“We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy: for hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean, that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits, and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.”
The Belgic Confession, Article XXII
With this article, and continuing through Article XXVI, the Confession speaks of what is generally called “Soteriology” or the Doctrine of Salvation, or more specifically, the doctrine of the application of the blessings of salvation. It should be noted in this connection that the Confession follows a different order than we usually follow. We conceive of the order of salvation (ordo salutis) in terms, of: regeneration, calling, faith (conversion), justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification. The Confession, however, speaks of: faith, justification, sanctification, and good works. Concerning any “order” we must remember that the order is logical’ and not temporal. Further, we must distinguish between what Christ objectively merited for us and the order in which we consciously receive and appropriate these blessings of salvation. That the Confession follows the order which it does is due to the fact that it makes no distinction between faith as a power and faith as a conscious activity. The Confession simply speaks of faith as the “sole instrument” whereby salvation is given and appropriated. Therefore it treats faith first.
We may also note by way of introduction that the Article really sums all the blessings of salvation under one term, “righteousness.” This is proper, for Christ, as the fulness of all the blessings of salvation, is called both in Scripture and in this article, Christ our Righteousness. Furthermore, the blessing of righteousness is the fundamental blessing of salvation. It is that in the sense that all the other blessings of salvation are based upon it. Righteousness or justification is logically before all else.
This righteousness, i.e. all the blessings of salvation, the article emphasizes, are in Christ. This truth the fathers maintained over against the doctrine of Rome according to which one is saved by faith in Christ and good works. The Confession will have none of this. It argues that all things requisite for our salvation are in Christ. Those who possess
Christ through faith, therefore, have complete salvation in Him. The Confession concludes: “Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.”
This language also effectively shuts the door to the errors of Arminianism: Arminianism really teaches that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him. Arminianism would say that all of our salvation is in Christ. Arminianism would also say that we are justified by faith alone. The trouble is that Arminianism would also insist that man of himself must believe. Arminianism teaches free will. Every man has the ability, the freedom, to choose for Christ or against Him. Before a man can be saved he must be willing to believe. According to this conception of things faith really becomes another work which man must perform in order to be saved. Then, too, it could never be said that all of our salvation is in Christ. Let it also be clearly understood that if the gospel be an offer of salvation, or if the promise of God be general, then the Arminian heresy of faith as a work of man cannot be escaped. But this the article emphatically denies when it insists that Christ is not half a Savior but that all of our salvation is in Him.
Positively the Confession asserts that all of our salvation is in Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus Christ is a complete Savior. And because Jesus Christ is a complete Savior, faith is the only means. by which we may be saved. We are justified by faith alone, sola fide. This means we are justified by faith alone and not by works. These two are mutually exclusive. Scripture teaches us: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) Further, Scripture declares: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6) This faith cannot be the work of man but only the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit Who “ . . . kindleth an upright faith in our hearts.” Thus it is that we are justified not by faith and works, but by faith alone.
This is not to say that faith itself justifies us. Never may it be said that we are justified on the basis of our faith. Rather, faith is the “sole instrument,” the means by which we are justified. This article teaches that all of our salvation is in Christ. Jesus Christ is our complete Savior. The question becomes, how does that salvation which is in Christ become ours? The answer is, only by means of God- given faith. Faith is the sole instrument by which we are placed in living communion with Christ so that we embrace Him and receive out of Him all the blessings of salvation. That faith is God’s gift to us, it is not “of ourselves”! God saves us completely and finally.
But what is faith? How may faith be defined? What are its elements? Faith is the bond which unites us to Jesus Christ. Although this is not directly stated by the article, it is implied when it states that faith “is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him.” Faith is the living connection between Christ and believers. Or, it is the channel through which flow all the blessings of salvation. Thus the Scriptures speak of Christ as the vine and His people as branches which live out of that vine. The Scriptures also speak of Christ as the Head of the Body and of believers as the members of that body who live out of the Head, Jesus Christ. By means of faith we are made one with Christ. We embrace Him by faith and receive out of Him all His benefits, life, and glory!
Faith is also a power or faculty. What we mean is that God implants in the hearts of His people the ability to believe even before they consciously believe and before this faith becomes active. Just as a baby has the power to speak before it ever exercises that power, so also do the elect have the power of faith, the power to believe, even before they exercise that power. And that power must be there if faith is ever to be exercised! Without that gift of God no one will believe, no matter how often the gospel is preached to him.
Faith consists of two elements: knowledge and confidence. The knowledge of faith is not merely an intellectual apprehension of the truth of the gospel or the doctrine of Scripture. It is not mere “head knowledge.” It is the spiritual knowledge of God, the knowledge of love, the knowledge which according to the Word of Christ is Life eternal. (Cf. John 17:3) By means of faith the child of God lives in the fellowship of the God of his salvation. He knows God as His God and Father for Jesus’ sake.
But faith is also confidence. On the basis of the knowledge of faith and owing out of that knowledge of faith is the con dence of faith. The confidence of faith is trust. It is the assurance the believer has that his own sins are forgiven. In the confidence of faith the believer casts himself upon Christ. Nowhere is this more beautifully stated than in Question and Answer twenty-one of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is true faith? True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.” That is the true faith by which we are ingrafted into Christ and receive out of Him all the benefits and blessings of salvation.
That faith is active. The article briefly sums the activity of faith in these words: it “embraces Jesus Christ and all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more beside him.” By the power and gift of faith the believer actively embraces Christ and all his merits. By faith the believer knows his great need, his sin and depravity. He knows that he has nothing in himself whereby he may be saved. By faith that believer also recognizes Christ as the only One Who can supply His need. He knows Christ as the
complete Savior in whom is all his salvation. By faith the believer longs for Christ. By faith the believer embraces Christ and appropriates all His merits. By faith the believer seeks nothing more outside of Christ. He knows, that all of the blessings of salvation are in Christ.
Thus by faith the saints are richly blessed. Faith is the “instrument which keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits.” In living communion with Christ we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins. We know that we have been delivered from death’s terrible curse. We are assured that life everlasting is ours. And we know that all things are for us and nothing can be against us. We belong to Christ and in Him we have the blessed fellowship with the God of our salvation.
Written by: Prof. Robert D. Decker | Issue 5