Friday, August 30, 2013

“The just shall live by faith”— A Study of the Relationship of Faith to Salvation in its Justifying, Sanctifying, and Glorifying Fulness, part 22

            John’s Gospel teaches that believers have their faith strengthened and deepened through the believing reception of greater revelations through the Word (John 2:22)[i] of the Triune God in His ontology and economy,[ii] particularly as seen in Christ the Mediator,[iii] and through their response, enabled by grace, of fuller surrender to and entrusting of themselves to Him.  Even the smallest degree of true confidence in, coming to, and cleaving to Christ will bring union with Him, and conseequently justification, sanctification, and all the other blessings of salvation, but one can cleave to Christ more closely, grow in confidence in Him, surrender more fully to Him, and entrust oneself more fully to Him.  Such a greater degree of trust in the Person of the Redeemer and in the Triune God, which is associated in Scripture with receipt of a fuller revelation of His nature and work through the Word, is growth in faith.  Through such an increase of faith the saints partake of an increase of spiritual life and fellowship with God.  Christ’s exercise of creative power in transforming water into the fruit of the vine in John 2 was a manifestation of His glory, in response to which His disciples, those who had already exercised saving faith, believed on Him in a deeper way (John 2:11).[iv]  His miracle, both an exercise of creative power such as pertained only to the eternal Jehovah and a manifestation of His grace and lovingkindness as the Provider for and Redeemer of His people, showed forth Christ’s glory as both the eternal Son of God and as the incarnate God-Man, and the faith of His disciples was directed towards Him[v] as all He was in Himself and on their behalf in a greater way as a consequence.  Furthermore, through the display of the Divine glory manifested by the incarnate Christ through His raising of Lazarus from the dead, His disciples were led to believe in Him in a deeper way (John 11:15).  Christ was revealed as One who, weeping over Lazarus’ death, could perfectly identify with human sorrow, and was filled to the fullest extent with perfect human love and sympathy (John 11:35-36), while He was also revealed as God the Word and the Father’s only begotten Son, as One who was Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and who, out of His infinite Divine love, could and would exercise the Almighty power of God to redeem His beloved ones from even that last enemy, death (John 11:25-27).  While revelation of the glory of God in Christ leads His people to deeper faith (John 2:11; 11:15), at the same time their response of faith to His Word is a condition of and a means to a greater revelation of His glory (John 11:40).[vi] Christ reveals Himself to His chosen ones, so that love that contemplates Him, faith that trusts in Him, and obedience that follows Him, is aroused the more in them.  To such faith, love, and obedience, Christ in turn responds by revealing Himself in yet clearer and clearer ways.  Christ also predicted His betrayal to strengthen His disciples’ faith in Him as the Messiah and as Jehovah, the I AM (John 13:19).[vii]  In John 14:1, Christ addressed His disciples:  “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”[viii]  His disciples had already believed, and were believing, in God, and already had come to saving faith in Christ, but the Lord exhorts them to a deeper faith in Himself as the One who is going to go away and come again to receive them to Himself, to a faith that clearly respects His humiliation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and mediatorial office (John 14:6, 29[ix]), to be added to their already extant justifying faith.  The Lord Jesus exhorts His disciples to a deeper faith in His Person in John 14:1, but does not there exhort His disciples to a deeper faith in the Father in particular, because the first Person of the Trinity is not the One who they would see in such a radically different light or have difficulty recognizing in light of the cross.[x]  Christ then proceeds to lead His disciples to a stronger faith in the Trinitarian perichoresis[xi] (cf. John 10:30, 38) and to Himself as the One in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily on account of His Word and works (John 14:10-12).[xii]  As a result of the discourse of John 14-16, the disciples, who had already come to saving faith in Christ with all of its permanent results, and consequently loved Him and were loved by the Father (John 16:27),[xiii] declared that they were now believing in a deeper way in Christ (John 16:30),[xiv] although the Lord warned them that their faith was still weak enough that it would not keep them from forsaking Him when He was betrayed (John 16:31-32),[xv] for stronger faith leads to a more decided stand for Christ against the world and to all other fruits of righteousness.  Unbelievers are exhorted to trust in the crucified Christ, and believers exhorted to a closer embrace of Christ in faith,[xvi] because of the revelation of His saving work, as predicted in the Old Testament, grounded in His substitutionary death, and producing justification and sanctification for those in union with Him (John 19:34-37).  Men should follow the pattern of a believing response to the Divine saving self-revelation in the crucifixion and resurrection by entrusting themselves to Christ as their own Lord and God (John 20:28-31) and becoming people who are believingly faithful (John 20:27).  Such a response of faith appeared in the Apostle John when, in light of the empty tomb, he “saw, and believed” (John 20:8), and in the Apostle Thomas when he saw and believed (John 20:29)[xvii] and was consequently no longer on the path to faithlessness, but was believing (John 20:27, 25), although in truth “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).[xviii]  All believers are in such a state of blessedness, for they have come to saving faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ[xix] and have consequently become believing and faithful people.  The record of Thomas’s response of faith to the crucified and resurrected Son of God as Redeemer, Lord, and God, contained as it is within the climax of the Gospel of John in chapter twenty,[xx] is set forth as a pattern for all men—those who are unconverted need to make a comparable faith response in Christ to enter into life, and those who are already converted need to continue to embrace Christ in faith ever the more fully, that they might experientially possess spiritual life in an ever higher degree, such earthly spiritual life being a sweet foretaste of the blessed fulness of life in the coming eschatological glory.  John’s Gospel is written “that ye might believe[xxi] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing[xxii] ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).  The revelation of the glory and salvation of Christ and God through the signs recorded in the Gospel are written so that people might come to initial saving faith, and that those who are believers might through a continuing and ever deeper entrustment of themselves to Christ experientially possess a greater fulness of life in all its senses—that is, “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)—for life is not bare existence, or simply a future state of joy instead of pain, but knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3).  It is impossible for the unbeliever to possess any saving knowledge of God and Christ, while all believers possess such cognitive and experiential knowledge, but the believer’s knowledge, and thus his experience of spiritual and eternal life, can be deepened through repeated, stronger, and fuller responses to the revelation of his God and Savior in the Word.

