From the Archives: True Christianity
What True Faith Is
“He who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.”
FAITH IS A DEEP ASSENT and unhestitating trust in God’s grace promised in Christ and in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is ignited by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Through this faith we receive forgiveness of sins, in no other way than through pure grace without any of our own merits (Eph. 2:8) but only by the merits of Christ. For this reason, our faith has a certain ground and is not unsteady. This forgiveness of sins is our righteousness, which is true, continual, and eternal before God. It is not the righteousness of an angel but of the obedience, merit, and blood of Christ and becomes ours through faith. Even if it is weak and we are still hemmed around with many sins, these are covered over out of grace for Christ’s sake (Ps. 32:2).
By this deep trust and heartfelt assent, man gives his heart completely and utterly to God, rests in God alone, gives himself over to God, clings to God alone, unites himself with God, is a participant of all that which is God and Christ, becomes one spirit with God, receives from him new power, new life, new consolation, peace and joy, rest of soul, righteousness and holiness, and also, from God through faith, man is newborn. Where new faith is, there is Christ with all his righteousness, holiness, redemption, merit, grace, forgiveness of sins, childhood of God, inheritance of eternal life. This is the new birth that comes from faith in Christ. Therefore, the Epistle to the Hebrews in chapter 11:1 calls faith a substance or a certain true assurance of things on which man hopes and a conviction concerning things man does not see. The consolation of living faith becomes powerful in the heart: it convinces the heart, in that one finds in one’s soul heavenly goodness, namely, rest and peace in God, so certain and true that one might then die with a happy heart. This is strength in the spirit, in the internal man and the joyousness of faith, or parrhisia (Eph. 3:12: Phil. 1:20: 1 John 2:28, 3:21), that is, joyousness in God (1 Thess. 2:2) and plerophoria, a completely unhesitant certainty (I Thess. 1:5).
When I am to die this faith must strengthen me in my soul and must assure me internally by the Holy Spirit. It must be an inner, living, eternal consolation: it must hold me and strengthen me also as a supernatural, divine, heavenly power to conquer death and the world in me, and there must be such an assurance and union with Christ that is able to stand in either death or life [2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 8:38]. Therefore, John [in 1 John 5:4] says: “Everything which is born of God conquers the world.”
Everything that is born of God is truly no shadowy work, but a true life work. God will not bring forth a dead fruit, a lifeless and powerless work, but a living, new man must be born from the living God. Our faith is the victory that conquers the world.
That which man is to conquer must be a mighty power. If faith is to be victorious over the world, it must be a living, victorious, active, working, divine power: indeed Christ must do everything through faith.
Through this power of God we are once again drawn into God, inclined toward God, transplanted and set in God, taken out of Adam and as a cursed vine placed in Christ the blessed and living line (Jn. 15:4). Thus, in Christ we possess all his goods and are made righteous in him.
Just as a graft is set in a good stem and grows, blossoms, and brings forth fruit in it, but out of it dies, so a man outside of Christ is nothing but a cursed vine and all his works are sins (Deut. 32:32â€“33): Their grapes are grapes of poison. In Christ, however, he is righteous and holy. Therefore, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
From this you now see that works cannot make you righteous. First, you must be established in Christ through faith and be righteous in him before you can do any good work. See to it indeed that your righteousness is the grace and gift of God that comes before all your merit. How can a dead man walk, stand, or do anything good if someone does not first make him living? Thus, since you are dead in sins and dead before God you can do no work pleasing to God unless you are first made living in Christ.
Righteousness comes alone from Christ through faith, for faith is in man as a newborn, small, naked, and simple child that stands unclothed simply before his Redeemer and Sanctifier, and receives all from him who begot it, namely, righteousness, piety, holiness, grace, and the Holy Spirit.
Thus, if this naked, simple child is to be clothed with God’s mercy, it must lift both its hands up and receive everything from God, grace together with all holiness and piety. Receiving this, it is made pious, holy, and blessed.
Therefore, righteousness comes only from faith and not from works. Indeed, faith receives Christ and makes him its own with all those things which he is and has. You must turn from sin, death, the Devil and hell. If you have all of the sin of the world upon yourself, it cannot harm you, for so strong, mighty and living is Christ in you with his merits through faith.
