How Will We Define Faith?

by C. John “Jack” Miller

[H]ow will we define faith? I wouldn’t attempt to try … to give you a comprehensive definition of faith—in a practical way you could say that faith is to know Jesus Christ, to have trusted in Him, but maybe we ought to work it out in a few more divisions.

So, negatively, let’s say that faith is being silenced by the Person of God. That faith is to be silenced by God.

You’ve gone to church and you’ve heard ministers begin the service “The Lord is in His holy temple and let all the earth keep silence before Him.” And everyone thinks, “That’s a very nice thought,” etc., and they never think about it again.

As a matter of fact, you are hearing a negative definition of faith, knowing that God is, and that everybody and every mouth be silenced before that God. “Be still and know that I am God” – there’s where faith begins, a humbling of the heart before the living God.

And so, in a real sense, faith is to shut your big mouth about your own power, about your own righteousness, about your own self-efforts—it really is to recognize that before God you have nothing to boast of, that you stand there condemned. And so, that is the negative side of faith.

On the positive side, faith is a surrender of trust to a God whom you are convinced loves you, and has mercy for you.

No one is going to have this kind of faith unless he’s convinced that God is for him, that in some way God has promises which invite him to come to God. It’s a surrender, then, of trust—and the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this saving faith as accepting, receiving and resting on Christ alone for forgiveness, eternal life, adoption, sonship, etc.

And so what we would say, then, even as we talk about this positive side of faith, listen, being silenced—you don’t have anything to boast about when you do that, do you? And when you surrender, you don’t have anything to boast about either, do you? If you conquered something, you could boast about it—but faith, then, is an act of surrender. It becomes nothing in itself.

And now we speak of “saving faith,” but the faith itself doesn’t save you. It only gives you Christ who does save you. And so we really must speak carefully—repentance and faith in themselves don’t save anybody. The only thing they do is to turn you about and give you Christ, and Christ saves you.

And many people who really labor to believe and strain themselves and struggle, go about it entirely the wrong way. They think of faith as some kind of attainment, of which afterwards you might have a reason for boasting. But that’s not the power of faith—that’s not what it is at all.

And that brings us to the third thing …

Faith has power; in it and in the Bible faith is used virtually as a synonym for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because the person who has faith has Jesus Christ…. In the Bible we’re told that with God all things are possible—we’ll all agree that the Bible teaches that, I think.

Now did you ever think of how strange it is that we are told by Jesus that all things are possible to him that believes. Do you realiize how staggering that is?

You know, we get into the habit of just reading through the Bible and we’re accustomed to these things, and they have a certain rhythm to them, and we just read right on through them.

Do you realize, then, what a staggering thing it is to say of a man’s faith, that all things are possible to him that believeth. Now the only one of whom you can say that about is the One whose name is Omnipotence, the Almighty God.

Now you’re a very superficial person … if you don’t reflect on that—the most amazing thing here is that the person who believes comes into possession of that which is God’s.

And, of course, that’s why salvation is ours — through faith we’re united to Jesus Christ, and everything He has becomes ours and all that we have becomes His. And that’s why we’re so rich; for you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, brethren, that though He was rich for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty, might become rich.

And so, we can put it this way, if you owned Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, you’d be pretty wealthy. If you owned Pennsylvania you’d be even richer than the DuPont’s. But if you could say you owned God, the Lord is your portion, you’re the richest of all. So to him that has faith, all things are his because he’s in Christ and Christ is in God.

Therefore, when you turn to the Bible, you find that the most astonishing things happen when people believe…. In faith you surrender yourself and then a mysterious thing happens: you discover that you surrender yourself and you get everything. And if you don’t do this you can struggle forever and ever and ever and you try to get rich with your own little handfuls and it all melts away.

So there’s this tremendous power in faith and, as I said, it’s virtually a synonym for the Holy Spirit’s working. It’s simply the man-ward side of that divine working by which God draws sinners to Himself by His sovereign mercy.

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