The Importance of Understanding Faith in Evangelism

Last time I gave a quote from Robert Trail who made an important distinction in faith itself. That quote is simply tremendous and is worthy of serious thought. Here is the same quote again:

“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 comment by Trail should awaken all who do evangelism from their slumbers. If we just tell people to believe, we might mean one thing by it but they most likely will hear and believe something else. A self-centered person will always look to self to come up with what they think is needed for salvation rather than deny self and look to Christ alone. Men and women hate to be saved by grace alone and will do anything to save for themselves one little act so that salvation will depend on what they do to some small degree. I remember a man telling me that he knew a man that said that even if God came a million miles to save him that last part of the inch was up to him. We are deluding ourselves and deceiving others if we think that we can tell people that they are justified by faith alone or that they need to believe in Christ and that they will know what it means to truly believe and trust in Christ.

We know that people are told to believe and so when they start looking for assurance we ask them if they made a choice or made a decision at some past time. What people begin to do is to look at themselves to see if they have faith. Whether a believer or not, that is utterly fatal in some way. Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see if we have Christ (II Corinthians 13:5). If a person truly has Christ, then that person has faith because Christ only comes to those who receive Him and His righteousness by grace alone which can only be received by a true faith alone. Faith is what receives Christ, but if we look to the faith itself that is fatal to faith because the only thing faith can do is to receive Christ. If we look to our faith, there is nothing to be seen. If we look to Christ, we may be able to know if we have faith or not. A simple act of intellectual belief can be trusted in by people for years until they lift up their eyes in hell. That simple act of intellectual belief can be followed by moral reformation and fervent works and religious practices in attending church. But that is to do nothing more than the Pharisees did. It is not a faith in Christ but a faith in faith or a faith in the faith of self. It is not faith in Christ. Thus we can at least begin to see how our forefathers from the Reformation and their followers had a strong distaste for Arminianism because it had a different view of how Christ came into the soul. Their way taught that Christ came in a way that the old writers would say denied grace alone. This is a very serious charge. But of course it is not politically correct to say things like this in our day and it is considered to be non-gracious. If we do not point these things out, however, we are not faithful to God, His Word, the Gospel, or to our spiritual heritage. These things are vital.

As we think of the differences this would make on evangelism, it changes most everything. If we not only have to explain to people about who Christ is and of His work on the cross, but now we have to explain what faith really is, this will require a lot more teaching. In fact, we might have to go over and over it because people are so opposed to it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is important enough to spend a lot of time over. No longer would it be acceptable to just ask people to pray a prayer or to walk an aisle. No longer is it acceptable just to tell people to believe some facts. We must always remember that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Jesus taught us that we must be turned and become like children to even enter the kingdom. A true faith receives Christ by grace and so the soul must be broken from pride and humbled in order to receive this grace. This makes things much harder.

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