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This book—written in the form of questions and answers—offers a practical theological guide to understanding the necessity and interconnectedness of faith, hope, and love in the Christian's life.
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About the Author
Mark Jones serves as the pastor of Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA) in British Columbia, Canada, and research associate at the University of the Free State in South Africa. He has authored several books and speaks all over the world on Christology and the Christian life.
Read an Excerpt
What is the worst sin?
The worst (and first) sin is unbelief.
In the beginning God made the world good — indeed, very good once woman had been made to complement man (Gen. 1:31). But Adam and Eve sinned in their unbelief, and God could no longer say that everything was very good. Unbelief, not pride, was the first sin. Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God's words to them, including his warning of consequences (Gen. 3:1, 4). Then they were induced to pride, wishing to become like God (Gen. 3:5).
Since then, unbelief has ruined countless souls. In Noah's day, the world turned a deaf ear to the "herald of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5). Because of their obstinacy, they drowned. Since the prevailing sin of God's people in the exodus was unbelief (Ps. 95:7-8; Hebrews 3), they died in the wilderness (Num. 26:65). Those miraculously redeemed out of Egypt could not enter the Promised Land because of unbelief (Heb. 3:19). In the New Testament, we even read of Christ marveling at two things in particular:
1. The faith of the Roman centurion (Matt. 8:10)
2. The unbelief of his own people in Nazareth (Mark 6:6)
Imagine causing the Son of God, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), to marvel!
In the world today, the sin of unbelief continues to abound beyond measure. People do not believe what God has to say through his Son — the living, trustworthy voice of God. Little do they know and understand that the world's problems can be solved relatively easily. They can exchange their unbelief for faith in God and Christ. In one respect, it is so easy for us because it was so hard for someone else. In another respect, it is so difficult because the most important and valuable thing in the world (i.e., that we believe) is a free gift (Matt. 11:25–27; 16:17; John 1:12–13; 6:44; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 1:11; 2:8; Phil. 1:29). How do we convince people that the most valuable thing in the world is free?
The faith that God requires sorts everything out. Our problems, fears, sins, and anxieties are solved by faith. This explains why God is so concerned about whether we have faith. Faith is a powerful little thing (Matt. 17:20). As weak as it can be, this gift from God conquers all because of the Conqueror to which it unites us (Matt. 14:31).
Mixed with our faith, however, remains a great deal of unbelief waging war against our souls. We believe, but we hate our unbelief. We Christians know how much our unbelief hinders us, and we feel its crippling effects daily. How often do we wish that God would simply give us more faith and not more money or success or friends? But do we really want more faith? Are we prepared for how this affects our lives in a world plagued with sin, misery, and unbelief? Perhaps we understand all too well what greater faith will do to us and are content to live with as little faith as possible. Having great faith is dangerous. Ask Abraham. Ask Christ.
Unbelief remains at the heart of our sin and our love for sin. So while we struggle to believe, we also enjoy our unbelief to some extent. This is the problem: God has to repeatedly convince his people that faith is always the better way, even if it is the most painful way. Unbelief is easy and thus also enticing. But unbelief, of all sins, has to be mortified by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). The Christian sensitive to his sin acknowledges that a mass of infidelity still remains in our renewed nature. As the Puritan John Ball confesses in his excellent work on faith,
O Lord, I am grossly ignorant of your ways, doubtful of your truth, distrustful of your power and goodness, disobedient to your commandments. You have given rare and excellent promises in your holy Word, but I inquire not after them, rejoice not in them, cleave not unto them in truth and steadfastness, settle not my heart upon them, make them not my own, keep them not safe.
Unbelief is no small sin but rather the greatest of all sins. It gives birth to all our other sins. Or to put the matter more vividly, unbelief essentially tells God to shut up, because we do not want to hear what he says. Just as faith brings us to God (Heb. 11:6), so unbelief causes us to run from God.
