(From Chapter 3 of The Christian’s Great Interest, by William Guthrie)
To unknot the paradox of saving faith, Guthrie continues by explaining that faith is not principally a matter of believing a series of historical facts to be true. Yes, a Christian must believe certain facts about the world, about oneself, and about God’s action in the world in Creation and in Christ. However, such intellectual assent is not sufficient:
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:19 (ESV)
You need more than demon faith. True saving faith lies in the affections, it lies in desire: It is an act of the will, the act of the heart:
10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:10 (ESV)
Consider the images which Christ uses to paint this desire:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44–46 (ESV)
(Incidentally, you can hear Mark Dever read Richard Sibbes’ sermon on this passage here: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/audio/2010/07/sibbes-the-rich-pearl/ I highly recommend this).
True saving faith is a matter of the most profound desire – it is a desire which so overwhelms all competing desires that one would sell all that one has to gain that desire, that pearl, that treasure.
To make sure that you understand the nature of saving faith, consider the other descriptions given in Scripture for the same event:
It is receiving – which is believing:
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12 (ESV)
It is staying:
3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)
It is also called, “ a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on Him. It is a believing on Christ: ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He has sent’ (John 6: 29), and often so expressed in the New Testament. When God maketh men believe savingly, He is said to draw them unto Christ; and when the Lord inviteth them to believe, He calleth them to come to Him. ‘All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out. No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him.’ (John 6: 37, 44.)”
This is a matter of desire, a matter of hunger for God:
Shall that be judged a mysterious difficult thing which does consist much in desire? If men have but an appetite, they have it; for they are ‘blessed that hunger after righteousness.’ (Matt. 5: 6.) ‘If you will,’ you are welcome. (Rev. 22: 17.)
Indeed, saving faith consists not only in such desire; but sanctification, Godward change consists in stoking this desire. John Piper writes:
I had grown to love the works of C. S. Lewis in college. But not until later did I buy the sermon called “The Weight of Glory.” The first page of that sermon is one of the most influential pages of literature I have ever read. It goes like this:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. [C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1–2.]
There it was in black and white, and to my mind it was totally compelling: It is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In fact, the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don’t seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should. And so they settle for mud pies of appetite instead of infinite delight.
I had never in my whole life heard any Christian, let alone a Christian of Lewis’s stature, say that all of us not only seek (as Pascal said), but also ought to seek, our own happiness. Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it.
Desiring God, 19-20.
Many people go astray, because they believe true, saving faith to be a mysterious thing, a thing which cannot be known. Yes, it is a difficult thing, a thing above our natural ability – because it is a matter of desire. And yet, it is a matter of the greatest consequence and the plainest ease, because it is a matter of desire and love – which is no mystery at all.