The Grace of Faith

Christ In You, the Hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27)

Elder Marty Hoskins

Faith is a broad and multifaceted subject in the Holy Word of God.  There is probably no Christian doctrine more widely discussed and written about than the topic of faith.  Furthermore, there is probably no doctrine that creates more controversy and confusion that that of faith.  In Romans 4:16, the word of God says, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace;” Though we most often associate faith with belief in Jesus and with works of faith, this scripture tells us that there is a faith that is a grace, and therefore is not of works or belief.  It is this faith that will be the subject of the bulk of this writing.  In the Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles (Third Edition) the word “grace” is defined in theological terms as “an individual virtue or excellence, divine in its origin”.  This definition dates to Middle English, predating the use of the word in any of the extant English translations of the original transcripts including the King James Bible.  This definition also shows that the word grace has been historically used in theological circles to describe gifts of divine origin that have been given to men.  One such grace, as seen in Romans 4:16, is faith.  When I speak of the grace of faith, I am talking of an excellence that is of divine origin.  However, the grace of faith is not the only use of the term faith in scripture, so it makes sense to consider the different uses before we spend some time talking about the grace of faith.

Scripture uses the word “faith” in at least three distinct ways.  I will, for the sake discussion, use the following terminology to identify these unique uses:

  1. The body of faith
  2. The expression of faith
  3. The grace of faith

The Body of Faith

The body of faith is by far the simplest use of the word to grasp.  Consider this verse from the book of Jude:

Jude 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

When Jude exhorts his audience to contend for the faith, he is asserting that they should contend for the truth.  This truth was once delivered to the saints.  The implication is that this truth is not changing or evolving and is not subject to private interpretation but will be true throughout the ages.  What he is referring to is not the expression of faith in the lives of saints or the possession of faith (the grace of faith), but rather the body of doctrine that was taught by Christ and his apostles that followed Him. This is not the only time that the word “faith” is used this way in scripture.  We find the following in the book of Acts.

Acts 16:1-5 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: 2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Here, holy scripture shows us that the churches in a certain region were, upon the work of the Apostles and elders that labored among them, established in the faith.  Again, this faith is the body of doctrines as taught by Christ.

In some Baptist writings, you will find that the body of faith is referred to as the historical faith.  This makes some sense in that the body of faith of the Baptist church, as understood and laid out in our churches Articles of Faith is something that has developed in understanding through history.  It is also not uncommon to see the phrase “the doctrine of faith” as used by John Gill in his Exposition of the Bible where he uses this phrase to distinguish what I call the body of faith from the grace of faith and the expression of faith (which Gill regularly refers to as the exercise of faith.  You can see this distinction in comments on 1 Corinthians 12:9 where he says:

“ another faith by the same Spirit,… Not the grace of faith, which is common to all believers, though given by the same Spirit: but rather the doctrine of faith, and ability to preach it, and boldness and intrepidity of spirit to assert and defend it in the face of all opposition; all which are from the Spirit of God, and are more or less given to pastors and teachers, the third office in the church. Though generally this is understood of a faith of working miracles, as in 1Co 13:2 but the working of miracles is mentioned afterwards as distinct, unless it can be thought that this is the general name for miracles, and the rest that follow the particulars of them.”

So, when I say that the scripture uses the word faith refer to a body of faith, I mean that it is referring to a system of beliefs that are taught in scripture and this may be referred to by the doctrine of faith or the historical faith which are equivalent terms.  In general, a church’s Articles of Faith detail the body of faith to which that church adheres. 

The Expression of Faith

By the expression of faith, I mean those “works” that come as a result of being born again.  One cannot produce good works or faithful works unless one is born again.  The child of grace cannot work out that which is not worked in (Philippians 2:12).  The scriptures use the word faith to sometimes describe the works in a person’s life that demonstrate that they are a born-again child of grace. Consider the following:

Matthew 8:23-26 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. 24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. 25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. 26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

