Installment 10 of 20, translated from the book Christ Is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Writings on the Basics of Faith and Doctrine. (Ed. Ari-Pekka Palola, SRK, 2018)
During the Reformation, Lutheran beliefs came to be categorized as material and formal principles. The formal principle took a stand on what the highest authority is on faith and doctrine. Lutheranism emphasized the authority of the Bible, whereas in the Catholic church tradition had gained a near-biblical position in deciding questions of faith.
The material principle, meanwhile, summarized the core ideas on how a person is justified, meaning how a person can be acceptable to God: by faith alone, by grace alone, by the merits of Christ alone. This understanding comes from the Bible and has remained true throughout the ages.
The Word Faith
In religious language, the word faith has many meanings. On the one hand, it is used to describe faith in the existence of something. In this sense, even evil spirits can be said to believe in God, namely that God exists (James 2:19). A much broader meaning of the word faith is found, for example, in the sentence “I believe in God.” Here faith is not merely an acknowledgement that God exists, but rather it tells of a deeper faith. Faith comes close to trusting and placing hope on something: I believe that God is my Savior, my refuge, my hope and my salvation.
The latter example shows that in religious language, faith does not mean just holding something to be true. It is that also, but in such a case the things held to be true are very extraordinary things such as God as the Creator, the virgin birth, the doctrine of Christ’s two natures or the office of the Holy Spirit.
Our belief that the Bible’s revelation is true is not based on scientific study, life experience, probability or sensory perceptions; rather it is based on it being God’s revelation. We are told in the Bible that it is so, and we believe that it is true. In this way, faith is much more than just holding something to be true: it requires trust in the source, the giver of the information, which is God.
Faith does not contradict knowledge and knowing, rather on the contrary it often leads to a desire to know and to study. On the other hand, knowing is not necessarily a part of faith. If this were so, children or the severely disabled would not be able to believe. Conversely, holding the revelation of the Bible to be true is not a sufficient definition of faith. If this were so, all who accept the revelation of the Bible would be righteous.
Faith can thus exist without knowledge that is logically organized, but knowledge cannot give birth to faith. Faith, however, causes a desire to study the Word of God and learn more about it.
What Is Faith?
In theology, the faith that is referred to in religious language is called religious faith (fides). It is often examined from two points of view: on the one hand there is the faith which believes (fides qua), on the other hand the faith which is believed (fides quae).
The concept of faith which believes is used to describe what happens in believing: the experience of God’s presence, security and fellowship as well as unlimited trust in God and dependence on Him. In this case, faith is regarded as a means of owning the object and contents of faith.
The concept of faith which is believed, meanwhile, is used to describe the faith that God begets. In this case, the object and contents of faith – meaning the salvation available in Christ – are described.
This categorization may seem artificial or like unnecessary preciosity. However, this can be used to clarify a few important points.
Faith, which Believes, Is a Gift of God
In examining faith which believes (fides qua), we find one of the most central characteristics of faith: faith is a gift. When we say that faith is a gift from God, we mean many different things.
On the one hand, faith is free: humans have paid nothing for faith and have been unable to give anything in return. Second, faith is a gift in the sense that one cannot demand faith for himself or herself nor can one choose to believe. Third, the nature of faith as a gift means that a person cannot develop his or her own faith. A person does not have a natural ability or tendency that he or she could practice and learn to believe. Believing is completely a God-given gift and effected by God: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Faith is essential for human salvation. “Without faith it is impossible to please him: he that cometh to God, must believe that he is” (Heb. 11:6). This faith is not directed at an abstract afterlife, rather it is a person’s belief in a distinct God; in faith one gains a connection to God and establishes a you-me relationship. Faith is trusting, seeking security in God, being in fellowship with God and relying on Him. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 1:11).
God grants this faith through His congregation. The birth of faith is the work of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit does its office through believing people (John 20:22,23). The Word preached through the power of the Holy Spirit gives birth to faith in the listener where and whenever God wills. Paul taught, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Every believer is a messenger of God, to whom God Himself has given the duty to speak of Christ and through whom the blessing of Christ’s redemption work is brought near to a person, to be owned and for his or her salvation’s sake (2 Cor. 5:17–20).
Faith which Is Believed
Faith that makes one righteous is not just the right relationship and attitude, but rather it has an object and it has contents. It is described with the other concept, faith which is believed (fida quae).
