Peter Hedley, Exeter, England
According to the apostle Paul, the unregenerate, that is the non- Christian, do not accept the things of the Spirit, 1 Cor. 2. 14. Spiritual things are foolishness to them. They cannot even begin to understand them, yet 'with God all things are possible’, Matt. 19. 26, and because He has taken the initiative and come out to the lost in supernatural revelation and redemptive grace, then the reverse is now possible. God has spoken and He is not silent, Heb 1. 1-2.
Imagine you wished to get to know the British monarch personally. To do so would depend entirely upon her, because of her position. Similarly, with God, though He greatly transcends us, by grace He makes Himself known to us. This is evident in what the Lord said to Simon Peter when he recognized Him for whom He really was. He declared, 'flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven', Matt. 16. 17. That is divine sovereignty in selfdisclosure.
Nevertheless, even if the Queen were willing to make herself known to you, it would only happen if you responded to her invitation. We can never know God by our natural understanding, feelings or will power. Yet we can know Him experientially as we respond to the revelation provided of Him by the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of God. That's human responsibility.
In order to understand how a genuine spiritual encounter with the Creator God of this universe comes about we need to refer to several passages in the Scriptures. In Romans chapter 10 we learn that saving faith does not come in a vacuum. In revealing Himself God is pleased to use His word, the Bible, and human messengers, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher?' The Christian witness announces the truth concerning salvation in Christ, and so they can now believe on Him. Ignorance about Christ is dispelled and that necessarily precedes faith. This also produces faith for hearing the message awaken it. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit the truth generates conviction of sin and faith in Christ.
Moreover, the obedience of faith produces a genuine spiritual experience of saving intimacy with Christ. They, 'call on Him’, in the act of believing. Being saved is a life-changing event of grace in which the sinner enters the reality of new birth and peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. This initial experience is the seedbed in which all other genuine biblical experiences flourish. It is important to remember that it is 'heart belief', Rom 10. 9, that initially brings a person into the reality of these things and sustains him from then on.
The biblical concept of the 'heart' used in its figurative sense means the 'whole inner man or person'. It is variously used for the mind and understanding, for the will, the emotions, for the conscience and for the motives that control. This is important to our understanding of 'saving faith'. As the literal physical heart is at the centre of the body, it would seem that the 'heart' viewed figuratively, is the very self, the 'I', the living self awareness of the human person. It is with this 'heart' that we choose our fundamental options to respond or not, to God, and thereby determine our eternal identity and destiny.
Heart belief is intellectual. (The mind).
The first step in saving faith must surely be mental belief. You cannot take any step towards a goal unless you believe it exists. This is a necessity with regard to God's existence, Heb. 11. 6. Supposing a certain individual, who has been considering the existence of God and the claims of Christ, and has arrived intellectually at the place where he accepts the probability that Christianity is true. He has begun to believe that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, that man is in rebellion against Him, has broken His laws and that this leads to just punishment and eternal banishment. This person has a growing conviction that Jesus Christ, as God incarnate, was sinless and yet died on the cross as the Substitute provided by God in order to remove His condemnation and bring in reconciliation. Intellectually this person is prepared to believe also that Christ is risen from the dead and will return again. This is all very impressive and convincing but sadly you can give intellectual assent to all this and still be unsaved. Intellectual faith is not sufficient alone for salvation. In John chapter 2 verses 23 to 25, we learn that some 'believed' because of the miracles they saw but did not commit themselves to Him. Jesus did not commit Himself to them on this very count that He knew the type of belief they held! Intellectual faith is ‘dead’ faith according to James in chapter 2 verses 17 and 26 of his letter. Even the demons 'believe' in this way, and it makes them, 'shake with fear', Jas. 2. 19. It is not a mental nor intellectual faith in Christ that leads to eternal life but it is a step in the right direction.
Heart belief is emotional. (The conscience).
Saving faith has an emotional element within it that brings a conviction about sin. In Acts 2. 37, a crowd heard the Christian message and were 'cut to the heart’. The Holy Spirit produced a conviction that touched their consciences about personal guilt. This is essential to saving faith. For preachers it means dealing with Mount Sinai before Mount Calvary. The purpose of the law of God is to bring us to 'the knowledge of sin’, Rom 3. 20. The Living Bible paraphrases it well in saying, 'No one can ever be made right in God's eyes by doing what the Law commands. For the more we know of God's Laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying them, His laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners'. The apostle goes on to write that he personally didn't even know what sin was until the Law told him, Rom. 7. 7. The Amplified Bible puts Rom. 7. 8. this way: 'without the law, the sense of [sin] is inactive’. This function of God's Law is brought out again in 1 Timothy 1. 8. 'The Law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully, for the purpose for which it was designed’. Verse 9 tells us, 'The Law was not made for a righteous man . . . but for sinners’. It is like a mirror which shows us who and what we are in God's sight.
Deep conviction is the threshold of an understanding of God. When the Spirit convicts of sin He rouses consciences to confess guilt, John 3. 18-19. It is the function of the Law to 'stop the mouth’, Rom. 3. 19, this consequently prevents self-excuse and justification, leaving one naked and guilty before God. As a 'schoolmaster', Gal. 3. 24, it gives understanding of sin and propels a person to Christ as the only answer to spiritual need.
If the Holy Spirit is not convicting or drawing the person you are witnessing to, then it is dangerous to press for a commitment. A false profession could follow. Remember that no man can come to the Son unless the Father is drawing him.
Emotional belief or conviction of conscience, even when accompanied by sorrow and a desire to be saved does not necessarily follow through to saving belief. Emotional belief says, 'I see my need of Christ and want to be saved', but that's all.
Heart belief is volitional. (The will).
God created man with a free will. Volitional faith is an act of the human will to commit oneself to obey the revealed will of God as seen in the gospel. It is perhaps the most vital element in 'heart belief'. The volitional element of faith is when a person changes the direction of his whole life by renouncing the ways of the past, gives himself instead to Christ, his rightful Lord. This repentance is a real transaction, a change of allegiance. It is not merely a feeling of guilt but a choosing with one's will, to turn from a known wrong road to the road that leads to God.
Volitional faith has the vital part to play in that no one will believe unless he is willing to believe. It is the deliberate choice to seek, find and capitulate to Christ.
We should avoid loose terms such as 'decisions for Christ'. It is much more a deep regeneration work of the Holy Spirit whose touch has brought conviction over sin and repentance of it, readily turning to the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour.
The prayer of saving faith.
There are no set words to use but a deliberate commitment is needed such as follows:– 'Oh God, I believe that Jesus Christ can save me from the guilt and punishment of sin because He died in my place at Calvary. I turn away from my sin against You and I want Him to save me now. I will let Him save me. Thank you. I commit my life to Him as Saviour and Lord to follow and obey Him in obedient d i s c i p l e s h i p . Amen’.
NOTE. I refer those that hold that saving faith is an exclusive gift of God given to the elect so that they may believe, to the cogent critique of this viewpoint in the booklet, 'What is the gift of God?' published by Penfold Book and Bible House, Biscester, Oxon.