John MacArthur: What Faith Does

At the heart of the no-lordship error is a disastrous misunderstanding of the nature of faith. No–lordship teaching depicts faith as inherently inert—even antithetical to works, obedience, and surrender to the will of God.

Scripture paints a different picture. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the “Faith Hall of Fame” presented in Hebrews 11. Over and over throughout the chapter we’re reminded that faith is not a static object to merely obtain. Instead, we’re given vivid, poignant descriptions of what faith does.

Faith Obeys and Endures

Faith obeys. That, in two words, is the key lesson of Hebrews 11. Here we see people of faith worshiping God (Hebrews 11:4), walking with God (v. 5), working for God (v. 7), obeying God (vv. 8–10), overcoming barrenness (v. 11), and overpowering death (v. 12).

Faith enabled these people to trust God with their dearest possessions (vv. 17–19); believe God for the future (vv. 20–23); turn away from earthly treasure for heavenly reward (vv. 24–26); see Him who is unseen (v. 27); receive miracles from the hand of God (vv. 28–30); have courage in the face of great danger (vv. 31–33); and conquer kingdoms, perform acts of righteousness, obtain promises, shut the mouths of lions, quench the power of fire, escape the edge of the sword, from weakness be made strong, become mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight (vv. 33–34). This faith has overcome death, withstood temptation, undergone martyrdom, and survived all manner of hardship (vv. 35–38).

If anything is true about Hebrews 11 faith, it is that it cannot be killed. It perseveres to death (Hebrews 11:13–16); it endures torture, and outlasts chains and imprisonment. It endures no matter what—holding to God with love and assurance no matter the assaults the world or the forces of evil might bring against it.

A Different Kind of Faith

No-lordship theology posits an altogether different kind of faith. No-lordship faith is a fragile, sometimes temporary, often nonworking faith. No-lordship faith is simply being convinced of something or giving credence to historical facts. [1] No-lordship faith is confidence, trust, holding something as true—but without any commitment to the object of faith. [2] No-lordship faith is theinward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true—that and that alone. [3] No-lordship faith is “a single, one-time appropriation of God’s gift.” It won’t necessarily continue believing. [4] In fact, no-lordship faith might even turn into hostile unbelief. [5]

Is faith merely the illumination of human reason, or does it transform the whole being? Some advocates of the no-lordship view resent the accusation that they see faith as merely a mental activity. But they consistently fail to define believing as anything more than a cognitive function. Many use the word trust, but when they define it, they actually describe assent.

Here is the typical no-lordship appeal to sinners: “Trust in the gospel,” [6] “believe in the good news,” [7] “believe that Christ died for our sins,” [8] “believe that He is God and your Messiah who died and who rose from the dead,” [9] “believe that Christ can forgive,” [10] “believe that His death paid for all your sin,” [11] “trust in the truth,” [12] and “believe that Someone . . . can take away sin.” [13]

No-lordship doctrine inevitably makes the gospel message, rather than the Lord Jesus Himself, the object of faith. Contrast the no-lordship appeals with biblical language: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Sinners are called to believe in Him, not only the facts about Him (Acts 20:21; Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16, 20; Philippians 3:9). Faith certainly includesknowledge of and assent to the truth about Christ and His saving work. But saving faith must go beyond knowledge and assent. It is personal trust in the Savior. The call of the gospel is to trustHim (cf. John 5:39–40). That necessarily involves some degree of love, allegiance, and surrender to His authority.

Faith Bears Fruit

Does that mix faith and works, as some are fond of saying? Not at all. Let there be no confusion on this point. Faith is an internal reality with external consequences. When we say that faith encompasses obedience, we are speaking of the God-given attitude of obedience; we’re not trying to make works a part of the definition of faith. God makes the believing heart an obedient heart—a heart eager to obey. Faith itself is complete before one work of obedience ever issues forth.

But make no mistake—real faith will always produce righteous works. Faith is the root; works are the fruit. Because God Himself is the vinedresser (John 15:1), fruit is guaranteed. That’s why whenever Scripture gives examples of faith—as here in Hebrews 11—faith inevitably is seen as obedient, working, and active.