He is "grieved" by unbelief. In fact, nowhere is this more plainly demonstrated than in Christ's words to his disciples. On the road to Emmaus, what is it that grieves Christ? Unbelief: "And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!'" (Luke 24:25). After that, Jesus appears to the eleven and again questions their unbelief: "And he said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?'" (Luke 24:38). He practically chastises Thomas for believing only because he has seen the risen Christ (John 20:29).
Christ himself is the remedy against the guilt and power of sin. Thus, in our unbelief we sin against the remedy. Nothing, then, is more serious than unbelief, whether for Christians or non-Christians. Nothing will debilitate us more than unbelief.
Why do people pray so little? Because they do not really believe the promises God makes to them regarding prayer. How many prayers have been strangled to death by unbelief?
Why do people depart from God? Because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20; Heb. 3:12).
Why do people lie? Because they do not really believe that God is present, listening and caring about their falsehood.
Why do people worry? Because in unbelief they want to be in control rather than to trust in God's providential care of their lives whereby he works all things together for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28).
Why are people so self-sufficient? Because in their unbelief they think that they do not really need God. Very often, the worst poison made from our sinful hearts is that of self-sufficiency, for it keeps us from God.
As Spurgeon once said, "Faith is like Samson's hair but on the Christian; cut it off, and you may put out his eyes — and he can do nothing." Before we can begin to appreciate the value of faith, we must understand the heinousness of unbelief. Then and only then can we desire the remedy. And let us be clear about one thing: this is not a matter that should unsettle only unbelievers. As believers, we should be deeply concerned about our unbelief and the duty placed on us to rest more and more on the one who is Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11).
What is saving faith?
Saving faith is the Spirit-enabled embrace of and resting on our faithful God in Christ for the redemption offered by him through the promise of the gospel.
A question so vitally important seems almost impossible to answer in one respect. When we try to define faith, we are left feeling as though more needs to be said. Indeed, given the supernatural character of faith (Eph. 2:8) and its importance in the Christian life (Heb. 11:6), we can be grateful for this seemingly incomplete definition. Can we, who live by this principle (Rom. 1:17), ever fully understand in this life what it means to have faith? If we could, we would have not faith but sight. Living by faith means moving into a realm whereby we are uncertain of ourselves but more certain of God and his faithfulness. Faith relinquishes self-dependence for dependence on one whom we can never fully grasp or understand. Who would ever dare to do this?
Those in the Bible who exhibit faith are secure and confident in God. As the psalmist says, "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!" (Ps. 27:13). Believers must be firm in their faith:
If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. (Isa. 7:9)
Long before the author of Hebrews described faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1), the Old Testament writers conveyed this same understanding of faith. As Job says,
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25–27)
I smiled on them when they had no confidence, and the light of my face they did not cast down. (Job 29:24)
How else can Job say these words if he does not have "assurance of things hoped for" and "conviction of things not seen"? But what he hopes for and what he is convicted of are realities that require something supernatural working in Job. His faith is something special: it is a gift from above, which causes him to hope in the one who will come from above.
The person who lives with assurance and possesses godly conviction because of his faith in God is contrasted with the proud person who is self-assured and trusts in himself: "Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4). Self-sufficiency and faith are enemies of each other.
Faith, then, is not simply (or merely) assent to the truth God has revealed (cf. James 2:19). Rather, it denotes the radical principle by which man thinks and acts in relation to God and man. God looks for this kind of faith: a firm and unwavering confidence, based on an ingrained attitude of trust in him (cf. Num. 14:11, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?"). Faith and trust go hand in hand (Ps. 78:22).
The New Testament presents a multifaceted concept of faith. Personal faith may be placed in doctrines, in words spoken, or in persons. With the arrival of Christ on the scene of redemptive history, faith leading to salvation becomes a dominant focus on the pages of the New Testament.
