Sunday, December 13, 2009

Understanding essential to faith

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, (Heb. 10:39) wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17-19) and Word of God, (Rom. 10:14-17) whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, (Jn. 1:12, Acts 16:31, 10:43) and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation (Phil. 3:9, Acts 15:11)

(Westminster Larger Catechism)

Over on the meta of the post on the further compromise of J.I. Packer, a comment has been made on the salvation status of Roman Catholics in general and Mother Theresa in particular. In order to defend that, a statement has been made to the effect that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". However, is that so?

When we come to the Scriptures, we can see the motif of faith and belief (basically based upon the same root word in Greek - pistis) being essential to salvation. Salvation is by believing in Christ - by having faith alone in Christ apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:4-6). Works have no part in saving us, though of course salvation would manifest itself out in good works (Eph. 2:10, Jas 2: 14-26), but the two must be distinguished and not confused.

However, what exactly is faith? Our distractor has said that faith excludes a level of understanding. However, is that really biblical? Is faith a leap in the dark like what the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard has maintained? Or is it something else?

In traditional Reformed parlance, faith is said to be made up of three parts: cognitio (knowledge), assentia (assent), and fiducia (trust). While there is dispute over the usage of the third term fiducia, a look at Gordon Clark's book The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, MA, USA: Trinity Foundation, 1989), pp. 99-117, would show that the contention is more with regards to psychology than the actual meaning of faith itself. Regardless, our focus here is the idea of cognitio, which means understanding of the propositions of the faith. In the area of salvation, this would of course mean understanding of the propositions of the Gospel. Is understanding of the Gospel essential to salvation?

As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, faith is "being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) ..." Faith thus includes the idea of cognitio, or understanding the propositions of the Gospel, as the proof-texts also show. There is thus absolutely no way to be saved without knowing and understanding the Gospel, which is part of faith itself. Since that is so, it is anti-intellectual and blatantly unbiblical to say that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". To be saved, one must have a level of understanding of the Gospel, and such is not works but the way in which faith is expressed in the believer.

Some may attempt to refute that by saying that faith is belief in Christ, not believe in propositions. But what exactly is "belief in Christ"? In Jn. 11-14, the Word was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, thus belief in Christ IS belief in the Scriptures. To separate the Logos theopneoustos (the Inscripturated Word) and the Logos ensarkos (the Incarnate Word) is thus a grievous error.

Faith thus include belief in the propositions of the Gospel. As such, we can know for sure that all who do not believe in the Gospel, much less those who had not heard of it, cannot be saved. It is supremely irrational and unbiblical to state that those who have not heard the Gospel in false churches can be saved, of which the Roman Catholic church is the epitome of false teaching, with the Pope being the Antichrist (WCF, Chapter XXV Of the Church, Paragraph VI).


Joel Tay said...

Faith is assent to the propositions of Scripture.

Gordon Clark's "What is Saving faith?" is an excellent book on this subject. Very highly recommended. Impressive exegesis of scripture, good discussion on propositions and persons, and a well written section on the unbiblical head/heart dichotomy that many modern day believers hold to.

Joel Tay said...

Gordon Clark's "What is Saving faith?" is a collection of two book,

1) "Faith and Saving faith" (which in my opinion, is one of the best books on the subject)


2) The Johannine Logos, which Daniel mentions in the post above.
One of the better books dealing with Logos in John and its relationship to logic.

Daniel C said...


Will get it when I am able to.

Daniel said...

Ah, but you misunderstand my quote.

I said that "prescribing" a level of understanding is works-righteounsness.

I have never said that understanding is not required for salvation.

Please comment fairly on what is said and do not find enemies where there are none.

Daniel C said...


so please englighten me what is the difference between "understanding essential to" and "prescribing a level of understanding", besides the fact that the former understanding is objective while the latter understanding is subjective?

Daniel said...

What do you think a person needs in order to be saved?

Daniel C said...


the person needs to have faith in the Gospel, which is defined as having a basic understanding of the truths taught in the Gospel message (cognitio), and holding them to be true for him (assentia and fiducia).

Daniel said...

What do you say are the truths taught in the gospel message necessary for salvation?

Daniel C said...


For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

In other words,
1) an understanding and conviction that Christ died for them
2) that He did so "according to the Scriptures"
3) Christ was buried - i.e. He really died
4) He was resurrected after the third day.
5) that by receiving and holding fast to the Gospel we are saved (v. 1-2)

For simple people, a simple Gospel presentation is sufficient. Yet, actually this can be expanded as follows.

1) "Christ died for them" = ? Which "Christ" are we talking about here? What do we mean by the phrase "dying for them"?
2) Which "Scriptures" or part of "Scriptures" is authoritative?
3) Define "buried"
4) Define "resurrection"- Literal or figurative?
5) What does "receiving" mean? What does "holding on" mean?

As I have mentioned before, it is easier for a pagan to understand the Gospel than one reared in false religion like Roman Catholicism. The pagan has no baggage to bring into his understanding of these terms and would interpret it proprely, compared to the Roman Catholics who interpret it through their catechisms taught to them by their priests.

Daniel C said...


Why do you think the counter-cult ministry like that of the late Walter Martin was necesary? Because biblical terms were used and eviscerated of their original meanings by the cults. In fact, just go back to the Arian controversy whereby the Arians who denied that Jesus was God (He was just a god) could affirm all the language used to describe Jesus in the Bible. In the end, the Church was forced to use philosophical language to demarcate orthodoxy from heresy.

Do you think anyone who denies that Jesus is God can be saved? But those Arians could affirm every statement made about Jesus in the Bible, so what will you do?

Joel Tay said...


What quote? Are you asking me or Daniel Chew?

Daniel said...

@ Joel

Was asking Daniel. :)

Daniel said...


The question is exactly whether those points need to be expanded. If we think they need to be, we then need to define how much and how far they need to be expanded, which is a vague area that, if defined, leads to a works-based salvation. If they confess with mouth and heart, that is our yardstick for their soul's state.

We may prod and question further, but will never reach the end of worming out every misunderstanding
from other people. Their confessions on these doctrinal points must be sufficient for us, and then the teaching comes, step by step, which is our responsiblity also.

A pagan takes along different baggage. Even if you say "God" to them, they may misunderstand. I do not think it fair to say that it is harder for a RC/cultist/orthodox to be saved.