Faith, belief, understanding, and virtue

by Mike Ratliff

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB)

There is such a thing as Biblical unity and then there is false unity.  True Biblical unity is, of course, rooted in the Word of God, while false unity is rooted in the world’s wisdom applied to Christianized thinking. Those professing Christians seeking unity with Islam and other religions, for instance, make their cause sound very noble, but true Biblical unity can only be based on one truth, “the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ” not human reason, or experience. In fact, professing Christians pursuing this “false unity” is a perfect case of where presuppositional thinking comes to bear. When our presuppositions are lined up as God would have them then we will be unified only with those Christians who are also in Christ as we are. On the other hand, those who do the opposite, seeking unity with all forms of religions and beliefs regardless of doctrinal differences, shows that their presuppositions are based outside of the bounds of belief.

God’s Word clearly shows us that no man can come to an understanding of God (and thereby of God’s world) by means of his independently exercised reason. Not long ago I listened to part of a debate in which Bart Ehrman, an agnostic, attempted to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What was his proof? It was that most well educated “experts” of Scripture like him rejected it. He tried other argumentation, but did he have any real proof? No, he provided none at all. His argument that Jesus did not rise from the grave was that he did not believe it. The arrogance that he would consider that his credentials as a Biblical scholar would be enough to win that debate was almost laughable. The sad part though was that the person he was debating was clueless and let Dr. Ehrman get away with that stuff.

Bart Eherman’s argument is that he refuses to believe the truth of the Bible without outside proof to corroborate what it says. He says that God has not given enough to satisfy his intellect with certain autonomous proofs that He even exists let alone that the Bible itself is not just a collection of unassociated works of men. You see, Dr. Eherman is simply a more vocal, more famous and more well paid version of most people in the world. The common denominator is that they are in unbelief. They insist, as Dr. Eherman does, that God must first satisfy their intellect with certain autonomous proofs that He exists and has particular nature to their liking, and then after gaining this understanding or knowledge, they will deign to believe in Him and acknowledge Him as creator.

They have it backward. True knowledge of God, to know God in salvation and approach unto Him, has definite preconditions and requirements. All through the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, we learn that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Matthew Henry said of this verse, “In order to the attaining of all useful knowledge this is most necessary, that we fear God; we are not qualified to profit by the instructions that are given us unless our minds be possessed with a holy reverence of God, and every thought within us be brought into obedience to him.”

The unavoidable prerequisite of coming to the Lord in saving knowledge is laid down in Hebrews 11:6 as faith; without this it is impossible to please Him. Faith enables us to draw near unto God and know Him.

28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29 NASB)

That which God demands of men is that they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has declared that doing the will of God was necessary if one were to gain the knowledge of God’s true revelation (John 7:17). So, from this it is evident that autonomous knowledge does not first pick out the genuine revelation of God, and then savingly trust the Saviour who is revealed therein. No, Faith is the recondition of a proper understanding. Augustine said, “Understanding is the reward of faith; therefore, do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand” (Homiles on the Gospel of John 29.6) I remember several years ago in a discussion with a Semi-Pelagian about this very thing. I used Scripture to show that all those God saves are spiritually dead and cannot believe; therefore, the gift of faith is part of the gift of salvation. We are regenerated, then believe, and are saved. He rebuked me and said that regeneration was a gift from God, a reward, for our believing having the correct knowledge of Him, et cetera. He had no Biblical proof, but a lot of energy. I have learned a lot since then, primarily, one is to not get into never ending arguments with those who refuse to listen.

Virtue or personal rectitude (i.e., the discipline despised by fools who hate knowledge (Proverbs 1:7b-8. 29) is the necessary support for knowledge; if a man’s heart is wrong, his thinking will correspondingly be futile. Just as knowledge is supported by virtue, so also virtue is supported by faith (2 Peter 1:5). Therefore, we conclude from the Biblical evidence that faith precedes knowledgeable understanding.

What’s the point? The point is that we must never seek alliances of any kind with unbelievers. We must also place special emphasis on obeying the Great Commission to make disciples from every nation. That commission is still in effect my brethren. We may be late in the game, but that does not matter. The Gospel must still be preached. It is God who gives us the success in our apologetic and evangelistic endeavors. Therefore, we must “walk in wisdom toward them on the outside” (Colossians 4:5), not arguing from the foolish presuppositions of unbelief but according to the presupposed authority and truth of God’s wise revelation in the Gospel. When we do this we will know how to answer every man, looking to God in continuing prayer that He might grant apologetical success by opening a door for the word. The corrupt communication which characterizes humanistic thought (Matthew 7:17-18) must not proceed from our mouths, but rather good words which represent the mind of God (Matthew 19:17) and can minister grace to our hearers (Ephesians 4:29).

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “Faith, belief, understanding, and virtue

  1. You said, “The point is that we must never seek alliances of any kind with unbelievers. We must also place special emphasis on obeying the Great Commission to make disciples from every nation.”

    I say, AMEN!

    Seeking partnership with Roman Catholics because we both value the life of unborn children is still wrong. Trying to prove the existence of God to one who is at war with Him (Romans 5) is fruitless! That person needs to hear the gospel – that is THE message we have for those who do not believe. Thinking otherwise is resting in the wisdom of man rather than trusting in YHWH.


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