Believing assent emerges as a clearly prominent theme in the New Testament witness. For example, when Jesus heals the ill son of an official, he says, "Go; your son will live"; in response, "the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way" (John 4:50). The official went beyond assenting to Christ's promissory exhortation by immediately trusting (taking) him at his word, even before he could get home to lay eyes on his miraculously healed son.
In the case of the Roman centurion, we have an example of such remarkable faith in Christ's ability and power to heal that even Jesus marveled when the centurion affirmed that just a word would heal his paralyzed servant who was not with him (Matt. 8:5-13). Like Abraham, the centurion had faith in what God was able to do.
Sometimes the New Testament highlights an explicitly soteriological element in connection with faith. For example, Paul informs the Thessalonians that they were beloved by the Lord because the Father chose them to salvation "through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). This same faith trusts in the "powerful working of God" (Col. 2:12).
While we are to believe the truth, the predominant New Testament focus is believing on a person — namely, Christ Jesus — and his work. Thomas Watson exclaims, "The promise is but the cabinet, Christ is the jewel in it which faith embraces."
Jesus is the one "whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom. 3:25). We are to place our faith in Christ, who satisfies the wrath of God hanging over our heads. This point is exemplified in John 3:18: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." Christ himself is the ground of our faith: "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith" (Gal. 3:26). Elsewhere Paul speaks to the Ephesians of their "faith in the Lord Jesus" (Eph. 1:15; cf. Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 1:14; 2 Tim. 1:13).
When we believe on Christ, we also trust in God as the object of our faith. As Christ says in the Upper Room Discourse, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (John 14:1). Elsewhere Christ declares, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24). Since God works through Christ by his Spirit, believing in Jesus takes us to God, and trusting in him means believing in the one he sent to save us from our peril and damnation. Christ's authority and power are gifts given to him from above, which means we trust in what God is able to do through his Son. Denying Christ means rejecting the Father and vice versa (John 10:22–30).
Regrettably, many today think of faith merely as that which procures from God and Christ what they want, namely, salvation. While that is true — gloriously true — we must remember that faith is not just the way a Christian begins his life but also the way he lives his life. The regulative principle of the Christian life is faith in God and Christ, for "the righteous shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). (Let the reader note that throughout this book, by saying God and Christ, I am making use of the common manner of speaking in the New Testament where God often refers to the Father and is distinguished from the God-man; see 1 Cor. 8:6; 15:15, 27; 2 Cor. 13:14.)
Because of what Christ has done, nothing less than utter commitment to him will suffice for a Christian. There are no 50 percent (or even 99 percent) Christians. We are wholly (100 percent) committed to Christ. Please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that our faith or our obedience flowing from it is 100 percent pure and without any unbelief. I am saying that even the weakest, sin-tainted faith receives and rests totally on Christ alone. We either believe with and from our whole heart, or we do not believe at all. And yet we can all say that though we believe, we also pray that God would help our unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Hebrews 11:1–12:2 is to the New Testament what Genesis 22 is to the Old. At the beginning, we are given the definition of faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Knowledge is essential to faith, for we must believe that God exists (v. 6). Faith looks to God's promises (v. 6, "he rewards those who seek him"). Faith also leads to obedience (v. 8). It is, as I have said above, the radical principle of our obedience. But it does not consist in obedience. Rather, the heart looks to the invisible God (v. 27), knowing that he is faithful (v. 11). Faith goes against the wisdom of the world because God's ways are always better than what the world can offer (vv. 24–26). Faith has value because we trust not in ourselves but in God. Those with faith, whether strong or weak, were still saved by the Passover Lamb because the object remained the same for both the "strong" believer and the "weak" believer (v. 28).
The virtue of faith in the New Testament, then, consists in clinging to and resting on the faithful God. He shows his faithfulness through his Son, whom we must look to because he is the "founder and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). By the Spirit, we lean on God and Christ because of what they alone are able to offer us. Thus we can have both assurance and conviction, because faith brings us to God.
Where does faith come from?