The contents of faith is described for example in creeds that summarize the basic truths of faith. We stated previously, however, that faith is not at its core holding something to be true, but rather that the contents of faith is something much deeper. Faith (fides qua) owns its object and contents (fides quae). Understanding this is important for understanding the whole concept of faith. In order to determine what that is, we must examine more closely what the contents of faith is and what it means to own it.
The Contents of Faith
The contents of faith can be summarized in one word: Christ. Faith receives the Word, which is Christ. In the Word – the living gospel – preached through the Holy Spirit, Christ whom faith owns is present (1 Cor. 3:11; 2 Cor. 5:17–20). Throughout salvation history, a person’s salvation has been based on faith, which contains only one thing: Christ.
Humans were created through Christ (the Word) (John 1:1–4; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15–17). Even the righteousness of humans in paradise was Christ’s righteousness. Since they were created in God’s image, they lived in fellowship with God, partakers of God and His righteousness (Gen. 1:26; 2:17). The situation changed in the fall into sin, when the humans believed the serpent more than God.
Sin separated humans from God. The humans lost their righteousness and became subject to the power of sin and death and to the wrath of God. Their will changed such that they loved evil and their reason and understanding turned to serve the enemy of souls. This was the situation in which God promised His Son to save humankind (Gen. 3:15). The promise of Christ was immediately true to one who believed on it. Adam and Eve were thus granted the gift of faith, which owned the contents of the promise, Christ.
Old Christians have taught that the aim of all of creation was to save humankind through the redemption and atonement work of Christ. For this reason, Christ is referred to as the second Adam: just as the first Adam was created in Christ and to be a partaker of God’s righteousness, in the second Adam – Christ – sin-fallen humankind was created anew and was reconciled to fellowship with God (Rom. 5:15–19).
The Works of Christ
The Bible emphasizes two aspects in Christ’s work: on the one hand, Christ overcame sin, death and the power of satan (redemption); on the other hand, He appeased God’s wrath (atonement). Both of these works were possible only for Christ, who was both God and human. Due to the very fact that Jesus Christ was human and God in one person, He was able to fulfill the law, die sinless, rise from the dead and overcome the power of sin and death and atone for God’s wrath (2 Cor. 5:14–19).
It must be noted that Christ did not remove sin, death and God’s anger towards sin. Original sin did not cease to exist, but rather humankind is still completely corrupt and each person is completely sinful. But the power of sin and death has been overcome in Christ, and humankind has been restored to fellowship with God. Because of this reconciliation to righteousness (recapitulatio), a child also has saving faith: the child is born into humanity which carries inherited sin but which is also reconciled to God in Christ.
Faith Brings Christ and His Works
When we say that the contents of faith is Christ, we speak of the victor over the power of death and sin, He in whom God and man combined. Faith brings to Christians the complete Christ and with Him His work, His victory over the power of sin (redemption) and His suffering of punishment for sin, meaning atoning for God’s wrath (atonement). The Christian receives in Christ both fellowship with God (Christ as a gift, donum), and appeasement of God’s wrath (Christ as goodwill, favor).
Redemption frees a Christian from the power of sin. Sin, death and satan have no power over the Christian, for Christ who is present in faith has overcome the power of those things. Atonement, meanwhile, removes the wrath of God. Because the Christian owns Christ in faith, God sees in him or her only the righteousness of Christ and no sin. For this reason, the Christian is not an object of God’s wrath, but rather God looks upon him or her lovingly, no longer wrathful.
The expression by faith alone gets its meaning from the fact that only faith can bring Christ to a person, and in Christ is found the complete salvation. Luther’s well-known phrase “in faith itself Christ is present” means precisely this.
Owning Christ is much more comprehensive than any temporal ownership. In faith, a “blessed exchange” takes place: on the one hand the Christian’s sins are so fully laid upon Christ as if they were Christ’s (Isa. 53:6). On the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is so completely the Christian’s that it is as if it were his or her own. A Christian remains completely sinful, but simultaneously he or she is completely righteous in Christ. Paul explains: “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, not yet I, but Christ that liveth in me. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God” (Gal. 2:19,20). In this sense, faith can be said to make a person righteous (Rom. 5:1).
