At the recent Gold Coast Easter United event, the main speaker, well-known Gold Coast pastor, Stu Cameron (NewLife Uniting Church, Robina), said, 'The sole purpose of faith is to respond to God's grace'. Similar statements have been made by others like Creflo Dollar (World Changers International Church, College Park, GA) and Andrew Wommack (Andrew Wommack Ministries, Woodland Park, CO). Although Ps Stu was referring primarily to salvation, Creflo Dollar and Andrew Wommack go much further and argue that faith is our 'response to what God has already provided by His grace' and this includes salvation, health and prosperity. What all three have in common is the idea that faith is a response to God's grace.
The Australian Christian Churches' beliefs include the following (see https://www.acc.org.au/about-us/):
God has individually equipped us so we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives - to worship God, fulfil our role in the Church, and serve the community in which we live
God wants to heal and transform us so we can live healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively.
In order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptised in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues which is the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
I would like to suggest that God's grace is the foundation of all three of the belief statements above and that there are (at least) three faith responses to God's grace after we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. (All scriptures are from the New Living Translation.)
- The first is to submit to water baptism. But now the people believed Philip's message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptised. (Acts 8:12)
- The second is to receive baptism in the Holy Spirit. 'I (John) baptise with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone (Jesus) is coming soon who is greater than I am - so much greater that I'm not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.' (Matthew 3:11)
- The third is to engage in the process of holiness or sanctification. Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honour— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 112:1-2)
It is legitimate to ask how the explicit characterisation of faith in Hebrews 11:1 relates to the discussion above. Here is that scripture in the familiar New King James Version:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Here is the Amplified Version of the same verse:
Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].
Finally, here is Dr Rod's 'amplified' version of this verse:
Now faith is [expressed as] the substance (unshakeable belief in what God has promised by His grace) of things hoped for (confidently expected), [faith is] the evidence (again, unshakeable belief in what God has promised by His grace) of things not seen (with the natural eyes, but seen with the 'eyes of faith').
So, why do we have unshakeable belief in what God has promised by His grace? Because our faith is in Him. We have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is our relationship that leads us to believe in what He has promised by His grace. This is the sense in which our faith is expressed as 'substance' or 'evidence'.
Questions for discussion
1. The Greek words normally translated 'faith' and 'belief' are from the same root. Thus the concepts of faith and belief are very closely related. Do you think it is helpful to understand the relationship by a statement such as, 'Our faith is in God and we believe His promises'?
2. Do you agree that water baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit and engagement in the process of holiness or sanctification are all faith responses to God's grace? (Note: 'Holiness' and 'sanctification' are the same word in the Greek.)
3. Dr Rod's 'amplified' version inserts the words 'expressed as'. This has the effect of separating the concepts of faith and belief. Do you think this is helpful? (Note: See Mark 11:22-24.)
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