Why did Jesus say they had little faith?  Was it because the faith that had been given them was small or that it was weak.  God forbid!  For God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith (Romans 12:3) and the gifts of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29).  Jesus called the faith little, not because the faith that God had given them was weak or had grown smaller, but because they were failing to express or manifest that faith through belief.  Jesus had told them that they would get in this ship and go to the other side, but at the first sign of trouble, they had ceased to believe what Jesus had told them.  Therefore, in this instance, the word faith is referring to the expression of their faith through belief.    I have commonly heard it said that faith is like a muscle and if we use it, it gets stronger, and if we do not, it will atrophy.  Though I understand the point, this is a poor analogy.  The substance of faith (Hebrews 11:1) is dealt to man in a measure, and there is no scripture that indicates that the grace of faith can be increased or lessened by the work of man.  Scripture does teach that patience brings experience, and experience bringeth hope (Romans 5:3-4).  It is our hope that gets stronger and more stable as we exercise or express our faith through patiently enduring hardship in this life. There are other instances of this use of the term faith as well, such as the following.

Matthew 16:5-8 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. 8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

Matthew 14:26-31 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. 28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

These are not the only references to the expression of faith.  When I say “expression of faith”, I am explicitly referring to the works of the born again sinner that show forth who they are in Christ.  These works might include believing on the name of Jesus, maintaining their commitment to the cause in the face of tragedy, church attendance, support of the church and the ministry, diligent study of scripture, showing love to their brothers and sisters in Christ, finding ways to serve in the kingdom of our dear Saviour, etc.  These works, as James says, justify us, not in the sight of God, and not in our own conscience, but in the courtroom of the judgment of men. 

The Grace of Faith

Let me again reiterate that a man does not have possession of the grace of faith unless they are born again.  When I say “the grace of faith”, I am speaking of a possession or a substance, not an expression or manifestation.  One can possess the grace of faith while still kicking against the pricks and rebelling against the love that God has shown them in regeneration.  The grace of faith is that substance spoken of in Hebrews 11:1 and the measure that is dealt to the man as described in Romans 12:3. If we believe that God hath dealt to every man (every one of his born-again children) the measure of faith, then we have to wonder when that measure is given.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are “saved by grace through faith”.  Ephesians 2:1 tells us that the context under consideration is regeneration.  The saving referenced in Ephesians 2:8 is regeneration.  There is a similar use of the word saved in Titus 3:5 where we are told that we are “saved by the washing of regeneration”.  Furthermore, Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that faith is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  It is something that the Spirit bears.  Given Ephesians 2:8 and Galatians 5:22-23, it seems clear to me that this grace of faith is given in regeneration.

Let me digress to why I use the phrase “the grace of faith”.  I do so because believe it is scriptural.  Romans 4:16 says “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace;”.  How can it be of faith to be by grace unless the faith that is under consideration is a grace (i.e. an unmerited gift of God)?  Further, let me quote a scripture I alluded to earlier.

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Paul says that he speaks “through the grace given unto” him.  What does he say is given?  Faith!  Paul directly refers to faith as a grace given by God.  If it is not given in regeneration, then when?  Thus, I believe the phrase “grace of faith” is appropriate and scriptural.  Further, it is a phrase that has been used by Baptists of old so it is well understood.  I am using it in the context of that historical record much like we use the word Trinity to describe the three in one God that we serve.

I would like to go back to Ephesians 2:8 for a moment.  I know that some often reason that the “faith” referenced in that verse is the “faithfulness of God” in sending his Son into the world to die for us.  However, I am satisfied with the words of the King James translators in this verse, and quite frankly, in every verse.  If they had been led to believe that this was the faithfulness of God, then why did they not translate it that way?  They clearly were not against adding words (see all the italicized words in the King James Bible) to make sentence structure work and to make things clear in the English language, so why not here?  Rather than trying to find a different word, why not take God’s word for what it says and accept that we are saved (regenerated) by grace (an unmerited gift) through faith (a grace of God), and that (the totality of the regeneration (that we have been given by grace through faith) is not of yourselves but is the gift of God?  What is the gift? The salvation (regeneration), the grace, and the faith!  It is common in the Greek language that if the author wants to refer to every item on a list that is of a specific gender he will do so by referring to them with a word that is neuter in gender.  That is exactly what occurs here.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and THAT not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:”  (All caps added for emphasis).  The word “that” in all caps is, in the underlying Greek, of the neuter gender and therefore it is not just salvation that is the gift of God, it is not just the grace that is the gift of God, and it not just the faith that is the gift of God; but it is salvation by grace through faith in its entirety that is the gift of God.  Furthermore, in Ephesians 2:9 the word of God says, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Since the faith in Ephesians 2:8 is a gift and it is an unmerited one, then it rightfully a grace of God. It is not the expression of faith, and it is certainly not the body of faith.  It is, therefore, an excellence of divine origin, which means it is a grace.  Regarding the faith in Ephesians 2:8, in his Exposition of the Bible, John Gill says:

“salvation is through faith, not as a cause or condition of salvation, or as what adds anything to the blessing itself; but it is the way, or means, or instrument, which God has appointed, for the receiving and enjoying it, that so it might appear to be all of grace; and this faith is not the produce of man’s free will and power, but it is the free gift of God; and therefore salvation through it is consistent with salvation by grace; since that itself is of grace, lies entirely in receiving grace and gives all the glory to the grace of God: the sense of this last clause may be, that salvation is not of ourselves; it is not of our desiring nor of our deserving, nor of our performing, but is of the free grace of God: though faith is elsewhere represented as the gift of God, Joh 6:65….”

John Gill’s statement is in agreement with the conclusions that I have drawn in this writing that there is a faith that is a grace of God and this grace is not the cause of our salvation (regeneration) but is the means and instrument of God which he has appointed for the receiving of that salvation and enjoying of it.

Regarding Galatians 5:22-23, there may be a desire to say that if God saves (regenerates) us by grace through faith (the grace of faith), does that not mean that God uses all the graces in that list to do so?  The answer to that question is “No!”  Why?  Because scripture does not say so.  I do not have an equivalent statement to Ephesians 2:8 making love instrumental in regeneration, nor do I have one for meekness, temperance, etc.  By instrumental, I mean that God has chosen in his infinite wisdom to make bestow the grace of faith in regeneration such that this grace is our life.  It should be noted, however, that the grace of faith is not the cause of regeneration but is the means.  Grace is the cause of regeneration and as the Lord sends his Spirit into our heart, the result is that we are given the grace of faith.  The grace of faith is not the cause of regeneration and only exists in the child as the result of regeneration as they are saved through faith.  Though the other graces mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 are not the means of regeneration, they are all given to the child of God in regeneration.  However, faith is different from the others, just as love is different.  Faith worketh by love (Galatians 5:6), does it not? We are “saved by grace through faith”, correct?  Paul did not say we are saved by grace through love or meekness.  Simply being on the same list does not make them all equivalent in function or usage.  The point of Galatians 5:22-23 is that these are all graces of God that are given to us by the indwelling of the Spirit.  To say that regeneration happens and these graces come later is to say that the Spirit is fruitless or unfruitful for some unspecified period of time.  The Spirit is bearing this fruit before, during, and after regeneration.  Regeneration is a mysterious yet instantaneous event wherein we are made alive by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and are changed in that we are made a new creature.  The change in us creates us anew so that we have a desire toward spiritual things.  We are enabled to act in faith because we possess the grace of faith, just as we are enabled to love because we possess love. 

Consider this example of the grace of faith.

Hebrews 11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Scripture tells us that Sara received strength to conceive through faith.  This certainly was not the expression of faith in Sara’s life as she literally laughed at God over the prospect of having a child in her old age.  She was quite the opposite of the picture of faith.  Hebrews 11:11 is not telling us that Sara believed and therefore conceived, but rather that God blessed her because of the grace of faith that was in her.  He gave her strength, not because she was an obedient child of God, but rather, simply because she was his.  In other words, the blessing of conception was given to her through faith (the grace of faith, not the expression of it).  Honestly, I am not sure there is any good thing that we receive from God that is not communicated as coming to us through faith.  Once you see this truth, it will shed a great deal of light on the entirety of Hebrews chapter 11.  We begin to understand that it is not that those mentioned there were able to muster up so much faith that it moved God to extend blessings to them, but rather that God blessed them in their obedience because of the faith that was in them.

The Grace of Faith:  Christ in you, the hope of glory!