Owning Christ, however, does not make the person himself or herself righteous. Although the Christian by faith owns Christ and His works, they remain Christ’s person and Christ’s work, an alien righteousness. The righteousness that a Christian owns by faith is entirely Christ’s righteousness. It is never governed by the Christian – even though faith owns it so completely that it can be said to be owned by the Christian.
Owning Christ makes a Christian free from sin. This does not mean that the Christian is sinless but sin no longer governs him or her. Christ has taken all his or her sins (2 Cor. 5:17–21). Owning Christ does not remove the Christian’s sinfulness. The Christian continues to be completely sinful. He or she does not only commit sin, but rather he or she is sinful the whole time, without ceasing. This sinfulness manifests itself as thoughts, deeds and things one neglected to do, as the old confession of sins expressed it. Paul notes that sin dwells in a Christian (Rom. 7:20).
Owning Christ by faith changes the entire person. On the one hand, in Christ he or she is completely free from sin and completely righteous, such that he or she cannot become more righteous even in heaven. On the other hand, the person is still so thoroughly corrupt and completely sinful that he or she could not be more sinful even in hell.
The change shows in a Christian. Faith changes the Christian to love God, righteousness, purity and goodness. All the Christian’s gifts, will, mind and deeds turn to serve God. This change is inevitable, since a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit (Matt. 7:18). This does not mean that a Christian no longer commits sin or feels tempted to sin, but it is no longer his or her desire to do so. As a fruit of faith, the Christian has the desire to battle against sin.
Faith, Law and Works
When a Christian’s righteousness is Christ, it is clear that a person cannot augment this righteousness. Christ is perfect righteousness. Therefore, every deed by which a person attempts to improve or augment this righteousness is wrong. His or her righteousness then is not the righteousness of Christ that God has given as a gift, but rather his or her own righteousness, which is based on works. Paul noted that in this kind of faith grace is nullified and Christ has then died in vain (Gal. 2:21).
The Relationship between Christ and the Law
The instruction in the letter to the Galatians becomes understandable when we examine the relationship between Christ and the law. First a distinction must be made between the office of the law and the contents of the law. The office of the law tells us the function of the law. The office of the law in a spiritual sense is to compel a person to see his or her own sinfulness and to seek refuge in Christ. The law demands, condemns and indicates punishment, but it does not give anything. The contents of the law, meanwhile, explain what the office requires. The contents of the law points to the righteousness of God and thus it is as if a depiction of God’s righteousness.
The demand of the law is condensed in the double commandment (also called the Great Commandment) of love: Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 23:36–40). One who fulfills this commandment fulfills the whole law and is acceptable to God. But the one who transgresses one part of the law has transgressed the entire law and is subject to demands and judgment (Gal. 2:15–21, 3:21). It is precisely this state of being subject to judgment that Christ corrected: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4,5; Rom. 8:3,4).
Christ did not overturn the law and its demands; rather He fulfilled it to the last letter. The law is fulfilled in Christ Himself: in Him is perfect righteousness
and perfect love. Therefore the person who owns Christ owns the fulfilled law. The law still demands perfection, but a Christian receives that perfection
in faith, which owns Christ (Rom. 13:10). In this context it can be said a Christian is free of the law. The law does not demand, command or condemn
him or her (Gal. 2:19).
If a person imagines that he or she can earn something before God with his or her own deeds, the person is in that case following the righteousness of the law. The person should then obey the whole law, which is impossible (Gal. 3:10–12). This also means that the person is separated from Christ and fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:4). A person who trusts in his or her own works and tries to be acceptable to God does not live in Christ but under the law. A person under the law is always guilty because he or she is unable to fulfill the law and therefore the law condemns him or her.
Christian’s Love of the Law
Freedom from judgment of the law does not therefore mean freedom from the contents of the law and its teachings. The essential point is that office of the law ceases for a Christian. The law no longer has any demands on him or her, because the law gets all it desires in Christ. In Christ, the Christian as a partaker of God’s perfect love, which fulfills the law (Rom. 13:10).
The office of the law has therefore ceased for a Christian, but the contents of the law has not gone anywhere. Although the law does not demand, the Christian loves the law and wants the same as the law. This change in the will of a Christian is effected by Christ who is present through faith. The Christian has been transformed to live a new life in Christ: you are dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:10,11; 8:10).
