The nature of faith

Faith is elicited through hearing the message of Christ being preached Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity

In addition to being the gift of God, faith is also an act of man, taking its rise in attendance to the Word of God. Faith begins with ‘hearing’ (akoe) that becomes ‘obedience’ (hypakoe).

The Word of God was committed to the ministry of the Church. Although all Christians can and should proclaim the Gospel, the special care and general oversight of that ministry was especially entrusted to a select group of men, who were commissioned to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them what Jesus ordained [Matt. 28.19–20]. These were the men, along with their historical successors, who founded the Christian churches, by proclaiming the Word of God, the story and message of Jesus. This is the Gospel.

Through hearing

According to the apostolic writings, faith is normally elicited through hearing this proclamation. ‘So then faith is through hearing, and hearing through the message of Christ’ [Rom. 10.17]. Indeed, it is called ‘the hearing of faith’ (akoe pisteos – Gal. 3.2, 5), just as the message itself is called ‘the word of hearing’ (logos akoes – 1 Thess. 2.13; Heb. 4.2).

Preaching, therefore, is the normal means by which the Word of God elicits faith. Thus, the New Testament asks, ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?’ [Rom. 10.14] .

With the godly reception of that Word, hearing (akoe) becomes obedience (hypakoe). It is at this point that faith grows into a human act. Thus, we read of ‘the obedience of faith’ (hypakoe pisteos – Rom. 1.15; 16.26). It is imperative, Paul wrote, not to neglect obedience to the Gospel of Christ [2 Thess. 1.8].

Such obedience involves the body as well as the mind. It is not enough to assent with the heart; the believer must also proclaim his faith vocally. Very important among the physical expressions of faith is obedience to the mandate of baptism. Thus, in Mark’s version of the Great Commission, we read, ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved’ [Mark 16.16]. Indeed, all through the Acts of the Apostles, we find that submission to baptism is a first step – a physical step – in the obedience of faith. It is in the act of baptism, moreover, this ritual enactment of his faith, that the believer is relieved of his sins.

A new life

Faith is more than a conscious psychological act. Inasmuch as it commits the believer, body and soul, to the lordship of Christ, the person who takes this step can barely do more than guess at the full content and implication of what he does. His faith unites him to Christ, which makes him a new creature [2 Cor. 5.17].

This is an objectively new condition of being, which his cognitive faculties will only gradually perceive. Our consciousness of rebirth, at the time we are reborn, may not be much greater than our consciousness at birth. This is nothing to worry about, as long as we remain faithful to the requirements and implications of what God’s grace has done for us.

Indeed, much of the exhortatory material in the New Testament is directed towards making the believer conscious of the moral and intellectual responsibilities which express that objective state of reconciliation, justification, and union with Christ. This is the work of the Christian life, the life in which Christ gradually takes over the thinking and emotive processes of the believer’s soul.

This union with Christ is God’s work, not ours; we cannot, of ourselves, unite ourselves with Christ. Our responsibility is, rather, to take full, personal possession of that union. ND