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True Faith

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 1 Mar 2021

Lee Gatiss preaches from Homily 4, “A Short Declaration of True and Living Christian Faith” (Part 1).

Our first approach to God (good Christian people) is through faith, through which (as it was declared in the last sermon) we are justified before God. And lest anyone should be deceived, for lack of a right understanding of this, it is diligently to be noted that faith is taken in the Scripture in two ways.

Two kinds of faith
There is one kind of faith, which in Scripture is called a dead faith. This brings forth no good works, but is idle, barren, and unfruitful. And this faith, by the holy Apostle Saint James, is compared to the faith of devils, who believe God to be true and just, and tremble for fear, yet they do nothing well, but all evil (James 2:17-18). This is the kind of faith which wicked and disobedient Christian people have who “confess God” (as Saint Paul says) with their mouth, “but deny him in their deeds, being detestable, and without the right faith, and unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). And this faith is a persuasion and belief in someone’s heart, by which they know that there is a God, and assent to all the truth of God’s most holy word contained in the holy Scripture. But it consists only in believing that the word of God is true.

This is not properly called faith. If one were to read Caesar’s Commentaries, believing them to be true, one would have through this a knowledge of Caesar’s life and notable acts, because you believe the history of Caesar. Yet it is not properly said that such a person “believes in Caesar”, since they do not look to him for any help or benefit. Even so, a person may believe that everything that is spoken of God in the Bible is true, and yet live such an ungodly life that they cannot hope to enjoy the promises and benefits of God. Although it may be said that such a person has a faith and
belief in the words of God, yet it is not properly said that they believe in God, or have such a faith and trust in God that they may surely look for grace, mercy, and everlasting life from God’s hand, but rather for indignation and punishment, according to the merits of their wicked life. For as it is written in a book said to be by Didymus of Alexandria, “in that faith without works is dead, it is not now faith, just as a dead man is not a man.” This dead faith therefore is not the sure and substantial faith which saves sinners.

There is another kind of faith spoken of in Scripture which is not (like the previous sort of faith) idle, unfruitful, and dead, but works through love, as St. Paul declares (Galatians 5:6). As the other, vain faith is called a dead faith, so may this be called a living or lively faith. And this is not only the common belief in the articles of our faith,3 but it is also a sure trust and confidence in the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a steadfast hope of all good things to be received from God’s hand. And although we, through infirmity or temptation from our spiritual enemy, fall from him by sin, yet if we return again to him by true repentance, he will forgive and forget our offences for his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s sake, and will make us inheritors with him of his everlasting Kingdom.

And in the meantime, until that kingdom comes, he will be our protector and defender in all perils and dangers, whatever happens. And though he may sometimes send us sharp adversity, yet he will evermore be a loving Father to us, correcting us for our sin, but not finally withdrawing his mercy from us if we trust in him and commit ourselves wholly unto him, hang only upon him, and call upon him, ready to obey and serve him.

This is true, living, and sincere Christian faith, and is not in the mouth and outward profession only, but it lives and stirs inwardly, in the heart. And this faith is not without hope and trust in God, nor without the love of God and of our neighbours, nor without the fear of God, nor without the desire to hear God’s word, and to follow it in renouncing evil, and gladly doing all good works.

This faith (as Saint Paul describes it) is the sure ground and foundation of the benefits which we ought to look for and trust to receive from God, the assurance and sure expectation of them, although they do not yet appear to our senses (Hebrews 11:1). And afterwards he says, “The one who comes to God must believe both that he exists, and that he is a merciful rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). And nothing commends good people to God so much as this assured faith and trust in him.

The fruitfulness of true faith
Of this faith, three things are specially to be noted. First, that this faith does not lie dead in the heart, but is lively and fruitful in bringing forth good works. Second, that without it, no good works that are acceptable and pleasing to God can be done. Third, what manner of good works they are, that this faith brings forth. For the first, just as light cannot be hidden, but will show itself at one place or other, so a true faith cannot be kept secret. When occasion is offered, it will break out, and show itself by good works. The living body of a person will always be busy doing what natural and living bodies do to nourish and preserve themselves, as they have need, opportunity, and occasion. In the same way, the soul that has a lively faith in it will not be unoccupied, but will always be doing some good work, which will show that it is alive.

Therefore when people hear in the Scriptures such high commendations of faith — that it makes us please God, to live with God, and to be the children of God — if they then fantasise that they are set at liberty from doing all good works, and may live as they lust, they trifle with God and deceive themselves. And it is a manifest token that they are far from having a true and living faith, and also far from knowledge of what true faith means.

For the very sure and living Christian faith is not only to believe everything about God which is contained in holy Scripture. It is also an earnest trust and confidence in God, that he regards us and that he is careful over us, as the father is over the child whom he loves. It is confidence that he will be merciful to us for his only Son’s sake, and that we have our Saviour Christ as our perpetual advocate and Priest, in whose merits, sacrificial offering, and suffering alone we trust that our offences are continually washed and purged, whenever we (repenting truly) return to him with our whole heart, steadfastly determining with ourselves, through his grace, to obey and serve him in keeping his commandments, and never to turn back again to sin. Such is true faith, that the Scripture commends so much.

When such faith sees and considers what God has done for us, it is moved through the continual assistance of the Spirit of God to serve and please him, to keep his favour, to fear his displeasure, to continue his obedient children, showing thankfulness in return to him by observing or keeping his commandments, and that freely, chiefly for true love and not for dread of punishment or love of temporal reward,considering how clearly, and undeservedly we have received his mercy and pardon freely.

This true faith will show itself, and cannot long be idle. For as it is written, “The righteous will live by their faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17). It never sleeps nor is idle, when it should be awake and well occupied. And God by his Prophet Jeremiah says that “blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV). Even so, faithful people (putting away all fear of adversity) will show forth the fruit of their good works, as occasion is offered to do them.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society

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