When we were children gathered around the Christmas tree, we were filled with wonder at the presents that were laid out before us. Boxes of red and green holding treasures unknown. As young children, it seems to us as if the presents appear by magic, maybe Santa Clause brought them or perhaps no one brought them they just appeared. We get lost in the gifts and the joy of discovery and forget for a time that the gifts came from somewhere. As we grow older, we learn that gifts indeed do come from somewhere. Christmas gifts come from our parents, our friends, and maybe grandparents. They come from stories and the workshops of people we know. They are made or purchased to give to another. We might even start to participate in this gift-giving, finding that the joy of giving is even greater than the joy of receiving. But there are some things where we always seem to be in a childlike state. We do not think about where the gift comes from, or even worse do not think of the gift as a gift at all. Sadly this is the truth for many who call themselves Christian. But we are called to grow up in to the likeness of Christ. So let us ask the question of where our gifts come from.
In the last couple of weeks, we have been talking about justification and works. How we are not saved by our own works but by the gift of grace. This grace is necessary because our works are tainted by sin. Everything we do apart from the grace of Christ is stained by the corruption of sin. This is the doctrine of Grace Alone (Sola Gratia). That we are saved by grace alone. As Paul writes to the Ephesians "For by grace you have been saved...and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." This is a wonderful truth and many embrace it. But sadly far too many stop there and forget the part that I left out. That this grace comes through faith and that faith is also a gift from God. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism understand this and so they ask;
"Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?"
Faith, like every other gift, has an origin point. Sadly in our selfishness, we are prone to think that faith is something that starts with us. But the catechism teaches us differently, it rightly teaches that faith comes from God. It answers;
"From the Holy Spirit,a who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments."
We are going to talk about the sacrament part next week. For now, we are going to focus on the idea that faith comes from the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. This is an important truth for us to understand. Paul writes in Romans "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." In the verses that come before this one Paul is making the point that the preaching of the gospel is an essential part of the process, not because the words themselves save, but because it is the means that the Holy Spirit uses. So when the gospel is preached, faith is worked in the hearts of those who listen. And as James says "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights."
Why Is This Important?
You may be asking at this point, why is this a big deal? What is the point of understanding that faith comes from God? There are a couple of important reasons for understanding this. The first has to do with giving credit and glory to God for what he has done. Have you ever worked on something, and put your time and energy into it, only to have someone else take the credit? This is what we do when we take credit for what God alone can do. Only God can change the sinner's heart. Only God can grant saving faith. We cannot even breathe without his giving us life, and we think that we are capable of anything apart from his work. So we should be wary of taking credit for what God has said comes from him. The second important reason to understand this is that we need to understand our role in evangelism. We need to understand how we fit into God's redemptive plan for people. When Paul writes to the Corinthian church he tells them to remember that it is not Paul or Apollos that is important, but who gives the growth. Paul and Apollos are simply God's workers, spreading the good seed, that is the gospel, and watering it. If we think that faith comes from within us, we often try to bring that out, to try all kinds of other methods to get people to believe. This is something we see throughout the history of the church. We see huge waves of people professing to be saved, they have an emotional experience, but there is never any fruit. There is never the work that faith produces.
The reason this is overall important is that we need to trust in God and obey what he has commanded us to do. He has called us to go and preach the gospel. To teach those who come in faith to obey all that Christ has commanded. We can trust that God will give the increase in his own time. We are called to be content with the increase that we are given, not to envy someone else's increase. Our role is to be obedient, God's role is to change people's hearts. Will we trust him to bring growth? Will we be ready to preach the gospel in season and out of season? I pray that we will be. That we would be people who faithfully share the word with everyone we can and leave the result up to God. God is faithful. He will not fail. Let us trust God to do what only He can do. He changes the sinner's heart, he gives faith and repentance, and we get to be a part of his work by sharing the good news of the gospel with the people around us. What a privilege to be used by God for his glory.
Soli Deo Gloria