Life in Christ transforms a person to love God’s will. Then the law of God appears holy, good and right (Rom. 6:17–18). Christian freedom also results from partaking in God’s love received in Christ. Righteousness loves and desires righteousness. A Christian loves that which is good, true and just and hates sin. This love is free love with no demands placed on it. Love cannot be forced. Since the Christian is transformed in faith to serve righteousness, his or her inner being seeks God’s will in all things (Rom. 7:22).
Love Does Not Teach Contrary to the Law
The freedom of a Christian is often misunderstood to mean freedom to sin. It is said that God is merciful and loves the sinner. God does indeed love the sinner, but He does not accept sin.
The notion that a Christian could live as he or she pleases because he or she has Christian freedom is fundamentally wrong. If the Christian thinks in this way, he or she would no longer love righteousness. Paul wrote about this: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:11–13).
Paul dealt very directly with the relationship between sin and grace. He rejected the notion that a Christian living under grace would have permission to sin; he stated that a person is under the rule of that which he or she obeys. If a person allows himself or herself to commit sin, the person is a slave of sin. A person cannot believe and live of grace and simultaneously have freedom to sin (Rom. 6:15–23).
It is important to understand that Christian freedom is not freedom to sin, but rather it is the free love of righteousness. The Christian mind does not work against the law, but rather loves the law and wants to follow the righteousness of God. The Christian is taught this by God’s grace, not by the demands of the law (Tit. 2:11,12; Rom. 5:21). Grace and the law teach the same thing – the righteousness of God – but whereas grace gives, comforts, carries and supports, the law demands, commands and condemns.
When a Christian encounters a situation in life where he or she ponders how to proceed, he or she wishes to find a solution that is agreeable to God. The person is taught this by the Holy Spirit. The motivation for seeking the will of God is love which the person has received in faith, not any demand or sanction.
The Difference between Being under the Law and Being under Grace
The distinction between the requirement of the law and the freedom of the gospel may seem like futile hair-splitting. Does it matter whether a person decides not to steal because he or she does not want to steal or because he or she is required to not do so? Isn’t the end result the most important, the fact that he or she didn’t steal?
From the standpoint of righteousness, however, there is a complete difference between the two. If the deed or act is motivated by anything other than free love and free will, it becomes either an obligation or a merit. The deed is done either fearing punishment or hoping for a reward. That is no longer righteousness that comes by faith, but rather righteousness of works.
When a Christian who is poor and sinful in himself or herself hears – as revealed by the Holy Ghost – of God’s love and Christ’s works, the Word nourishes faith and refreshes love (2 Tim. 3:15–17). Demanding certain works or the avoidance of certain works can lead to an outwardly pious life, but it does not bring faith and salvation. But when God’s Word nourishes the Christian’s faith, God Himself works through His Spirit in the heart of the believer and grace teaches him or her to live correctly.
When a Christian’s entire life of faith rises from the freedom of the gospel, his or her conscience and will are more precise than any law could teach him or her. Even in daily life love teaches more precisely than any demand or any rules. This does not mean that Christians would not discuss among themselves nor desire to contemplate in different life situations what is agreeable to God. Rather, the Bible actually exhorts us to do just that (Heb. 10:24,25).
Faith joins a person to the body of Christ as a living member of the body that has a connection with the head – meaning Christ – and also with the other members of the body, meaning other believers. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies” the believers into one congregation which has one faith and one spirit in its midst. This congregation examines the Word and asks for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in order to know and fulfill the will of God. Love teaches the truth and urges one to reject evil and keep the good (Eph. 4).
In place of following rules, the life of a Christian is living in grace as a sinner. The struggle in a Christian between these two forces – righteousness and sin – is not solved with rules or externally issued ordinances.
Two Sides of the Endeavor
A Christian loves righteousness and desires to live according to the will of God. Meanwhile the Christian notices that he or she is acting against his or her deepest will. Paul explained that there are two “laws” in a Christian: God’s law, in which the Christian “delights,” and the law of sin which acts in him or her: I desire to do what is right, but I am not able to. I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do. But if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but rather it is sin that lives in me that does it. I find in myself this law: I want to do good, but evil remains within me (Rom. 7:18–21).
Paul aptly described the Christian’s endeavor. The old and new human battle within the Christian. The Christian loves God and righteousness, but he or she is simultaneously a sinner. The Christian sins constantly in thought, word and deed, even though sin no longer governs him or her; the Christian no longer “lives” in that sin but rather has “died unto sin” (Rom. 6:1–14).