Now that we have established that there are at least three ways in which the word faith is used in scripture the correspond with 1) The body of faith, 2) the expression of faith, and 3) the grace of faith; I would like to take some time to ask a question.  What is the grace of faith?  We have established that is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.  We have also established that it is the grace given us in regeneration and is even the means thereof being the gift of God in regeneration.  We have established that it is not the actions of faith of the regenerated child of grace as that is the expression of or the exercise of faith.  Moving on from this function definitions, does scripture give us more light on the reality of this faith that we possess.  Scripture will not allow us to ignore that the grace of faith is not a mere conviction of the heart or a simple inner voice or conscience, but it is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).  This can be seen in Galatians 2:20.

Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

In this verse, we are told that we live our current life of flesh by the faith of the Son of God, i.e. by the faith that comes from the Son of God.  And we live by it because Christ liveth in us.  This is consistent with the fact that we are told that we are to walk by faith and not by sight (2nd Corinthians 5:7).  When I consider that this scripture tells us to live by faith, I must also lay that alongside John 6:57.

John 6:57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

John 6:57 tells me that I shall live by Christ.  One of the first rules of studying scriptures that I learned is that there are no contradictions in scripture.  Therefore, I conclude that there is no contradiction here; and since I cannot serve two masters, then I conclude that the grace of faith that I live by and Christ that I live by are one in the same.  The grace of faith is not a mere afterthought that is added to the regenerative package, but is Christ, himself.  If the grace of faith is Christ, and the faith in Ephesians 2:8 is the grace of faith, then I am saved by grace through Christ.  When seen in this light, it makes perfect theological sense.  And further, if the grace of faith is Christ and Christ is our life, then is not the grace of faith life to us?  These conclusions seem quite elegant toward solving the tension that some perceive in Ephesians 2:8 and are supported throughout this writing with multiple scriptures. 

I would also like to point out that I am not the only one to come to these conclusions.  I know that many do put little stock in historical writings, but if you are willing to read what I have written and consider it, then at least consider the fact that my understanding is not novel.

In A New Concordance to the Holy Scriptures by John Butterworth (1727-1803), under his entry for “faith”, the very fist statement is “is taken [1] For Christ, Rom 9:32; Gal 3:23,25; 1 Tim 1:1.”  Butterworth was an English Particular Baptist preacher that pastored Cow Lane Chapel in Coventry for 25 years.  He was one of five brothers, who were also either Baptist pastors or ministers.  Here are some other references from well known Baptists that have historically taken the same position, namely that the grace of faith is Christ, Himself.

  J.H. Oliphant (1846-1925)

“I desire to continue this subject in a plain, simple way, to show that faith is not a mere conviction, or the result of teaching by men.  Heb 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” etc.  The word rendered substance in the text is the same that is rendered person in Heb 1:3, in which Christ is called the “express image of his person.”  Evidently the word person here and the word substance in the text means more than a mere influence or belief.  It is certainly God referred to, so the word substance is not a mere influence, but it is no less than Christ.”

Prior to my studies that led to my conclusions in this writing, I had not read Oliphant’s work entitled Principles and Practices of Regular Baptists published in 1883.   However, in that work is a section on faith.  The above quote comes from that section.  I had not, on my own, realized that the underlying Greek for “substance” in Hebrews 11:1 is the same word used for person in Hebrews 1:3.  Though it doesn’t prove that the substance of faith is Christ in you, it is quite interesting.  It is also worth noting that Oliphant, in another section of that writing, uses Galatians 2:20 to assert that the grace of faith is Christ in you.  However, Samuel Richardson makes a much more compelling case as he drew the same conclusion as I.

Samuel Richardson (lived in 1640’s and 1650’s)

“So the Scriptures do oft give that to faith which is proper to Christ alone. 

  • We live by faith, Gal 2:20 – We live by Christ, John 6:57
  • We have remission of sins by faith, Acts 13:38-39 – by Christ Eph 1:7; Col 1:14
  • We are justified by faith, Rom 3:28; Gal 3:24 – by Christ, Isa 53:11; Rom 5:9
  • We have peace with God by faith, Rom 5:1-2 – by Christ Eph 2:3; Eph 3:12
  • We are sanctified by faith, Acts 15:9 – by Christ, Heb 10:14; 1st Cor 1:30
  • We overcome the world by faith, 1st John 5:4-5 – by Christ, John 16:33; 1st Cor 15:57
  • We are the sons of God by faith, Gal 3:26 – by Christ, Eph 1:5
  • We have an heavenly inheritance by faith, Acts 26:18 – by Christ, Gal 4:7
  • We have eternal life by faith, John 3:16; John 5:24; John 6:47 – by Christ, 1st John 5:11-12
  • We are saved by faith, Eph 2:8 – by Christ, Matt 1:21; John 3:17

