Q.21. What is true faith?
A. True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.
This is one of my favorite questions in the catechism. There are many ideas about faith in our world. What is it? What is it not? In this question we see that faith involves the mind but it also involves the heart. God gives faith; but it is also something we experience. Faith isn’t just otherworldly; it is real. It is like a gold miner staking a claim to mark out his interests and intentions. The claim is truly his and he will mine it. Such is true faith – truly ours and we are assured of God’s love for us because of it. Read Hebrews 11:1.
Faith must begin in knowledge with a conviction that the knowledge is trustworthy. It is of no use to believe 2+2=5 because it isn’t true. But the converse is also true, if you aren’t sure that 2+2=4 but just have a hunch, you aren’t likely to use that information in life. As you charge clients and settle accounts, if someone challenges your assumption that 2+2=4 and you are not absolutely convinced, you may find yourself persuaded that three is the correct answer and so be shorted $1. Knowledge and conviction are necessary as the ground of faith.
As Christians, we believe and are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and “contains the will of God completely” concerning what “one must believe to be saved” (Belgic Confession Art.7). Read 2 Peter 1:19-21 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
But with knowledge and conviction, we also need assurance. I have struggled to differentiate assurance from conviction, but here is my best effort. Conviction is believing that God is good, assurance is believing he expresses that goodness to you personally. Read Romans 4:18-21.
In this story, Abraham exhibits both conviction and assurance. He believes God can create him offspring and he is assured that God will do it for him. These three elements, knowledge, conviction and assurance make up our faith like 3 legs on a stool. With less than three legs, the stool will rock and with more than three, it will never be stable. But with three legs and three legs alone, a solid platform is provided to rest a weary traveler. So it is with our faith. Do we believe that God can save humanity? Are we convinced he has saved humanity through Jesus Christ? Finally, are we assured that Jesus has saved us? These 3 pillars are needed to keep our life from rocking at every tempest that comes. These three provide rest to our wearied lives for they are all resting on Christ. Read 2 Timothy 1:12b.
Gideon is another story of assurance. He was told by God to go and save Israel from their enemies the Midianites (Judges 6:14). He became convinced of the truth of these instructions as God answered two of his prayers regarding the fleece and morning dew. But Gideon’s assurance that God would use him to defeat his enemies is most profoundly displayed in the reduction of his fighting force from 32,000 to 300 men armed with torches and jars. Read Judges 7:2-22. With 300 men assured that God’s promises were for him, Gideon acted and saved Israel.
So how do we gain the same assurance that Gideon had to entrust ourselves to the Lord? Both knowledge and conviction can come from studying the Word and learning, but assurance that all the promises contained inside the word comes only as a gift from God. God, through his Holy Spirit, enters our life and reminds us, convicts us, and assures us that everything is true. The Spirit leads us into all truth according to Jesus. As we study the word, God will create an unquenchable fire in our lives that testifies to his promises for us. Then as we act upon those promises and confess then with our mouths, we will grow in our assurance. Read Hebrews 9:14, 1Thessalonians 1:5, John 16:7-8, 13. In each of these Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings assurance to the individual.
What is it that we have faith in? In short, that Jesus Christ has forgiven my sins, established the relationship with God that I destroyed by my sin and has guaranteed that forgiveness and relationship forever. Read Romans 3:21-26 and Ephesians 2:8-10.