This post is part of the complete study here.


[i]           In John 2:22, both the Old Testament Scripture and Christ’s audible speech during His earthly ministry are the Word of God (e˙pi÷steusan thØv grafhØv, kai« twˆ◊ lo/gwˆ wˆ— ei•pen oJ ∆Ihsouvß), which the disciples believe in regard to His resurrection (2:18-22).

[ii]           The “ontological Trinity [refers to] the internal, intratrinitarian distinctions ad intra or within the Godhead itself,” while the “economic Trinity [refers to] the offices or functions performed by each of the three members of the Trinity. The economic Trinity concerns the roles that each member performs in terms of the created order ad extra or outside of himself” (pgs. 954, 959, Dogmatic Theology, W. G. T. Shedd, 3rd. ed.  Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003).  That is, the ontological Trinity is God as He is in Himself, while the economic Trinity is God as He is towards us.

[iii]          Brian Kay, in setting forth the Trinitarian spirituality of John Owen, effectively explains the connection between meditation on the Trinity and on Christ the Mediator:

[W]hat exactly is the connection between meditating on the Trinity in action and actual growth towards Christian maturity?  The best way to understand this may come by examining . . . another related question which is more specific:  how is meditating on Christ transformative for the believer?  These are related questions, of course, because . . . the prime ad extra act of the Trinity is to communicate Christ to the believer[.] . . . Thus, to meditate on the glory of Christ as Redeemer is to meditate on the most important work of the Trinity. . . . [A]pprehending Christ in his glory is not only the remedy for spiritual decays, but our apprehension of this glory is the spring of all our obedience and is also the controlling object of Christian affection because of Christ’s consuming beauty.  How is this contemplation so effective?  Two reasons . . . rise to the surface.  The first is that since the Spirit’s work is to fashion believers into the image of Christ’s human nature, the believer’s own transformation begins as he fills his mind with thoughts of the now glorified human nature of Christ [and other elements of His Theanthropic glory].  In other words, one slowly becomes what one fills one’s mind with . . . one becomes what one apprehends or gazes upon.  The connection between beholding and transformation comes also in the scriptural language “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord[.”] . . .
         More deeply, a consideration by the worshipper of the very hypostatic union by which Christ’s human nature is united to [the] divine nature is especially powerful.  On one hand, diligently inspecting the Son of God’s condescension to take on human nature impresses the believer’s mind with the prototype of all Christian self-denial, for human obedience is similarly acting in self-denying submission to the will of the Father.  On the other hand, the hypostatic union presents to the mind a glorious mystery that exalts God’s ineffable wisdom in salvation. . . . [C]ontemplating . . . Christ as fully God and fully man . . . raises the human mind to new heights of both delight in God and progress in sanctification.  Somehow, such lofty thoughts of such an inexplicable union, yet a union made real by the Godhead as an act of love for those who would be saved because of it, moves the soul to humble worship and new sensations of appreciative delight. . . . [E]njoyment [is] the language of . . . meditating on Christ[.] . . . In the last analysis, the enjoyment of Christ is what drives out the enjoyment of sin, for the former causes the believer to lose his appetite for the latter.  The late-born Puritan Thomas Chalmers would express the same idea with the title of a sermon on the secret of dislodging fleshly appetites, “The Expulsive Power of a new Affection.” (pgs. 70-71, Trinitarian Spirituality, Brian Kay.  Some quotation marks have been removed and the traditional English generic pronoun restored.)

