A reader has asked about one of our tracts, entitled "Did Christ Die for You?" The whole of his question is too long to quote here, but the substance of it is: "How can a man be blamed for not believing in a Savior who did not die for him?"
This problem is also raised by hyper-Calvinists, those who deny that the Gospel call for faith and repentance should be preached indiscriminately to all. They do not want to preach the gospel call for faith because they believe that it denies the Biblical doctrine of limited atonement. They think that to say to unbelievers, "You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" implies that Christ died for these unbelievers. So they ask a similar question: "How can a man be called to believe in a Savior who did not die for him?"
Now, we believe that the Gospel must be preached indiscriminately, including the call for repentance and faith. There is no doubt that Scripture requires this in Acts 17:30 and gives us a clear example of it in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:7, 8). Indeed, the only way the hyper-Calvinists can get around these verses is to say that Paul and John are not calling for true Gospel repentance and faith.
The answer to our questions, however, lies in the nature of saving faith. Scripture makes it clear that there are different acts or aspects to saving faith. Knowledge and trust are the two most important elements of saving faith. To believe is first of all to "hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word," and then the persuasion "that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits" (Heid. Cat., VII, 21).
There are, therefore, two sides to faith, believing that what the gospel says about Christ is true, and then also believing that it is true for me, the latter belonging more to the assurance of faith. These are not necessarily separated in time, though they can be (a person may be without assurance or struggle to find it). At least sometimes they come together, the "knowing for truth" and the personal assurance.
These different aspects of faith are mentioned in II Timothy 1:12; "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." They are also evident in the different ways that Scripture describes faith, i.e., believing Christ, that is taking Him at His word), as well as believing on Him (Acts 16:31; Rom. 9:23; 10:11), and believing in or into Him (Jn. 3:16, 18; Col. 2:5).
On that basis we suggest that what the Gospel calls for first of all is the belief that Christ is the Savior whom God has sent (Acts 2:22-36), that salvation is found in none other but Him (Acts 4:12), and that faith itself is the way of salvation. We must, in other words, first "take Him at His word." Only then do we even have the right to take the promises of the Gospel as our own (Acts 2:37-39).
Indeed, in those passages in which unsaved persons are called to faith, they are called first of all simply to believe Christ (take Him at His word) or to believe on Him, which is much the same thing (Matt. 21:25, 32; Jn. 8:24, 46; 9:35; 10:37, 38; Acts 16:31), without any false implication that Christ actually is theirs or even wishes to be theirs. To this they must be called (1) because the Gospel is the truth; (2) because Christ revealed in the Gospel is the revelation of the living God; and (3) that they may be without excuse under the Gospel.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 1
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address317 North Park St.
State or ProvinceWA