In this battle, the Christian does not want to allow his or her sinfulness to gain control but rather he or she wants to be “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16–18). The Christian is protected by the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10–18). The Christian does fall into sin and does things that he or she would not want to do, but the person’s innermost, the new person within, willingly “serves the law of God” (Rom. 7:25) and gives the desire to battle against sin.
A Christian, however, experiences that sin attaches. For that reason, the Christian wants to hear the gospel of forgiveness of sins. Luther explains in the Smalcald Articles how in the gospel God gives help against sin in many ways: “First, the gospel works through the audible gospel, when the forgiveness of sins is preached to all the world; this is the essential office of the gospel. Second, it works through baptism. Third, as the sacrament of the altar. Fourth, as the power of the keys as well as in mutual discussion and encouragement with brethren: ‘Where two or three are gathered…’ (Matt. 18:20).” In confession, a Christian can tell of the sins that bother his or her conscience (Heb. 12:1) and hear the comfort of absolution from the confessor father.
In spite of one’s own complete sinfulness, a Christian has a new ruler, Christ. The life of Christ in a Christian is so intense and so real that Paul stated that he no longer lived but Christ lived in him (Gal. 2:17–20).
So, there are two sides to the Christian endeavor – the battle of faith. On the one hand, the Christian himself or herself can do nothing to preserve his or her righteousness. God gives faith, upholds it with His Word and sacraments and enlightens it in trials (1 Pet. 1:7). Thus, the endeavor of faith is the work of God within us, not our own work. On the other hand, the battle in a Christian is real. Falling under the power of sin and losing faith is a real possibility. But as long as a person has faith given as a gift by God, it creates in him or her love for God, hunger and thirst for the Word of God as well as the desire to battle against sin and preserve a good conscience (Phil. 2:13; 1 Tim. 1:19).
The Relationship between Faith and Works
It is important to understand that even though faith is manifest in the life of a Christian and causes good works, all good is ultimately the fruit of the Spirit within the Christian. A person is not able to do anything good, not even to desire or intend to do good. All good that shows in a Christian as fruits of faith – love, joy, peace and others (Gal. 5:22,23) – are completely the effect of God’s Spirit, so completely that they can be called the works of Christ. Paul stated that he had done more work of the kingdom of God than others, but not he himself, rather the grace of God within him (1. Cor. 15:10).
According to Paul, good works belong so inseparably to faith that a Christian is created in Christ unto good works (Eph. 2:8–10). This portion of the letter
to the Ephesians becomes understandable when we remember that in Christ a Christian has received love that loves what is good, true, right and righteous.
A Christian cannot avoid loving them. Love is such an essential part of faith that faith without love is dead
(1 Cor. 13:2; James 2:17, 26). Faith does works through love (Gal. 5:6). Good works always come from faith and are fruits of faith (Tit. 2:11–14; 3:4–7).
It is this exact relationship between faith and works that the tree-fruit parable also tells of. When the tree is made good, its fruits are inevitably good. The works of a believer are good because they are works of the “good tree,” which is Christ (Matt. 7:16–20). Meanwhile it becomes clear why works cannot effect faith. Without Christ a Christian cannot do anything good, but rather all the Christians deeds are worthless, “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
Faith causes a Christian to do works, but the works do not effect faith. A Christian’s good works are fruits of faith. They can never be a prerequisite for faith. One cannot receive, maintain or improve faith through works (1 Tim. 1:9–10).
Faith, Doctrine and Language
The Difficulty and Necessity of Describing the Contents of Faith
Faith always completely owns Christ and His works, but since we live as humans, we must attempt to describe faith and its contents with our language. Language, however, is a tool for this temporal life, which will never fully express the hereafter. Thus, when we describe the contents of faith – God, Christ’s salvation works, God’s grace, righteousness, eternal life and so on – we have to look, as Paul writes, through a glass, darkly (1 Cor. 13:12).
Even though we are unable to describe God perfectly, faith nevertheless owns everything perfectly. This is seen especially clearly in the faith of a child. Because of Christ’s redemption work, an infant has perfect faith which owns perfect righteousness. The infant does not even realize he or she is believing, nor is he or she able to describe his or her faith, but the infant’s faith owns the complete salvation.