[iv]          tau/thn e˙poi÷hse th\n aÓrch\n tw◊n shmei÷wn oJ ∆Ihsouvß e˙n Kana◊Ø thvß Galilai÷aß, kai« e˙fane÷rwse th\n do/xan aujtouv: kai« e˙pi÷steusan ei˙ß aujto\n oi˚ maqhtai« aujtouv.  The specific manifestation of Christ’s glory in the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, and the specific belief in Him as a response to this particular manifestation of His glory, is specified by the aorists e˙fane÷rwse and e˙pi÷steusan.  Note that John 11:15, 40; 13:19; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29, 31; 1 John 3:23 also contain aorists.

[v]           pisteu/w + ei˙ß.

[vi]          e˙a»n pisteu/shØß, o¡yei th\n do/xan touv Qeouv.  While all present in John 11 saw the physical miracle of the raising of Lazarus, only those with spiritual sight could see the glory of God in Christ revealed by the miracle.

[vii]         aÓp∆ a‡rti le÷gw uJmi√n pro\ touv gene÷sqai, iºna, o¢tan ge÷nhtai, pisteu/shte o¢ti e˙gw¿ ei˙mi.

[viii]         Mh\ tarasse÷sqw uJmw◊n hJ kardi÷a: pisteu/ete ei˙ß to\n Qeo/n, kai« ei˙ß e˙me« pisteu/ete.  As in the Authorized Version, the first pisteu/ete is an indicative, while the second is an imperative;  cf. Non turbetur cor vestrum. Creditis in Deum, et in me credite (Vulgate).  Support for taking pisteu/ete in 14:1b as an imperative is also found in the present imperative pisteu/ete in 14:11 and the exhortation to pisteu/w in 14:10.

[ix]          The pisteu/shte of John 14:29 is a specific and deeper faith in Christ as all He has revealed Himself to be in John 14, specifically in Christ as the soon to be crucified and ascended Redeemer who would send the Spirit, and come again.

[x]           The pisteu/ete, both the indicative and the imperative, are in the present tense.  As the disciples were already believing in God, so they were to believe ever the more deeply in Christ as His saving work on their behalf was revealed to them in the Word and fulfilled in history.

[xi]          “[T]he Greek perichōrēsis (περιχώρησις), or emperichōrēsis . . . [is] used as a synonym of . . . circumincessio: circumincession or coinherence. . . . Circumincessio refers primarily to the coinherence of the persons of the Trinity in the divine essence and in each other, but it can also indicate the coinherence of Christ’s divine and human natures in their communion or personal union. (pgs. 67-68, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Richard A. Muller.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985).  The fact that the fulness of the Godhead is in the Theanthropos is the natural consequence in salvation-history of the ontological trinitarian circumincession.

[xii]         The question “Believest thou not[?]” (ouj pisteu/eiß) of 14:10 expects a positive answer.  Note that 14:11 subordinates belief based on Christ’s miracles to belief based on His Word.

[xiii]         The disciples already had a perfect tense faith (pepisteu/kate o¢ti e˙gw» para» touv Qeouv e˙xhvlqon, John 16:27), one which began at the moment of their regeneration and which had abiding results.

