I recently became aware of a doctrine on the nature of faith that is apparently widely held by Christian teachers. One of them wrote this: “An unregenerate person can believe the truth of the law of gravity . . . Likewise, an unregenerate person can believe the truth of Christ’s gospel . . . Since faith is only the instrument, the response of faith in the gospel is not a special kind of faith. Faith is simply faith. It is the object of faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is special and brings salvation.”
This leading teacher in the so-called “free grace” movement was countering the truth of the necessity of being born again by God’s sovereign will and power, so that genuine faith becomes possible. He makes it very clear by the comparison he uses (above) that they believe faith to be just a natural thing, no different from believing I will fall into the water should I step off a bridge, and that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. He completely discounts the need for any supernatural or spiritual essence to faith when he declares that what is required to believe the gospel is not a “special kind of faith”.
Believing this proposition to be far off the mark from a Scriptural understanding of faith, I felt compelled to write a few words for the benefit of those who may not understand the nature of the faith that justifies the sinner and saves the soul. Hebrews 11 is known by most Christians as the “faith chapter”, and those listed in it are universally believed to now be in heaven with their God, having “died in faith”. Verse 1 of that chapter describes for us the activity of genuine faith: “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith gives substance to or makes real what God has promised and “prepared for them that love Him”.¹
No natural, unregenerate mind will ever be able, by natural means of perception (eyes and ears), to perceive, understand, or substantiate what God has done and will yet do in the world and in the heavens through His Son Jesus Christ. The Scripture is clear: IF the princes of this world could have understood God’s secret, this “mystery” that Christians have long “hoped for” and “seen”, then they by all means would have sought to preserve the life of the Lord of glory. But it is precisely because the natural man cannot receive nor know the things of the Spirit of God¹ (since they are spiritually discerned), that we can say with confidence that this “hidden wisdom” requires absolutely “a special kind of faith”. It is faith given by the Spirit of God, who uses the Word of God to quicken the soul of a man. Only then can he “see the kingdom of God” with the eyes of faith.² (I have written more on the subject of new birth at this link.)
I recently enjoyed a few verses in Matthew 17 regarding faith. The Lord takes care to qualify the faith that is required to move mountains (both physical and figurative). It’s exactly the same kind of faith possessed by those saints referred to in Hebrews 11:33-35a, who accomplished seemingly impossible things because their faith was of a special variety. It had the character of a “mustard seed”. Now some have made much of the minuscule size of the mustard seed, and have felt that the Lord was simply emphasizing the fact that a little faith is enough to accomplish impossible things when the object of that faith is Christ. I will not dispute the truth of that point of view, except to say that there is more in this passage than the effectiveness of a small amount of faith. After all, why did the Lord chide Peter and others for having but “little faith”, seemingly relegating that poverty of faith to a place not much better than being “faithless”?³
It is instructive that the Lord Jesus did not speak of faith using any of the small and lifeless objects He references in other contexts. Faith cannot be likened to a mote or a mite or a hair. Real faith, saving and justifying faith, is living and potent in its primordial state as a seed, when its potential is least obvious to natural perception. There is no doubt that the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, is of supreme importance; but it takes a supernatural work of the Spirit of God in the individual soul (II Thessalonians 2:13) to impart the quality of faith that is pleasing to God, and that lays hold of His infinite provision for our eternal blessing in Christ.
¹ I Corinthians 2:6-14 ² Ephesians 2:8; John 3:3 ³ Compare Matthew 14:31 and 16:8 with 17:17-20.