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Notes on Faith

My notes on studying John Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, Chapter II.

The object of our faith is Christ. It is not the benefits we receive, rather, it is the person of Christ. We cannot fulfill the letter of the law, so Christ fulfills it for us, and we come to him in faith. Faith, to most people, is simply an exercise of belief in something. But biblical faith is much more. Biblical faith is to come to know the object of our faith in person. Our faith rests on knowledge of Christ through his word. To the skeptic, faith rests on nothing but wishful thinking. But biblical faith is secure in knowledge, evidence, in knowing a factual thing to be true in Christ.  

Even though we have faith in Christ, believers still sometimes struggle with unbelief. But unbelief is not the end, for our ever-growing faith helps us conquer that unbelief and grow in his knowledge. Even the disciples of Jesus struggled in their faith. Unbelief, for many, is mixed with faith, but will not win the day with a truly sanctified believer.  

Some are not regenerate and exercise some kind of initial faith. They may be caught up by the miraculous but never come to a true faith in Christ. They are caught up in the evidence but not in what the evidence ultimately points to—Christ.  

To understand faith properly, we must realize that there is a relationship between faith and God’s word. The word testifies to Christ. Sometimes, a person rests their faith in the Bible but not the one the Bible points to. Through his word, God demonstrates his heart toward us. If we are attracted to Christ, then we exercise saving faith. That faith rests on God’s word. The Holy Spirit seals us in our faith when the true object of our faith, Christ, becomes known. Many people have expressed some belief in the Bible but never truly come to the saving knowledge of Christ.  

Some people believe with an “unformed” faith. They believe certain things in the Bible but never attain the knowledge of Christ. They believe they may be saved, but true saving faith has not been formed in them apart from Christ. Faith in Christ is not mere “assent” to the Bible but a wholehearted dependence on Christ. Calvin notes that “faith rests upon the knowledge of Christ. And Christ cannot be known apart from the sanctification of his Spirit.”  

Some are said to believe for a while but later fall away. They are like the seed thrown into the weeds, which are choked out before bearing fruit to true salvation. Only those predestined to salvation come to the truth of faith and bear the fruit of salvation.  

One aspect of faith is that we know that God has two feelings toward us. He is angry with our sin, but also loves us in Christ. It is his love that arouses us to repentance so that we might have the same attitude toward our sin that he has.  

There are different meanings of the word “faith” in scripture than to simply believe something. Faith sometimes leads to great acts expressing that faith. Sometimes, it refers to the godly fear of the Almighty, and sometimes it is used to refer to knowledge, as in a saving knowledge of Christ. Comprehension is the key. We need to comprehend the depth of what Christ has done on our behalf and place our faith in him. This is the certainty of faith. Faith not only brings confidence in the person of Christ, but it also brings peace. We are at peace with God, who has reconciled us through Christ. And it brings us a personal peace knowing that we are no longer at enmity with God. This does not mean that we sometimes do not feel conflict within us. We often do. But our faith in Christ conquers these fears and restores our peace, knowing that God is no longer our enemy.  

We live with a reality of faith and fear, which faith must continually conquer. Our faith may be weak at times but rested upon Christ; it is a true faith that prevails. In this battle, faith rests upon the word of God, which tells us of Christ and the principles of faith and godly living that make us victorious.  

There is also a kind of fear that is proper for the saints. This is the fear of God, who punishes sin, but gives us the power to also overcome it. We fully rely on Christ for this power, the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to this as “fear and trembling.” We are working out in our lives what faith in Christ means and how it applies to us in our daily walk with him. We know that we are unworthy of receiving Christ’s benefits, but God provides them through his grace, and we overcome. When our minds are rightly fixed on Christ, we fear him rather than the punishment we might endure. Our eyes are taken off of the circumstances of the trembling and are squarely focused on him.  

Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as General Manager of The Better FM, an online radio station for Asia. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.
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