[xiv]         nuvn . . . pisteu/omen o¢ti aÓpo\ Qeouv e˙xhvlqeß.

[xv]         ⁄Arti pisteu/ete; i˙dou/, e¶rcetai w‚ra kai« nuvn e˙lh/luqen, iºna skorpisqhvte eºkastoß ei˙ß ta» i¶dia, kai« e˙me« mo/non aÓfhvte.  Their faith was deeper, but it still was far weaker than it should have been.

[xvi]         pisteu/shte, John 19:35.  The audience of the “that ye might believe” is the same as the audience of the gospel of John as a whole, 20:30-31.

[xvii]        Oti e˚w¿rakaß me, Qwma◊, pepi÷steukaß.

[xviii]       By means of Christ’s exhortation to Thomas to not become faithless and unbelieving, but faithful and believing (mh\ gi÷nou a‡pistoß, aÓlla» pisto/ß, John 20:27), accompanied by His effectual grace and power, Thomas was brought into a state of believing, having passed out of his position as one on the road to faithlessness to a state of faith and consequent faithfulness (pepi÷steukaß, 20:29, so that Thomas was now pisto/ß, not one on the path to a‡pistoß, 20:27).  John 20:27 contains the only references to the adjectives pisto/ß and a‡pistoß in the Gospel;  the noun pi/stiß does not appear in John’s Gospel.  A comparison with the Johannine epistles and Revelation, supported also by the context of John 20, indicates that the emphasis of pisto/ß/a‡pistoß in John 20:27 is faithfulness (1 John 1:9; 3 John 1:5; Revelation 1:5; 2:10, 13; 3:14; 17:14; 19:11; 21:5; 22:6 & Revelation 21:8) although, of course, such faithfulness is impossible without faith (3 John 5; Revelation 2:10, 13; 17:14; 21:8).  Thomas is exhorted to embrace the truth of the resurrection, with all that it involves about the Person and Office of Christ, and consequently become one who is faithful, not faithless (note the present imperative in mh\ gi÷nou a‡pistoß, aÓlla» pisto/ß; cf. gi÷nou pisto\ß a‡cri qana¿tou, Revelation 2:10, and the discussion on pgs.121ff. of A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 1, J. H. Moulton).  As Christ’s exhortation is accompanied by His Almighty power, Thomas does indeed respond in faith to Christ’s self-revelation, confess Him as Lord and God, and become one who is believing and faithful (pepi÷steukaß, 20:29).  The believing response in the Apostle Thomas is a paradigm of the faith of the normal Christian, the one who has not seen, and yet has believed, and so is blessed (maka¿rioi oi˚ mh\ i˙do/nteß, kai« pisteu/santeß, John 20:29);  such a believing response is the purpose of the Gospel (John 20:30-31).

[xix]         Thomas’s faith-response to the revelation of Christ is set forth as a pattern by John for the response of faith in the conversion of the lost and for the continuing faith-response to greater revelations of the Person and work of Christ by the Christian, although, in light of 1 Corinthians 15, the specific doubt about the bodily resurrection of Christ by Thomas is not possible for the child of God in the fully inagurated dispensation of grace as it was for the disciples in the pre-resurrection and ascension period.  Indeed, John 20, in its context, clearly teaches that rejecting the resurrection is an the act of the unregenerate, and Christ prevents Thomas from reaching that point through His command, accompanied by His effectual grace, in 20:27.

[xx]         For a helpful outline of John’s Gospel, its themes, purpose, and plan, see “The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel, Part I” and “The Plan of the Fourth Gospel, Part II,” by W. H. Griffith Thomas, Bibliotheca Sacra 125:499 (July 1968) 254-263 & 125:500 (October 1968) 313-324.

[xxi]         iºna pisteu/shte, “that ye might come to initial saving faith in Christ,” the first purpose of the Gospel of John, a fact supported by the aorist tense verb.  (The aorist, found in the Textus Receptus and 99.5% of Greek MSS, is indubitably the correct reading.)

[xxii]        iºna pisteu/onteß zwh\n e¶chte e˙n twˆ◊ ojno/mati aujtouv, “that you might through continuing deeper and fuller entrusting of and surrender to Christ, be having life in every greater spiritual fulness through Christ’s name,” the second purpose of the Gospel of John, a fact supported by the present tense verbs.

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