No-lordship theology reasons that to be truly free from works righteousness, faith must be free from all obedience, including an attitude of obedience. In no-lordship thought, it is unacceptable to require that faith include even a willingness to obey. [14] But willingness to obey is precisely what sets genuine faith apart from hypocrisy.

Faith and unbelief are states of the heart. But they necessarily impact behavior. Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45). The state of one’s heart will inevitably be revealed by its fruit. That is a key lesson to be drawn from Hebrews 11 and its chronicle of faithfulness.

Faith Works, Not Faith and Works

A crucial point must be made here. The works described in Hebrews 11 are faith works. These are not fleshly efforts to earn God’s favor. The works described here are in no sense meritorious. They are the pure expression of believing hearts. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4).By faith Enoch walked with God (v. 5). By faith Noah built an ark (v. 7). By faith Abraham obeyed (v. 8). By faith he lived in a foreign land (v. 9). By faith he offered up Isaac (v. 17). By faith Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph persevered to the end of their lives (vv. 20–22). By faith Moses’ parents hid him (v. 23). By faith Moses spurned Egypt in favor of the reproach of Christ (vv. 24–26). By faith he left Egypt without fear (v. 27). By faith he kept the Passover (v. 28). By faith all Israel passed through the Red Sea (v. 29). By faith they conquered Jericho (v. 30). By faith Rahab welcomed the spies in peace (v. 31).

What more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated . . . wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32–38, emphasis added)

Works righteousness? No. “All these . . . gained approval through their faith” (Hebrews 11:39, emphasis added). Hebrews 12:1 identifies these people as a “great . . . cloud of witnesses surrounding us.” Witnesses in what sense? They give testimony to the validity, joy, peace, satisfaction, power, and continuity of saving faith. The writer, then, calls on all to run the faith race (vv. 1–2).

In spite of this monumental testimony to faith works, no-lordship apologists often claim that viewing works as the inevitable expression of faith is tantamount to setting up a system of works righteousness. Zane Hodges argues this way:

Lordship salvation cannot escape the charge that it mixes faith and works. The way it does so is succinctly stated by MacArthur: “Obedience is the inevitable manifestation of saving faith.”

But this is the same as saying, “Without obedience there is no justification and no heaven.” Viewed from that standpoint, “obedience” is actually a condition for justification and for heaven. . . . If heaven really cannot be attained apart from obedience to God—and this is what lordship salvation teaches—then, logically, that obedience is a condition for getting there. [15]

But the folly of that line of reasoning is immediately evident. To say that works are a necessaryresult of faith is not the same as making works a condition for justification. Hodges himself surely believes all Christians will ultimately be glorified (Romans 8:30). Would he accept the charge that he is making glorification a condition for justification? Presumably, both the lordship and no-lordship views agree that all believers will ultimately be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We differ only on the timing. Lordship salvation maintains that the process of becoming like Christ begins at the moment of conversion and continues for all of life. The no-lordship view allows for the possibility that practical sanctification may stall short of its goal, or not even begin until this life on earth ends.

Meritorious works have nothing to do with faith. But faith works have everything to do with it. Faith that does not produce works is dead faith, inefficacious faith. Faith that remains idle is no better than the faith the demons display (James 2:19).

This clear and careful distinction is vital: Faith works are a consequence of faith, not a componentof faith. Faith itself is an entirely inward response and therefore is complete before it produces its first work. At the moment of salvation, faith does nothing but receive the provision of Christ. The believer himself contributes nothing meritorious to the saving process. As J. Gresham Machen stated, “Faith is the acceptance of a gift at the hands of Christ.” [16] Better yet, faith lays hold of Christ Himself. In no sense is this an issue of works or merit.

But true faith never remains passive. From the moment of regeneration, faith goes to work. It doesn’t work for divine favor. It doesn’t work against God’s grace, but in accord with grace. As we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), we discover that “it is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (v. 13). True faith keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of all genuine faith (Hebrews 12:2).

This Article: What Faith Does , originally appeared at Grace to You, Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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