Having looked at a couple of things that are not grounds of justifying faith, let us consider a few more before passing on to the positive side of our study.
3. The attributes of God (His power, mercy, love wisdom, etc.) are not formal grounds of justifying faith. I say this for these reasons:
A. If these were sufficient ground of believing, then Adam would have had sufficient grounds before the Gospel was proclaimed to him. No one ever had a more intimate and personal experience of God’s attributes of power and goodness than Adam. He experienced at least some fellowship with God unsullied by sin. Even after the Fall, he had an immediate and intimate knowledge of God’s attributes, living as he had in unspoiled nature. As far as this is concerned, the devils and those who have never heard the Gospel might be said to have sufficient grounds for faith. Satan knows God is powerful; so what? Pagans the world over all throughout history have ascertained that God created the world, so what?
B. This would mean that the Gospel is not a supernatural revelation. This is the weakness of natural religion. Natural theology, that is, what can be known about God from nature, is sufficient to leave man without excuse at the tribunal of God, but not sufficient to give saving faith. Revelation is needed for that.
C. When we are called to believe, we are called to come boldly to the throne of grace, looking to be saved through the merits of Christ as held out to us in the Gospel. Believing that God is almighty and merciful (or whatever other attribute you can think of) comes short of this.
D. Jesus Christ, the God-man, dying for our sins, held out to us as a propitiation, is the only object of saving faith. We do not exercise saving faith in Christ’s offices or work, but in His person. A man can believe that Jesus is Mediator, without trusting in Him as Mediator. The demons who possessed the Gadarene man knew Christ was the Son of God, so what?
4. The inward objective witness of the Spirit is not the grounds of justifying faith. What I mean by this is: we are not to suspend believing till we obtain this experience. Much that passes for Evangelical Gospel preaching falls into this pitfall. So much is made of experience. Those who have had any experience with Pentecostalism or Charismaticism will know what I mean.
The reason why personal “experience” can be no measure of genuine faith is because it is not impossible for experience to contradict Scripture, or to convey doctrine which is contrary to Scripture. If this happens, one is thrown back on one’s self for assurance rather than the promises of God. I am fickle, changing and uncertain. If my faith is based on nothing better than my subjective personal experience, I am in deep trouble. One thinks of the Benny Hinns of the world who, through professed spiritual experience gain access to all kinds of new revelation. This jettisons the Scripture and substitutes in its place the unverifiable clams of egocentric weirdos. I have met people that claim to have seen ghosts and even to have photographed them. Scripture tells me that when a person dies, that person’s soul goes to heaven or hell. It does not wander the earth looking for justice or looking after living loved ones. Do I believe experience or Scripture? I get a tingle up my spine when I repeat the sinner’s prayer. Is this a reliable ground for faith?
There is no way to distinguish truth from falsehood on this basis, either. Mormons experience their “burning in the bosom.” Are we to assume that they believe savingly? And, no, I do not accept Joel Osteen as an authority on this subject. Scripture is God’s revelation and it is either sufficient or it is not sufficient. Looking for a sign is the mark of a “wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39).
Besides, the witness of the Spirit comes after believing, not before it.
5. Conviction, Remorse, moral goodness and the like are not grounds of justifying faith. Our reasons for asserting this are:
A. The true grounds of faith are outside a man. Faith goes out of itself to the name of Christ. Whatever purpose conviction, remorse, joy, morality, etc., may serve, they are all within the man and thus are not grounds of faith. If they were, then the man would simply be believing in himself. This theory has more in common with the Wizard of Oz than Biblical Christianity.
B. Everyone is commanded to believe, but not everyone is humbled, weary and heavy laden. The obligation to believe precedes any awareness or sense of guilt or humility. Just because a man does not feel remorseful, this does not excuse him from the sinfulness of rejecting the Gospel.
C. The Gospel command to repent and believe is given to creatures who have no spiritual feeling. They are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Many in Laodicea felt the exact opposite of their true spiritual condition (Revelation 3:18).
6. Lastly, in honor (or rather dishonor) of the Hagin theory of faith. Faith is not to put in faith either. Anyone who has ever heard a Word of Faith preacher, has heard him/her claim that we must put faith in our faith, that is, have faith in our faith. Besides sounded stupid, this is ridiculous counsel. What else is this but faith in one’s self? Scripture curses such faith. Someone once remarked that faith in faith is like driving in the dark on a bridge that doesn’t reach the other side. Faith, as such, is not some mystical power in the universe that we can tap into once we know the secret. That has more in common with Wicca than Christianity. My faith in God is not what saves me, but rather the God in whom I have faith, is who saves me. There is a world of difference between those two things.