Describing the contents of faith, however, is still crucial. It is impossible to proclaim the gospel without a language with which to convey the message. Christians have been tasked with carrying the gospel forward and to keep it pure so that it bears Christ (Gal. 1:6–12). Therefore, it is important to preach according to the gospel and to attempt to describe the contents of faith correctly. A Christian must not give in at all to wrong doctrine, for in such case Christ and the entire righteousness will be lost (2 John 9, 10; 1 Tim. 6:3–5). It is good for a Christian to know and understand the basics of faith and the Bible so that he or she would not stray into wrong doctrine (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Pet. 2:1; John 5:39). God’s Holy Spirit guides the Christian in all these matters.
Nonetheless, as we previously mentioned, language is always imperfect and is never able to perfectly describe God. These two viewpoints form a paradox – a conflict – in which two statements that oppose one another are simultaneously true. Only in perfection, beyond the border of time, will these two sides unite and we will see that which we here attempted to describe (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 John 3:2).
When we speak of doctrine, we often encounter the same problem. Faith believes the whole contents of faith completely and wholly, even if we were unable to describe it at all. But when the Christian congregation wishes to talk about its faith, instruct and tell about God’s works, it presents its faith in a linguistic form. The creeds we know originated in this way. Even in the New Testament we find short confessions (Matt. 16:16; Acts 18:28; Phil. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:16) as well as slightly longer sections (Rom. 1:3,4; Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 1:15–20; Heb. 1:3), in which writers confess to be in Christ and also confess what they believe.
Faith is not Born of Knowledge
So, doctrine describes the contents of faith and meanwhile draws a boundary with wrong teachings. That helps preserve and defend faith which is believed. It must be noted, however, that even the most precise description of the contents of faith and doctrine does not produce faith by which one believes.
Saving faith is not born based on knowledge, nor can it be obtained as a result of logical reasoning. No matter how precisely one is able to describe the contents of faith, it will not bring faith that owns Christ. Saving faith – a faith that owns Christ – is obtainable only under the sermon of faith as a gift from God. Meanwhile, it is nonetheless true that correct faith inevitably owns correct doctrine. In this way, there remains unresolved tension between faith and doctrine: pure doctrine does not bring faith, but faith inevitably owns the right doctrine, even if one is not always able to describe doctrine precisely. This shows us that knowledge is not the opposite of faith.
Using doctrine to describe the contents of faith or knowledge of the contents of faith does not compete with faith. Knowledge does not bring faith, but faith and knowledge ultimately point to the same thing and speak of the same content: Christ and His salvation work. Faith and knowledge have different functions and roles, but they are not opposite to each other. Faith is also not just some area of study that complements knowledge.
When properly understood, faith and knowledge do not conflict with one another. Knowledge opens up the contents of faith, helps structure it into one entity and shows the inner logic of faith’s contents; but knowledge does not add to faith anything external, anything new. Similarly, faith is not a mere supplement to knowledge, but rather they are two different perspectives on the same thing.
Faith and Reason
Faith is not the opposite of reason. Reason cannot bring faith, but faith gives reason a direction and meaning: it helps understand the contents of faith with the help of reason. When we speak, for example, of the fact that Christ was simultaneously true God and true man, faith gives us the understanding that it is so, but reason is a tool for comprehending it.
Luther’s description of a human as a donkey that the rider controls also pertains to reason. What matters is who is in control. The situation is correct when reason is subordinate to faith and faith guides one’s understanding. If faith dies, reason – along with everything else in a person – turn away from God and begin to serve the enemy.
It is necessary to note one more perspective. Ultimately, faith that justifies us changes our perception of knowledge. At the beginning of this article, we noted that the truths of faith are based on revelation. A Christian believes that the revelation of God written in the Bible truly is the revelation of God. Likewise, the Christian believes that God’s revelation is true and for that very reason it is absolutely certain, more certain than any “knowledge” that research can produce. As such, the knowledge of faith is not something that can be deduced or discovered through research, but rather it is something much greater: it is the truth that God grants as a gift to be owned by faith. Not for us to govern, but for us to own.
In the Small Catechism, Luther taught about faith in the second and third article Articles of the Creed:
”I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold and silver, but with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent sufferings and death, in order that I might be his own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.”
”I believe that I cannot of my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me by His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the true faith: in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins; and at the last day, will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ everlasting life. ”
- Luther Martin
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