Somedays I have doubts. My mind knows God is true and His Word is living and active. But some days, my heart has trouble getting into gear. Do you know the feeling? Somedays I feel like I’m wading through the mud, sinning left right and centre and making a real mess of things. On days like this, I question my faith- is it really there? I know God hasn’t moved, but I feel like things are a bit fuzzy. I read passages like Matthew 7:22, where those who had the outward appearance of being Christians get turned away from entering eternity with God, because their hearts were wrong- Jesus never knew them. At times, this scares me- what if I am counted among these people? What if I am living a life that looks like I’m following Jesus, but internally tells a different story? Comforting friends often try to reason with us and we end up thinking these doubts are evil and are not of God. But what if God actually allows and uses these doubts so that we can assess and gauge where we are spiritually? To really get us to question whether our head, heart and lives are reflecting the glorious grace of Jesus and the Gospel? As our pastor said yesterday morning, “What would your life show if being a Christian was a crime- would you be convicted?”
Matt Chandler speaks about writing his book “The Explicit Gospel” for church-goers who didn’t realise they had little to no true understanding of the Gospel. It struck him that so many adults were coming forward for baptism at Chandler’s church with the testimony, “I grew up going to Sunday School, but…” or “I went forward at a rally, but…” or “I grew up in a Christian family, but….” We expect people who have been living completely non-Christian lives to have these amazing testimonies, but when people are being saved from within the Church, surely it starts us questioning, as Chandler did, what we are teaching, what we are glossing over, or simply what we understand to be true faith.
The reality is that true saving faith is more than just a mental acceptance and knowledge of who Jesus is and the Gospel. True saving faith is also more than an emotional connection, experiencing God. True saving faith “involves repentance from one’s sin and a complete trust in the work of Christ to save from sin and make one righteous.” (gty.org). John MacArthur explains that the Reformer’s discussed faith as having three elements and one needing these three elements to be true saving faith: mental, emotional and volitional.
1. Faith involves a Mental Response
In order to respond to the truth of the Gospel, there needs to be a mental recognition of Who Jesus is, an understanding of man’s need of Jesus’ saving grace and a mental acceptance that the Word of God through the person and work of Jesus and the Holy-Spirit inspired words of the Bible is true, living and complete. There are countless examples in Scripture, where we read Jesus saying “your faith has healed you,” often in response to a declaration of this knowledge. An example of this is in the bleeding woman, who said, “For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:28). In the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), we read that Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was and therefore had a growing understanding of his need for Jesus.
2. Faith involves an Emotional Response
Once a person has a mental understanding of who Jesus is and their need for Him, their emotions must follow. They recognise that Jesus is God, has offered salvation and elected them personally to follow Him and their response is emotional- joy, thanksgiving, humility. Even when we are having our down days, we recognise that Jesus is the true and living Saviour God and our heart is thankful. We also can use praise to worship Him and get our eyes off our circumstances and back on appreciating who God is. I so often find praising God, reading His Word and praying works to get my heart back in line with my head knowledge. In the story of Zacchaeus, we see this emotional response so clearly: “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him,“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.” (Luke 19:5-6).
3. Faith involves a Volitional Response
The third element involved in faith is the response of volition- a decision and commitment to a particular course of action; a setting of the will. Instead of living for self such as notoriety or a bigger pay check, we start living to glorify God. The battle of the spirit and flesh begins and we see sin and seek the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of this and then equip us with His power and grace to get this under control. Zacchaeus’ will changes immediately. After one meeting with Jesus, Zacchaeus is a changed man: “ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10).
As I look at these three elements of faith, I get great comfort. My mind is renewed with an understanding of what true faith looks like, my heart leaps with joy at the extent of grace offered me, and I am re-energised to keep pressing on. The Holy Spirit is living within me and is working, changing me more into the image and likeness of Jesus. One day I will be welcomed in, dressed in my white robe of righteousness. Not because of what I have done, all because of what He has done.