Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Faith that Justifies
Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord.
And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 13:48 NKJV
Question 72 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is justifying faith?” It gives the answer, “Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.” Last week we examined how justification is entirely of the free grace of God. This week we consider the nature of justifying faith.
The first thing we notice about justifying faith is that it is a saving grace. The faith, through which God accepts you as righteous in His sight, is not your self-wrought work, but it is His gracious gift to you. Further, it is a gift not of God’s common grace but of His saving grace. That means that everyone to whom God gives faith will be saved. When God gives the gift of faith, He causes it to be “wrought” it into the heart of one of His elect. The word “wrought” just means to form, create, or make. Where God is pleased to justify a sinner, He acts to create faith in his heart. Thus, the sinner believes. God does not believe for him. And the sinner believes truly from his own heart: his faith is not something foreign to him that is forced upon him. When God gives justifying faith to a sinner that sinner suddenly wants to believe, where before he did not want to believe. The difference is the work that God has done in the heart.
Second, notice that this creation of faith in the heart of a sinner is accomplished by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. In the Scripture at the head of this article we see that it was when the Gentiles heard “the word of the Lord” that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” God caused His elect to believe in His Word, which brought them into an estate of eternal life. This is the ordinary way salvation comes to all of God’s elect. At a certain point in time God causes each one of them to not only hear His Word, but the Holy Spirit causes him to savingly believe in that Word. Paul taught the Corinthian Church that “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3b). Now obviously Paul did not mean that speaking the words “Jesus is Lord” is impossible to unbelievers! All English speaking people in their right minds and with functioning vocal cords can mouth the words “Jesus,” “is,” and “Lord,” and say them together in a sentence. What Paul clearly meant is that no one can sincerely call Jesus “Lord,” unless the Holy Spirit has given that person real faith. How does the Holy Spirit give faith to a sinner? Does the Bible tell us anything more about this work?
Yes. Citing a host of Scripture references (Acts 2:37; 4:12; 10:43; 16:30-31; Joh. 1:12; 16:8-9; Eph. 1:13; Phi. 3:9), the Catechism teaches us that in creating faith in the heart of one of God’s elect, the Holy Spirit convinces the sinner of his sin and misery and of his disability to save himself. Think of Acts 2:37 where the Jewish audience was “cut to the heart” by Peter’s message. Upon being convicted of the sin of murdering the Messiah they asked the apostles “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They knew they could not save themselves from the evil they had done and consequently three thousand of them believed in Jesus for salvation. Thus, they received Peter’s admonition to “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” These acts were the immediate results of turning away from their former lives of evil and trusting wholly in Christ to save them from their sins. In other words they were the fruit of their faith. In the language of the Catechism, they not only admitted and assented to the truth of the gospel, but they received and rested upon Christ alone for forgiveness and for righteousness, and thus they were baptized in His name. Their faith was subsequently made evident in their lives of repentance and good works. And so it is with all of us today. If the Holy Spirit has given you justifying faith, you should feel truly sorry for your sins, turning from them to God, and trusting in Christ alone for pardon and for righteousness. Your hope in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins, which was expressed in your being baptized in His name for the remission of sins, should be evident in your life of loving obedience to your Savior and Lord!