All these are not proper to faith, but only to Jesus Christ alone”

Samuel Richardson puts forth a pretty exhaustive list of things that are attributed to coming by both faith and Christ.  He concludes, as I did that this faith that I refer to as the “grace of faith” is Jesus Christ alone.  Richardson would make the same distinction between the grace of faith and the expression of faith that I have in this writing.  He would say that human works as well as faith (the expression of faith) can only be considered the result of God’s work in Christ as the Holy Spirit works in those who are justified. When Paul talks of justification by faith, he by “faith” (the grace of faith) simply means Christ. We are justified by Christ alone and not by our believing, Richardson claimed. Faith (the expression of faith) is an evidence of “interest in Christ but not a joint-partner with Christ”.  I find myself in great agreement with Richardson on these points.

Lastly, Abraham Booth, also drew the same conclusion that the grace of faith is Christ in you in his work entitled The Reign of Grace.  It should be noted that Abraham Booth was an opponent of the thoughts and works of Andrew Fuller from which the greater part of the current Reformed Baptist movement rises including some of the errors that have crept into the Primitive Baptist community of churches.

Abraham Booth (1734-1806)

“The grand design of the gospel is to reveal the righteousness of God, and to display the riches of that grace which provided and freely bestows the wonderful gift.  The gospel informs us, that, in regard to justification, what is required of the transgressor, both as to doing and suffering, was performed by our adorable Substitute.  This perfect obedience, therefore, being revealed in the word of truth for the justification of sinners, it is the business of true faith, not to come in as a condition; not to assert its own importance, and to share the glory with our Saviour’s righteousness, but to receive it, as absolutely sufficient to justify the most ungodly sinner, and as entirely free for his use.  For what is evangelical faith, but the receiving of Christ and his righteousness?”

Though I am not a fan of the phrase “evangelical faith”, I understand the use of the term is to differentiate the faith under consideration from what some call historical faith and is the faith that can and does respond to the Gospel message, not necessarily in an outward way that produces a confession of Christ but in an inward way that enlightens the mind and convicts the soul.  It is through faith that we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God (Hebrews 11:3).

Lastly, I would like to address one last issue.  I am sure that some who read this will conclude that what they are reading sounds a lot like what they hear from those that are either Reformed in theology or lean heavily in that direction.  Some will read this and, in their head, they will think I am saying “salvation by grace alone though faith alone”.  Please note, that until now, I have not used that phrase a single time.  Some will say that it is those that are Reformed that talk about faith being given at regeneration at a subconscious level.  I will say that, on that point, I agree with them, but that is not what separates my understanding, and historical Baptists, from that of those who are or are near Reformed in doctrine.  Those on the Reformed side do not necessarily stop at saying that the grace of faith is given at regeneration but will go on to declare that the expression of faith is a necessary evidence of the presence of the grace of faith.  In other words, they will generally declare that all those that are born again will hear the gospel, accept the gospel, and will profess faith in Jesus Christ.  To this, I do not hold nor agree.  As I have stated, the grace of faith is given in regeneration, but the expression of faith may never be such that neither I nor others can see it even though regeneration produces a vital change in the individual.    

Let me conclude by saying that I am fully satisfied that regeneration is immediate and without the means of the preaching of the gospel or without the cooperation of any works in the man.  Works and belief are evidences of a gracious state and are neither the cause nor the means of regeneration. I am also fully convinced that in regeneration, a man is dealt the measure of faith and that we are regenerated by grace through faith.  I am satisfied that the faith through which we are born again is Christ, Himself, because the grace of faith is Christ in you, the hope of glory. I am also satisfied that this regeneration that I am describing, changes a man.  It changes his heart, maybe only on a subconscious level, but he is changed, nonetheless.  There is something in every born-again child that loves Christ and believes even if that belief never makes it to the outside.  I am convinced, as I always have been, that every child of grace bears some fruit of their heavenly birth, even if it does not result in outward repentance or a confession of faith in Christ.  However, even if there is not confession, faith is there because God put it there in the person of Jesus Christ in our heart as hope of glory!

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