Faith, while a human act, comes from God as a supernatural and empowered gift.
Free grace and faith have a special relationship to one another. God grants faith as a gift (Eph. 2:8), yet he does not believe for us. Each believer must do just that — believe. In this way, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are involved in the accomplishment of faith. Theologians have developed a number of important distinctions in the matter of faith and salvation in order to safeguard both the gracious way of salvation and the integrity of human actions in the process of salvation (see Gal. 2:20).
One such way of understanding faith as the gift of God resulting in the belief of a person is the act-habit (or act-power) distinction. God grants us the supernatural gift of faith (the habit/power) so that we can believe the supernatural truths of the gospel (the act). A natural faith, of ourselves, would allow us to rise no higher than natural theology, which cannot save. God grants the power, but we perform the act. As John Flavel observes, "Though faith (which we call the condition on our part) be the gift of God, and the power of believing be derived from God; yet the act of believing is properly our act."
In other words, merely possessing the habit of faith will not lead to our justification; we must also carry out the act of faith. To be sure, anyone possessing the habit will perform the act. Likewise, while the habit enables us to believe, we must really believe. It truly is our act, our faith. This idea helps us to affirm with Paul the necessity of the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26).
God freely gives the "habit" of faith to us by the Holy Spirit working it in us. As Peter Bulkeley argues, "The habit is freely given us, and wrought in us by the Lord himself, to enable us to act by it, and to live the life of faith; and then we having received the gift, the habit, then (I say) the Lord requires of us that we should put forth acts of faith."
Excerpted from "Faith. Hope. Love."
Copyright © 2017 Mark Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Faith: Questions 1-17
1 What is the worst sin? 21
2 What is saving faith? 25
3 Where does faith come from? 31
4 What does it mean that faith is supernatural? 36
5 Are we justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith alone? 40
6 What does our faith lay hold of? 43
7 Can we lose our justification? 47
8 Is faith our righteousness? 51
9 What is the principal exercise of faith? 56
10 What is the principle of our obedience? 60
11 In addition to being the object of our faith, is Jesus also the pattern of our faith? 65
12 Can faith be increased and strengthened? 69
13 Should those with saving faith fear God and tremble at his threats? 73
14 Is there such a thing as false faith? 78
15 What is Satan's goal in his assaults on God's children? 82
16 How should we respond in the trials God sends us? 85
17 Does true faith always persevere and end in victory? 90
Part 2 Hope: Questions 18-30
18 How is hope commonly understood? 95
19 What is Christian hope? 100
20 What gives rise to Christian hope? 104
21 Is hope necessary for the Christian? 107
22 To whom is Christian hope given? 110
23 How does hope relate to death? 113
24 What is the supreme object of Christian hope? 118
25 How does Christian hope relate to our future vision of Christ? 122
26 In what destination do we long to live forever? 127
27 Of what use is hope in times of suffering? 130
28 What hope do we have regarding the salvation of our children? 133
29 May we have hope regarding the death of infants? 136
30 What duty flows out of Christian hope? 142
Part 3 Love: Questions 31-57
31 What is the foundation of the Christian religion? 149
32 What is love? 154
33 What is the guide to loving God and our neighbor? 158
34 How do we fail to show love for God? 163
35 How do we show our love for God? 167
36 What makes our obedience acceptable to God? 172
37 How does faith work through love? 175
38 What is the context for our love? 179
39 What is the chief end of our love to others? 183
40 How can we keep ourselves from idolatry, which manifests hatred toward God? 186
41 What guards the church from false worship? 190
42 How should God's people regard themselves in the Christian life? 193
43 Does God offer us a particular day in which we may rest and stir up our love for him and others? 197
44 How do we love those who are in a higher or lower position than ourselves? 201
45 What obedience should Christian parents expect from their children? 205
46 Why are we to have love and respect for human life? 209
47 How are we to show our love and respect for human life? 212
48 What are our sexual duties in this life, and how does the fulfillment of such manifest love? 216
