Paul’s Concept of Faith

No one word comes so near the center of Paul’s belief as the word faith. Faith is always faith in a person, not intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine. Paul uses the phrase four ways: belief in God, belief in Jesus, belief in the promises of God and belief in the promises of Jesus.

Paul uses faith to mean loyalty, fidelity, that which we would more naturally call faithfulness:

  1. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (Galatians 5:22)
  2. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Romans 1:8)
  3. For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you, and your love for all the saints, (Ephesians 1:15)
  4. Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (Colossians 1:4)
  5. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:5)
  6. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
  7. For this reason, when I could endure [it] no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. (1 Thessalonians 3:5)
  8. Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
  9. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2:17)

Paul contrasts faithlessness of Israel to the faithfulness of God:

  1. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (Romans 3:3)
  2. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, (1 Thessalonians 3:6)
  3. The OT has a moving instance of this fidelity (2 Samuel 15:19-23)

There is also the unalterable conviction that certain things are true:

  1. That your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5)
  2. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Sometimes Paul uses the word “to believe:” this unshakable belief and conviction with preaching. How can a man be moved to belief and conviction unless he hear the presented Christian message?

  1. For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not [come to] know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)
  2. What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave [opportunity] to each one. (1 Corinthians 3:5)
  3. Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:11)
  4. So that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:7)
  5. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
  6. When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed–for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)

Here are two great Christian facts: conviction is an essential part of Christianity and preaching is the medium which produces conviction. Preaching is not designed to produce questions but to answer them, not to awaken doubts but to settle them. Raising question are for helping the hearer to see the need to find the answers in life.

The idea of faith in a creed does not come into the NT until as late as the Pastoral Epistles: the creed of the early church was simply, “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11)

Christianity is The Faith – allegiance to a person, not a creed:

  1. Now accept the one who is weak in faith, [but] not for [the purpose of] passing judgment on his opinions. (Romans 14:1)
  2. But only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:23)
  3. If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:23)
  4. Having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude. (Colossians 2:7)
  5. Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)
  6. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is [only] fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows [ever] greater; (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
  7. Test yourselves [to see] if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Faith as a confident hope is a conception which is more characteristic of the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1) but the idea occurs at least once in Paul: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”– (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Things which come by faith:

  1. Justification comes by faith – –oun never means to make a person something, but to reckon, treat or count that person as something. So, God treats us as if we were righteous.
    1. For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS [man] SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)
    2. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Romans 3:28)
    3. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)
    4. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying], “ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” (Galatians 3:8)
    5. Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
  2. Righteousness comes by faith – being in a right relationship with God, not moral excellence.
    1. Even [the] righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:22)
    2. But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), (Romans 10:6)
    3. And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, (Philippians 3:9)
    4. Paul’s faith defined – complete trust and complete surrender to Jesus Christ. It is the total acceptance of all that He said, all that He offered and all that He is.
  3. Propitiation comes by faith in His blood – the sacrifice to restore the lost relationship between God and man. “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” (Romans 3:25)
  4. Access and confidence come by faith – prosagoge means access to the presence of a king.
    1. Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
    2. In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:12)
  5. Grace comes by faith – that which we do not deserve. The Jew would argue that God’s favor must be earned. But Paul teaches that it is freely given and must simply be accepted and trustingly taken. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

But how?

  1. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
  2. So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (Ephesians 3:17)
  3. Paul turns the word faith into flesh by way of examples in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

The elements of faith:

  1. Receptivity – faith begins with a consent to listen – So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
  2. Assent of the mind – belief that God exists, and Jesus is who He said He was and is.
    1. Evidence for the historical Jesus need not be sought in the annuls of history or the Gospels. It lies in the state of the world today. Simply compare the world before Jesus and the world after Jesus on earth.
    2. (1) Code of sexual purity
      (2) Social justice
      (3) Respect for women
      (4) Love of children
      (5) Care for the weak, sick, aged, poor and deformed
  3. Assent to the significance of the facts – the whole man to Jesus Christ. Intellectual assent is not enough (James 2:19). “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

The Christian faith in its fullest and best:

  1. Man confronted with the Christian message
  2. Man confronted with what it cost Jesus to bring the message
  3. Man must make a complete self-surrender and submission to this Jesus Christ – obedience

This material is from William Barclay, the Mind of St. Paul, 1975.

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