This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
James wrote of at least two kinds of faith: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14, 18). There is dead faith and then there is saving faith. Dead faith is void of good works. “Faith by itself, it is does not have works, is dead” (v.17; cf. v.26). Saving faith is accompanied by good works. We are saved through faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. We are saved to walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10), and so good works are the evidence of our salvation. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Saving faith is not something we fallen sons of Adam create by our own volition. Rather, it is something that springs up from a regenerated heart (1 John 5:1), from the inside of a man who has been reborn by the Spirit of God (John 3:1-15). This faith is like water gushing up from the ground. It is the natural product of a heart that loves Christ, and as such it has certain characteristics. For example, the most basic demonstration of saving faith is an affection for Christ.
Saving faith, being naturally disposed towards God, always aims at the truth. Like a prisoner’s eyes darting to slivers of light, having been bound in absolute darkness for ten years, so too does saving faith dart towards the light of God, whereas the unregenerate recoil in the darkness (vv.16-21). Like a coin drawn from a muddy river bottom by a magnet, so too is saving faith drawn to God most naturally and freely. Saving, living, true faith always aims at the truth.
This is complicated by the reality that our minds, being still marred by original corruption, are not always aimed at the truth. A Christian is that man who is affectionately drawn to Christ yet as by dim light. The practical significance of that reality is twofold. First, regeneration does not ensure pristine doctrine. In the final accounting, every one of us will be found to have confessed something erroneous. Second, regeneration ensures orthodox doctrine. By “orthodox,” we mean those doctrines which are fundamental to the Christian faith. These are the ingredients which, once removed, leave the confessional mixture something other than Christianity. These are truths that are essential to the Christian faith like flour is essential to chocolate cake. We may remove the icing, whip cream, and sprinkles, and still have a cake, but if we remove the flour, we have gone somewhere else.
The early church understood this reality. We read in Jude 3, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” These are doctrines which are twisted by irreverent people (v.8) “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v.4).” Abandoning the faith once for all delivered to the saints is to abandon Jesus Christ.
What are these doctrines, then? What is the fundamental stream unto which saving faith is gladly drawn? Christians in the 21st century are greatly blessed, for we possess creeds and confessions to aid us in clarifying this. The Apostle’s Creed is one of the greatest examples of doctrine fundamental to the Christian faith. Every regenerate man will possess faith drawn to such a creed.
In the last place, we must clarify what is meant by, “regeneration ensures orthodox doctrine.” This does not mean that every man born again by the Spirit of God will knowingly confess, adhere to, or be able to explain, all orthodox doctrine. Knowing the Apostle’s Creed is not a prerequisite to salvation. What we mean by, “regeneration ensures orthodox doctrine,” is that a true believer will not go on denying orthodox doctrine. For example, many regenerate Christians today would fail a basic test on the doctrine of the Trinity, but no true believer would deny that doctrine once they came to understand it. Therefore, a true believer may even oppose orthodox doctrine by confession, but only if they do so out of ignorance, both of what that fundamental truth is and of what the contrary proposition might be.
Question: What do we believe by true faith?
Answer: We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.