What Is So Great About Faith?

by Bethany


in Faithful to Our Calling, Faithful To Our Lord
vo. II, pp. 19-22. Edited by the Faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis:
Concordia Seminary. 1974

 

What could possibly be so important about my faith that I should now be
asked to publish it like this “for use in discussion forums?” What is
there about my faith that is all that interesting? Certainly not the fact
that this faith is mine. That is hardly what makes it important. Then
what does? Is it the fact that, being a pastor and teacher, I am in a
position to impose my faith on others? True, that influence upon others,
which is why I need to be controlled by the church’s ordination, does
render what I believe a matter of public concern. Still, all this only
pushes the question back farther yet. If what is important about my faith
is that it might influence the faith of others, then why is the faith of
these others so important in the first place? Why is the faith of any
Christian important?

If Jesus our Lord could say to His converts, “Great is your faith,” what
was it about their faith that was great? How could He say about their
faith that that was the thing which “made you well” or “saved you”? Why do
we say of our own faith that it is that and that alone, quite independently
of the good things our faith does, which endears us to God?

What is so great about faith? Is it the fact that our faith is not our own
doing but God’s by grace alone? But that is not unique with faith; that
much is true also of our loving, our forgiving and all the other gifts of
the Spirit we receive. If that has been our big reason for extolling
faith, namely that it is the work of God, then no wonder we sometimes sound
so Reformed, emphasizing sola gratia in a way which deemphasizes sola fide.
Unless the Augsburg Confession is mistaken, the only way truly to say sola
gratia is to say sola fide.

Why is faith special? Is it because faith believes what God says and that
way is sure of being right? Of course, that is what faith believes, God’s
Word, and His Word is always right. But merely agreeing with Him does not
make us right. For one of the things God says is that we are all wrong.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands.” “All men are liars.”
It is tempting to want to disprove that judgment upon us — of all things,
by agreeing with it. For then wouldn’t we at least be right about that:
about how wrong we are? But God does not fall for tricks like that. Nor
is He impressed with how right we are about Bible history. So what if I do
believe (as I do) that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea dry-shod or that
Jesus was born of a virgin or that He rose from the dead? That much, says
God with a shrug, the devils also believe. So then that could hardly be
what distinguishes faith as great, namely, how right it makes us to believe
what God says.

But there is one thing which God says, one Word of His, which is different:
not His word as law but His Word as promise. That promissory Word does
change us from wrong to right if and as we believe it. That, finally, is
what is great about faith: in our faith God’s promise comes true. He
promises to forgive us, but only in trusting that promise do we get
forgiven. If His promise goes unbelieved, it goes unfulfilled. A man can
promise with all his heart that he loves his wife, but if she disbelieves
him, she is not getting loved; his promise is thwarted. With God’s other
Word, His judging Word, faith makes no such difference. His judgment that
we are sinners applies whether we believe it or not. But not so with His
promise. That depends on being believed. Not that faith creates the
promise. The promise is not something subjective, man-made. The promise
is as real as God and it simply stands independently, the way a man’s
Baptism does or the Body and Blood in Christ’s Supper, whether it is
accepted or denied. But if it is denied, it stands as judgment and no
longer as promise. Still, its original purpose is promise, and the promise
is meant to be enjoyed. That is what faith is, enjoying the promise.

The one trouble with faith is not that it isn’t great but that is is so
scarce, even in the staunchest believers. But isn’t that a criticism of
us? It is. Then does judgment have the last word after all? Not really.
The dear God, bless Him, takes our scarce faith and “reckons it to [us] for
righteousness.” Not that our faith isn’t already righteous or that God
first has to pretend that it is righteous. Our faith, in what there is of
it, is indeed righteous. The trouble is, our tiny faith is more than
outweighed by its opposite, our unfaith — for example, our worry, which
Jesus equates with faithlessness and, in turn, with hatred of God. Yet God
“reckons” that tiny faith to me, to all of me, including the unbelieving
me, as wall-to-wall righteousness. Which is enough righteousness for a man
to live off of for the rest of his life. That is, forever. God treats
believing sinners as whole righteous persons, but propter fidem. Because
of our faith, timid and paltry thought it is, God is delighted with us
whole and entire. But why? Ah, there at last is the question by which all
theology and all theologians are to be tested for their biblicalness. Why
does God count us meagre believers as altogether right when in fact we are
still desperately wrong? What is it about our faith, even our faltering
faith, which prompts Him to pay us such sweeping compliments?

The reason, quite simply, is the one whom our faith is faith in, Jesus the
Christ. Either He is the Christ, and in that case our faith in Him is
vindicated. Or He is not the Christ, and then we are of all men the most
miserable. If it should turn out at the end of history, in The Last
Analysis, that Jesus is not Lord after all, then our faith in Him, no
matter how sincere, will be exposed as the very opposite of “great.”

It will be an everlasting reproach to us. All the more so with public
teachers and pastors like me, who have in addition led others into this
same faith, including our own families. Yet trust Him we do, as the Christ
of God and our very Lord, and stake our lives on Him. Because it is in Him
that we believe, and not for any other reason, we dare therefore to hope
that God finds our poor faith, finds us ourselves, a joy to behold.

This Jesus, whom we believe to be the only-begotten Son of God, is the only
man among us who has been truly right. But He has been right for us, in
our stead and on our behalf, even to the point of being made wrong for us
— He who knew no wrong. Because He is for us, we believe that the One
whom He called God is the only God there is and, being the Father of Jesus,
is therefore a Father to us as well. Though we do not deny that there are
other spirits, even spirits who may heal and who impel men to superhuman
activity, we do believe that that Spirit by whom the risen Christ and His
Father have spirited the Christian community is the only Spirit deserving
the title “Holy.”

Because Christ Jesus is “for us men and for our salvation,” we do by
believing in Him so identify with Him that we take His death to be our
death and His resurrection our resurrection. And we believe that God
concurs in that identification and will see it through. Believing this, we
are liberated as never before to take also the criticism of God’s law,
killing though that is, and actually have found such dying profitable for
living. We call that the “joy of repentance” or “the dear holy cross.”

In fact, since Jesus Christ is pro nobis, for us, we who believe in Him
(though we are originally from many different races and traditions) now
take on the very history out of which He came, the history of an obscure
and oppressed people, and take the Scriptures which explain that history.
That is, we now take that history, though it does not appear to be ours, as
having happened for us, and the Word of God which is there recorded as
having been recorded for us. All this, again, for one reason only: the
great promise which that biblical history shows is finally kept, for us and
for all nations, by Jesus Christ. Accordingly, all biblical history, even
the history of God’s law, is subordinated to and read in the light of
God’s-promise-kept, Jesus our Lord. Our one rule for doing that is the
writings of Jesus’ own apostles who, like the prophets before them, were
inspired by the Spirit of God but who, unlike the prophets, now recorded
the history of a new covenant, rendering the prior covenant “old.”

It is into that New Covenant and its ongoing history that we believe
ourselves authorized to invited all the peoples of the world, who, since
Christ was Brother to them, are our brothers as well. Because of our
faith, seeing that it is faith in Him, we are confident that none of all
those who believe in Him will be put to shame when He comes back.

Author

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In the early 1970s two seminary professors listened to the plea of some lay Christians. “Can you help us live out our faith in the world of daily work?” they asked. “Can you help us connect Sunday worship with our lives the other six days of the week?”  That is how Crossings was born.

 

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