Some Implications for Evangelism

One might wonder why so much effort and time are being spent on the issue of the use of faith. It is because it is utterly vital to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It would appear that the whole world follows after the idea that faith is a work. While many if not most would deny that, the way people do evangelism makes it appears that they are describing a faith that the person can just do in a way that is or at least sounds like a work. It has been noted in past posts that there is a massive difference in understanding between those who at least outwardly adhere to the phrase “justification by faith alone.” That difference in understanding will inevitably lead to a difference in evangelism. Those who believe (regardless of words) that faith is something a person must come up with or do to be saved will practice an evangelism that tries to get the person to come up with that faith. Those who really believe that faith is an instrument of the Holy Spirit and not something to be worked up will focus on the truths of the Gospel and the need for those evangelized to be broken from any hope from self.

If justification comes through faith as an instrument that is a far different thing than if justification comes on behalf of faith or even because of faith. Our true view of the use of faith will determine in some measure how we practice evangelism. A person might be in line with any number of theological positions, but still if they do not understand the use of faith, the evangelism that the person practices will inevitably depend on faith as a work. This, I think, is one of the most disturbing signs in our day. One can go to an Arminian web site and find out that it is really closer to historical Pelagianism. One can go to many Reformed in name sites and read their information on how to be a Christian and virtually all of them give a view of faith (not necessarily explicitly) that is not in line with faith as an instrument. The information on how to become a Christian is perhaps less than what John Wesley would have written if he were alive. We have become infatuated with learning and teaching doctrine in an informational way and have forgotten the heart. How can a professing Reformed person practice evangelism without teaching a person that s/he is dead in sin or at least with that understanding solidly in the background? How can we just teach people to pray a prayer or lead someone in something like a sinner’s prayer if we have not told them the use of faith? It is not that we have to use the word “instrumental” as it is the concept that is important. If we don’t get that across to people, they will think that by an act of intellectual belief or a choice they can make salvation come to them. That is an utter denial of justification by faith alone as taught in Scripture and by the Reformers.

Some of the older writers (Robert Trail and Walter Marshall) made an important distinction in faith itself. Here is what Robert Trail said:

“There appears to be some difference, or misunderstanding of one another, about the true notion and nature of justifying faith. Divines commonly distinguish between the direct act of faith and the reflex act. The direct act is properly justifying and saving faith, by which a lost sinner comes to Christ and relies upon him for salvation. The reflex act is the looking back of the soul upon a former act of faith. A rational creature can reflect upon his own acts, whether they are acts of reason, faith, or unbelief. A direct act of saving faith is that by which a lost sinner goes out of himself to Christ for help, relying upon him only for salvation. A reflex act arises from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review…But, as plain as these things are, yet we find we are frequently mistaken by others, and we wonder at the mistake; for we dare not ascribe to some learned and good men the principles of ignorance or willfulness, from which mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in a humble reliance upon him for mercy and pardon, they will understand us, whether we will or not, of a reflex act of faith, by which a man knows and believes that his sins are pardoned, and that Christ is his, when they might easily know that we mean no such thing.”

This is a very good explanation that is in accordance with what “by faith” means. A true and saving faith is not one that looks upon itself and its own act of faith, but instead is focused on the object of faith and that is Christ alone. Faith as an instrument looks to Christ alone and not to faith itself. A true faith does not look to itself but is emptied of self and receives Christ alone. A faith that looks to itself is not looking to Christ but self. A faith that looks to itself is a faith that trusts in itself to trust in Christ. Surely, then, if we are going to proclaim the true Gospel of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone we need to teach people about the use of faith and not just urge them to believe. They need to be taught to be broken and so receive Christ apart from their own abilities.

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