49 What is the primary mark of a Christian marriage? 220
50 Why is adultery such a heinous sin? 223
51 How does love manifest itself in regard to our worldly goods and name? 226
52 How is our generosity in love to be shown in the local church? 230
53 Why is lying so serious? 233
54 How do we show love with regard to our speech? 236
55 What keeps us from an inordinate desire for the things of the world? 239
56 Is love optional for Christians? 243
57 Of faith, hope, and love, which is the greatest? 247
Appendix: Question 58
58 Did Jesus possess faith, hope, and love? 251
General Index 274
Scripture Index 281
What People are Saying About This
“Pastor Mark Jones has written an admirable treatise on the heart of biblical ethics: the virtues of faith, hope, and love. His book is based firmly on Scripture, and he has arranged it as a catechism: questions, answers, and commentary. He also digs deep into classic theological expositions, especially among the Puritans. This arrangement, clearly and vividly written, enables readers not only to understand these teachings, but to internalize them, and thus to grow in grace. This book will be a great help to individual and family devotions and to adult Bible study groups. I hope that many will have the opportunity to read it to the glory of God in Christ.”
—John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
“Much writing on Christian spirituality is hollow, bereft of theological heft and awash in baptized therapeuticism. By contrast, Faith. Hope. Love. is weightily Puritanesque in the best sense—offering clear, Christ-centered, scriptural ballast for the Christian life. Rooted richly in the Reformed tradition, Jones walks us through the theological virtues and the shape they give to our life in Christ. More importantly, in each chapter he points us to the Christ in whom we place our faith—the one we imitate in love and for whom we wait in hope. I highly commend this work.”
—Derek Rishmawy, blogger, Reformedish; cohost, Mere Fidelity podcast
“The old paths are the way into the future. Mark Jones knows this is true for the life and witness of the church of Jesus Christ. He takes us back to the medieval theological virtues, organizes them in a reformational catechism, and uses post-Reformation, orthodox theological distinctions, all to instruct our minds, enflame our hearts, and move us to service. This is as clear as it gets when it comes to the doctrine of justification by faith alone and all that it means for living out a life of faith, hope, and love.”
—Daniel R. Hyde, pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church, Carlsbad/Oceanside, California; adjunct instructor of ministerial studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary; author, Welcome to a Reformed Church
“The questions we ask can be just as important as the answers. Well-meaning Christians often harmfully express the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love in sentimental tropes devoid of substance. I will be recommending Mark’s excellent book for many to use devotionally. Its catechismal format has provided a superb corrective, moving us to delight in Christ-centered faith, hope, and love, and what they require of us in response.”
—Aimee Byrd, author, Why Can’t We Be Friends? and No Little Women
“In this useful work, Jones clearly and practically guides the reader into the virtues of the body of Christ. The book is laid out in catechetical format, which Jones employs with great dexterity. The questions are those that the fides quaerens intellectum (‘faith seeking understanding’) of any believer naturally poses to itself, and the definitions that follow by way of response are elegant and comprehensive. The expositions of the answers are doctrinally profound but expressed very simply and memorably. Steeped in the wisdom of the doctors and the great Puritan guides of the heart, Faith. Hope. Love. is a much-needed map of the path of the Christian’s walk with God.”
—Peter Escalante, fellow of rhetoric, New St. Andrew’s College
“Mark Jones puts to rest the lie that scholasticism is arid and boring. In a rich display of biblical text, respect for the past, and pastoral sensitivity, Faith. Hope. Love. gives to the church a summary of biblical virtue to help us live our theology in honor of a Savior who loves us so faithfully. This is a worthy addition to Jones’s other works that have made the best of the Great Tradition accessible and enjoyable for a wide Christian audience.”
—Ian Hugh Clary, assistant professor of historical theology, Colorado Christian University; coeditor, Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition; senior fellow, Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies