Saving faith is perhaps one of the most undefined things in all of Christendom. In thousands of pulpits around the world, sinners are called to believe for their salvation. The need for faith is asserted over and over, but what exactly this faith is and what are its grounds, is seldom, if ever defined. In the absence of proper definition and explanation, false ideas slip in unawares.
So in answering this question regarding the grounds of faith, it seems profitable to start by showing what are not grounds of faith.
1. A sense of misery, considered by itself is not a ground of justifying faith. I have heard preachers bend over backwards to create in their hearers a sense of their miserable condition separated as they are from God. There is no doubt that a sense of one’s sinfulness before a holy God will create in the heart of a sinner a sense of misery. The Psalmist speaks of feeling that his sins have “gone over his head” (Psalm 38:4).
What we mean, however, is the simple sense of one’s misery and sinfulness. The sense of this is not the grounds of faith. No doubt, even the devil, his demons, and the damned souls in hell sense their misery. Preachers like Finney gave people the impression that this feeling of dread and misery was a prerequisite for faith. So that his listeners had the idea that they are not obliged to belief until they felt this, or that their belief was not real until they felt some extraordinary sensation of guilt and/or relief from it.
Think this through for a moment and you will see that it is nothing but works-righteousness. The only reason they wish to come to Christ is because they are weary and heavy laden. They fear hell and therefore they come to Christ as an escape hatch. This is mere legalism. I desire to be saved and I want to be happy, hence, I will go to Christ to make my dreams come true. This is the heart of the pseudo-gospel preached by the likes of Joel Osteen. “Come to Christ because He doesn’t want you to be unhappy and miserable. You’re a great guy and He wants to show you how much He thinks of you by making your wildest dreams become a reality.”
We are to believe, not so much because we find ourselves miserable sinners, but because we are miserable sinners and are commanded to believe. There is nothing wrong with Hell fire and brimstone preaching, per se. But when the objective is to simply intimidate people through servile fear to accept Christ, you are merely making false converts. Nobody loves parachutes simply as parachutes. No one wants one strapped to his back while he’s lounging in his recliner. But people will kill for one on a crashing plane. How can we, who would be insulted if we were treated this way, expect God to be pleased with this kind of faith?
2. Man’s testimony is no ground for justifying faith. I have been in hundreds of meetings where someone’s “testimony” was shared as a means of evangelizing the lost. It is true that a man’s testimony may serve as a motive to us to give assent to the truth of Scripture. The people of Samaria believed because of the woman’s report, but upon hearing Christ, they said, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves.” John 4:42
It is nice to hear how God has sovereignly worked in someone else’s life, but this is not the Gospel that it to be savingly believed. Our point is this, if a person “believes” merely on the strength of my personal testimony of my experience, that person’s faith is grounded in nothing better than his subjective acceptance of my experience. Unless faith is based upon Christ and His own word, it has shifting sand as a foundation.