not mortally wound them with its weapons, but merely harasses them, or at most so injures them that the wound is curable. Faith, then, as Paul teaches, serves as our shield (Eph. 6:16). When held up against weapons it so receives their force that it either completely turns them aside or at least weakens their thrust, so that they cannot penetrate to our vitals... And he [John, in 1 John 5:4] affirms that our faith will be victor not only in one battle, or a few, or against any particular assault; but that, though it be assailed a thousand times, it will prevail over the entire world.' (III.ii.21)

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