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Impersonal faith means no assurance

If "grace" is held out as a state of affairs - God saves believers apart from their works - then faith becomes an appreciation of a doctrine - I trust that God saves people through faith not works.

What then is assurance?  It becomes something like - God has saved me because I have trusted the doctrine of grace. Where then is my confidence?  It lies in that phrase "I have trusted."  I'm having faith in my own faith.

But what if grace was specifically the Person of Jesus freely held out in the gospel?  Well then faith is a receiving of Him.  And if I have Him my confidence does not come from me at all.  I don't trust my faith, I trust Jesus.  And in Him I have full assurance.

In the impersonal state of affairs I build my assurance on having 'true faith'.  But where will I find 'true faith'?  In me?

When I know Jesus as my salvation then my assurance is based on having Him.  How do I verify this?  I look away to Christ clothed in the gospel - "Come to me and I will give you rest."  My assurance therefore depends on His faithfulness (not on my flimsy faith).


0 thoughts on “Impersonal faith means no assurance

  1. Rich Owen

    I TOTALLY accept and agree with this.

    But grace is interesting in scripture...

    So on the one hand, grace is specifically tied to the person of Christ in Acts 15:11 for example and that makes be go "yay" to your post. This is the grace of the gospel. I think most grace talk is like this. The grace of the gospel.

    But then there are other uses of grace which are different - graces which are fruits of the gospel. So for example - grace is something given, 2 cor 12:9 for example. or galatians 2:9 - grace seems to be tied to an office Paul has (cf Eph 3)

    I have a feeling we could accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater. We certainly do want to reject any notion of gospel grace or grace for works being a substance which inclines our hearts, a non-personal thing which is bound with our works a la Scholastic theology and other Thomist systems (the Roman view)... but we need to think carefully how we talk about those fruits.

    Sorry if that makes no sense at all.

  2. Rich Owen

    and sorry if that is a highjack - its a bit off topic, so please feel free to move it to a new post!

  3. Glen

    I hope everyone can agree that grace is used sometimes of saving grace and sometimes of God's sovereign assistance of the saved. In David and Goliath terms - David and David alone brings victory, but he also brings bread to his brothers. This bread turns out to be a wonderful grace once David has secured the victory - it strengthens them to plunder the Philistines. But without the saving grace of his victory the sustaining grace of his bread might as well be poison.

    Even 'faith' is spoken of in non-salvific terms (1 Cor 12&13) but no-one would (I hope) try to bring *these* uses of faith into discussions of 'faith alone'.

    My problem is with those who speak of grace in that salvific sense and yet de-personalize it into some blank cheque.

    Does that work?

  4. John B

    If I understand rightly, you're equating Jesus with *grace*.

    This stands against the Roman view of grace as a substance won by Christ and entrusted to the church as an executor to administer in seven different ways. It also stands against a *doctrines of grace* view that likewise sees grace as a substance that is administered sovereignly and solely by God, without any help from the church, thank you very much.

    Equating Jesus with *grace* is a positive framework in opposition to these two popular views of grace as a substance. Sinclair Ferguson has touched on this idea in some of his recent work, and this is indeed encouraging.

    While on board with the soteriological direction here, my reservations are more with its eschatology. Is there a merging of the glorified Christ and the Holy Spirit to the extent that we lose sight of the everlasting humanity of Jesus? That's my concern anyway. I think this is where a distinction between God's essence and His uncreated energies can be helpful to our understanding.

  5. Heather

    What then is assurance? It becomes something like – God has saved me because I have trusted the doctrine of grace. Where then is my confidence? It lies in that phrase “I have trusted.” I’m having faith in my own faith.

    I've been caught in that whirlpool before.

  6. Glen

    Hi John, Am happy for grace to be equated with 'the Spirit of the Son' if that helps in not collapsing the concrete humanity of Christ. But I definitely don't want possession of a substance to be the essence of salvation.

    I think I'm too much of a Barthian (God is as He is towards us) to go for a distinction between God's essence and energies. What is it that appeals to you about this doctrine? Glen

  7. John B

    Hi Glen,

    The essence-energies distinction (E-E) goes back at least as far as Athanasius and has been preserved as an integral part of Eastern Orthodoxy. The West has mostly ignored this doctrine, with a few notable exceptions, like Calvin.

    The E-E safeguards the understanding of God as transcendent and immutable in essence, as well as the Creator-creature distinction. In Christ, humanity partakes of God's nature by His grace (energies). So God's grace isn't a substance, but rather an uncreated energy that emanates from God. The analogy of the sun and its rays has often been suggested as an illustration.

    The E-E affirms *both* God's transcendence *and* His immanence in salvation that comes by union with Christ. In Him, God preserves our humanity and freedom, as we participate in eternal communion with the Trinity, which always transcends our experience.

    So this doctrine appeals to me very much!

    A very big topic, and one in which the East offers much for us to consider.

    “He is outside all things according to his essence, but he is in all things through his acts of power.” ~Athanasius

  8. Heather

    John B
    The E-E affirms *both* God’s transcendence *and* His immanence in salvation that comes by union with Christ.

    You know, I've been having an ongoing e-mail discussion with a Catholic man and (doctrinal difficulties aside) I truly believe he wants to know Christ. In the course of our interaction, he has mentioned God's transcendence. He gets the concept that God is "outside" himself, but he doesn't understand what Jesus has done in bringing this completely "other" God to hopeless humanity in such a way so as for us to be able to interact on a personal level.

    At this point, it appears he is left with only a longing for intimacy of relationship, and it really has made me sad for him.
    Having at least a rudimentary understanding of the two perspectives you mentioned is very important, I think.

  9. John B

    Hi Heather,

    Praying for your friend that the Lord of peace, who is pouring out the love of God, may give him peace in every way.

  10. Heather

    Thank you, John B.

    I've been praying, too and believe the Lord has been working in his heart. Some of his recent statements have been very encouraging.

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