Rich Wheeler's

The Gospel:

Belief vs. Works

Opposing the eternal torture
(or, as fundamentalists call it, the damnation)
of the guilty.

(Construction started: 6 June 1999)

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Contents

Saving Faith: Complete, Committing, and Guiding Belief

Belief is a mental and, optionally, spiritual condition of agreeing with a set of "facts," regardless of whether those facts correspond to reality.

I'd like to concentrate on belief itself. I do not intend here to define what must be beleived regarding the Gospel. In addition (or subtraction, as the case may be), although I may touch on it in order to draw the distinction between faith and physical actions, I will not address the facts or object(s) of faith. I hope you'll be tolerant that I don't try to support any of my opinions at this time. Rather than trying to argue my ideas, I will merely try to define them.

As is pointed out in James 2:19,

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

They give an intellectual assent to whom God is, for they can "see" it for themselves. Yet they rebel against things as they are and seek to change the order of authority and thereby their destiny. This is because they reject a crucial fact: that God's authority and their destinies are as they should be. This crucial fact being rejected, therefore, they have a belief in an incomplete set of fact.

The same incompleteness of beliefs infects human belief, too. Though one may give intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel, if his pride prevents him from consenting to some portion of it, then his belief does not reach such a depth that it directs his "will" and, indirectly through his will, his actions. He has, as they say, missed heaven by 18 inches -- the distance from his head to his heart.

There are at least three major ways that belief in the gospel can be incomplete.

The first way, already alluded to, amounts to the lack of a complete set of the fundamental facts (i.e., the minimum set of facts which must be grasped in order to gain a saving faith in Christ. One can fail to accept the positive side of the gospel (who God is, what He has done for and promises to us), or one can fail to grasp the negative side of the gospel (our need for that which God has done for us). The first error leads to wrong remedies, but the second leaves one without motive to accept the right remedy.

A common variation on factual incompleteness is the acceptance of additional "facts" which corrupt or nullify the basic set of facts. I call this a form of incompleteness because those who make errors of this sort fail to grasp that the basic set is complete and adequate and that the additional "facts" are, indeed, erroneous.

The second way regards the degree of one's intellectual belief. One asks, "How certain am I of these things?" Does one confidently state to himself, "This is true," or does one require having been there to see it for himself so that no doubts would remain?

As one develops a mental belief that the gospel is probable (not even necessarily that it is certain), God may be gracious to give him a depth of belief which is spiritual. That is, one can bridge the gap between uncertainty and certainty and make a commitment of the will to act as though those facts were certain.

This leap of faith, the acceptance of facts not yet proven to be certain, runs counter to the tendencies of our fallen nature and is a gift of God. Those who need encounters with the supernatural such as tongues, miracles, or visions, in order to "believe" have a sight-based belief. Such belief, not having the depth of faith, is incomplete and subject to erosion in the absence of continued reinforcement. When one has "saving faith," supernatural proofs are not needed.

The third way that belief can be incomplete occurs when one fails to redirect one's will to correlate one's actions to one's alleged beliefs. When this redirection of the will occurs, one's actions will follow. The actions are not part of the belief; they are the resulting evidence of that belief. The actions may be immediate or delayed, obvious or too subtle to notice; but if the belief is sufficiently complete to be correctly called "saving faith," then either appropriate actions will eventually manifest it, or the errant believer will be disciplined by a Loving God for his errant behavior.

There is a crucial distinction to be made regarding faith and its resultant actions (or the lack of either, as the case may be). God sees the heart. He does not need to wait for the actions which follow "saving faith." We, on the other hand, do not see the heart; we cannot see that faith is there until the actions follow. Therefore, to be justified before God -- or, more correctly, to be justified by God -- all that He requires is a complete faith (which will, of course, result in corresponding actions); whereas to be justified before oneself and before others, one needs to wait for the corresponding actions.

There is a danger to the human side of the above statement. One can have a counterfeit faith and act as though their faith were genuine. The result is to fool oneself and others into thinking that the faith was "saving." The greatest danger when such happens is that one has a false sense of salvation and will therefore resist coming to a complete belief.

On the other hand, one may not produce the precise actions which are expected, such that others will not accept him into fellowship. Such is a sad situation, since God has a unique set of priorities for each of us. The greater danger, however, is that people not having confidence in their salvation needlessly fall into lives of self-doubt, constantly seeking to earn that which is already possessed and unable to completely experience the blessings of heavenly citizenship.

Faith is like sitting. For a chair to do me any good, I must first assent to the chair's ability to hold me up and consent to the fact of my need to rest. I must then choose to trust that chair despite any doubts I may harbor. Finally, I must decide to sit in the chair. At this point, my belief is complete, "sitting faith." I may not be able to actually sit on the chair yet, but the intent of my heart is clear to God. The physical action of placing my weight on the chair is an outgrowth of my belief in "the gospel of the chair" and not to be confused with the belief itself. The limitation of this analogy is that God is spiritual, not physical; and placing the weight of one's sin upon God is a mental and spiritual, rather than physical, act.

Belief, or "saving faith," is not only an assent to the complete facts of the gospel, but is also a consent to those facts; and it has a depth which results in one's actions being directed accordingly. Although saving faith results in actions, it is not to be confused with the actions themselves; and although actions are evidence of faith, we must use caution in judging faith on the basis of such counterfeitable evidence.

[P.S., WRT Acts 19:2-9, the disciples of John had an incomplete and inadequate set of facts. Namely, they did not know that the One toward Whom John was directing their faith was Jesus. Also, the brevity of the passage might mislead some into mistakenly thinking that all the men needed to learn was the name, Jesus, and not also of His redemptive death and resurrection. It is unlikely that the complete dialog is recorded. It would be presumptuous to think that the men did not state their belief, that Paul baptized them while saying "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and nothing else, or even that those words ("in the name of the Lord Jesus") constituted Paul's pronouncement during the baptism. I infer, then, that Paul preached to them more about Jesus than His mere name.

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1999 Richard Wheeler

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