• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

A Sinful Kind of Faith

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! James 2:19NKJV


Question 105 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?” In the fifth part of the answer, it says, “The sins forbidden in the first commandment are… vain credulity, unbelief, heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness and insensibleness under judgments, hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security… .” Last week we looked at the sin of inordinately loving ourselves. This week we consider various kinds of sinful faith.

Before I was converted to Christ, I thought I would be saved because I believed in God. That is, I was no atheist, I believed that God existed, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three persons in one God, that God created the world, that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified, died and was buried, that He rose again the third day and that He would come again to judge the world. In short, I affirmed all that was in the Apostles’ Creed was literally true. But by the fruit of my life, I clearly was not trusting in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; I was not repenting of my sins and seeking to do good works out of a love for God. I had a kind of faith, but I did not possess saving faith. Like the Scripture at the head of this article, I believed in the existence of God while I lived my life according to my own wits, desires, and fears.

In this part of the Catechism’s answer we see that there are many kinds of “faith” that not only are not saving, they are actually sinful. First, is the sin of “vain credulity.” This is the sin of believing in something that we should not believe in. Human beings are created in the image of God, the One who is the truth. We are to live our lives by what is true. We are not, therefore, to be gullible or foolish in what we accept as true. In fact, we do not have the right to believe in anything until there is sufficient evidence to establish it as true, and then we are only to believe it insofar as the evidence proves it. The Christian is to respond to and accept the voice of truth. We are commanded to “test the spirits,” (1 John 4:1). To neglect to examine things for their truthfulness and to live by fantasy or falsehood is to break this commandment.

However, once something is proven to be true, to not believe it is to commit the sin of unbelief. Thus, to not believe in Christ’s resurrection, which is proven to be true by the credible testimony of Scripture and history, is sinful. Heresy is to believe in false doctrines that strike at the fundamentals of the Christian faith, or else to deny true doctrines that are essential to Christianity. Misbelief is to believe in falsehood that, while it does not rise to the level of heresy, it is still sinful to believe it.  If we were careful to only believe in things insofar as they show themselves to be true, we would never commit the sin of misbelief. Distrust, like all of the other kinds of faith mentioned in this list, has to do with distrusting God, whom we should always trust. It is not a sin to distrust in someone or something who shows him or itself to be dis-trustworthy. Similarly, while it may be right at times to despair of a certain event coming to pass, it is never right to despair in terms of who God is or what He has done or said He will do.

Incorrigibleness and insensibleness under judgments are another kind of unbelief, for if we believed in the God who was judging us, we would fear these corrections and we would repent. Over and over again, when Israel did not repent under God’s judgments and heed His Word, His prophets called attention to their hardness of heart (see Isaiah 1), pride (Hos. 5:5), and presumption (Deut. 1:43). Furthermore, the more men wrongly disbelieve God’s judgment of and hatred for sin, the more they become carnally secure. Even as Israel’s prophets were ridiculed and persecuted for their messages of God’s impending judgment, so Paul prophesied that the Day of the Lord would come upon those who were carnally secure: “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape,” (1 Thess. 5:3). May God grant that we do not sinfully trust in ourselves, or believe wrongly about Him!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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