Sunday, November 13, 2011
Which Comes First, Evidence or Faith?
Yesterday I wrote about how the life I live now, compared with the life I lived before I became a Christian, is solid evidence for me personally that the Bible is true. But as I said in that post, I had to live that life first before it became evidence to me. This may seem a little backwards, but it is quite Biblical. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as a “guarantee” of our future glorification. That is, Christ will fully renew us one day so that we will be rid of sin and of all our ailments such as hatred, envy, depression, greed and so forth. And we have a “foretaste” of what that will be like through the Holy Spirit. But when are we given the Holy Spirit? It’s when we make that step in faith and say “Lord, I believe...” Believe what? That what all the Scriptures say about Christ is true, and that what all the Scriptures say about a new life in Christ are true. That Christ really is the Son of God, and that His work on the cross really is the only way we can be saved, wherein He took upon Himself the sentence we deserve for our sins, and imputes His righteousness to those who believe.
Saint Augustine made the point that most of what anybody believes they believe by faith. Even to believe that the woman who I call mother really is my mother in a sense takes faith. I trust that she has told me the truth when I first heard her say, so many years ago as a small child, that she was “Mummy”. And of course, there’s strong supporting evidence... my father testifies that she is my mother, my uncle testifies that he was at the hospital where his sister gave birth to me. It’s a little hard to believe that all these people would collaborate on a lie and not be found out in that lie after all these years. Nevertheless, as a child I didn’t need the evidence first... my mother told me she was “Mummy” and I believed her. The evidence came later.
I want to say that believing the Bible is at least somewhat the same. My own parents testified to the change that the Holy Spirit had made in their lives. My parent’s Christian friends gave the same testimony. Many throughout history, from the least to the greatest; from the journal of some unknown puritan to the sermons of Charles Spurgeon or John Calvin, have given the same testimony. And now I testify the same to you. It is hard to believe that so many would collaborate on this lie, especially since I myself would have to be a collaborator. You are given a promise; that through faith in Christ you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that through the Holy Spirit you will be given power over sin, love for others, a “peace that surpasses understanding”... all these things which will assure you of your salvation. Believe it and you will receive it. We could adapt what was said by G K Chesterton; “The Christian faith has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Now there are people I know who said “I did try and I did find Christianity wanting!” But I would want to ask them whether they noticed a difference between their life before their conversion and after? There should be a noticeable difference. I remember the story of a group of Church elders who were involved in wife-swapping. Do you suppose that while they were supposedly “trying Christianity” they actually had any evidence of the Holy Spirit at all? Let’s realize that it’s possible to be physically present in the Church but not be of the Church spiritually speaking at all. No, what I have experienced in my life is undeniable. In fact, I believe that my testimony is the perfect answer to this objection. You see, I grew up in the Church and believed that I was saved like everyone else. Many former Christians say “Yeah, I had all the same feelings of the ‘Holy Spirit’ as you, but I realize now that it wasn’t the Holy Spirit at all; it was just my emotions.” I can identify with that - before I truly gave my life to Christ I had feelings that I thought must be the Holy Spirit... how is one supposed to know what that feels like anyway? And when I did truly give my life to Christ, it was a while before I started to sense that my new life was very different. I actually fought against the idea for long time that I had only just received salvation! In my mind, I had always been saved and this recent event was more of a “re-dedication”. But seeing the sheer contrast of my new life against the old, I couldn’t honestly maintain this outlook any longer. The evidence of regeneration starting from that later time in my life was simply undeniable.
So there is certain evidence of saving faith, and that evidence is our good works wrought from the heart. But the works come after, or as a result of, the faith. So how do we get faith? For me, personally, it was through reading the Bible and desiring the righteousness of Christ at any cost... that is, at the cost of giving up the sins that I loved to do. It was desiring to serve Christ at any cost, and trusting that the cost would be something I was able to bear; trusting that Christ would give me the strength to bear it. And ultimately, of course, it was a gift from God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
Posted by Emeth at 6:09 PM