Since Christ now lives and dwells in you through faith, his indwelling is not a dead work but a living work. As a result, the renewal from Christ through faith comes about. Grace brings about two things in you: first, faith places Christ in you and makes you his possession: second, it renews you in Christ so that you grow, blossom, and live in him. What is the use of a graft in a stem if it does not grow and bring forth fruit? Just as once through Adam’s fall, through the deception and treachery of the Devil, the seed of the serpent was sowed in man—that is, the evil, satanic pattern of life out of which an evil, poisonous fruit grew—so by God’s word and the Holy Spirit faith was sowed in man as a seed of God in which all divine virtues, qualities, and characteristics, in a hidden manner, were contained and grew out to a beautiful and new image of God, to a beautiful and new tree on which the fruits are love, patience. humility, meekness, peace, chastity, righteousness, the new man, and the whole kingdom of God. The true sanctifying faith renews the whole man, purifies the heart, unites with God, makes the heart free from earthly things, hungers and thirsts after righteousness, works love, gives peace, joy, patience, consolation in all suffering, conquers the world, makes children heirs of God and of all heavenly eternal goods and coheirs of Christ. If you find someone who does not have the joy of faith but is weak of faith and seeks comfort, do not reject him because of this but comfort him in the promised grace in Christ. This always remains firm, certain, and eternal. If we fall in weakness and stumble, God’s grace does not fall away if we arise again through true repentance. Christ remains always Christ and the Sanctifier. He may be grasped with weak or with strong faith. Weak faith belongs as much to Christ as strong. Whether a man is weak or strong of faith, he is Christ’s own just the same. The grace that is promised is common to all Christians and is eternal. On this, faith must rest, whether it be weak or strong. In his time, God will allow you to come to refreshing, joyous consolation, whether he bring it to your heart in a short time or in a longer period (Ps. 32:2-5, 77:8-11). On this see Book II.
God’s Word Must Demonstrate Its Power in Man Through Faith and Become Living
Lo, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Lk. 17:21).
Since everything is based on the rebirth and renewal of man, God included everything that must occur spiritually in man in faith in the external Scriptures, and in them described the whole new man. Since God’s Word is the seed of God in us, it must bring forth spiritual fruit and it must do so through faith in the manner taught and testified externally in the Scriptures or it is a dead seed and a dead birth. What the Scripture teaches I must experience for my comfort in spirit and faith.
God did not reveal the Holy Scriptures so that they might externally on paper remain a dead letter, but that they might become living in us in spirit and faith and that a completely new inner man might arise. [If this does not occur], the Scriptures are of no use to us. This must occur in men through Christ in the spirit and faith as the Scriptures externally teach, as, for example, in the history of Cain and Abel. In their manner of life and qualities you can discover what is in you, namely, the old and the new man with all their works. These two are opposed to each other in you. Cain always wishes to overcome and drive out Abel. This is nothing other than a battle between flesh and spirit and the enmity of the seed of the serpent and the seed of a woman. The flood must occur in you and this quality of the flesh must be drowned. The faithful Noah must remain in you, God must make a new covenant with you and you with him. The confusion of Babel must not be built up in its pomposity in you. You must leave with Adam and all his family, giving up everything, even your body and life, and travel alone in the will of God, so that you might achieve blessing in the promised land and come into the kingdom of God. This is nothing other than what the Lord said [in Luke 14:26]: He who does not leave father, mother, child, sister, house, field, goods, indeed life, cannot be called my disciple, that is, before he would deny Christ. You must strive with Abraham against the five kings that are in you, namely, the flesh, the world, death, the Devil, and sin. You must leave Sodom and Gomorrah with Lot, that is, the ungodly life of the world must be denied and you must not look back with Lot’s wife as the Lord said in Luke 17:32.
In a word, God gave the whole of the Holy Scriptures in spirit and in faith and everything in them must happen in you spiritually. This is true as well of the battles of the Israelites against the pagan peoples. What is this other than the battle between the flesh and the spirit? The same is true of the whole, external, mosaic priesthood with the tabernacle, with the ark of the covenant, and with the seat of grace. This must all be in you spiritually through faith with offerings, sacrifices, and prayers. The Lord Christ must be all this in you. He has brought this all together in the new man and in the spirit and will perfect everything in faith, indeed, often in tears, for the whole Bible flows together in one center or central point in man, just as all of nature does.
In the New Testament as well, the letters are nothing other than an external witness to that which must occur in faith in all men. The whole New Testament must be completely and totally in us and stir also with power in us, for the kingdom of God is in us. Just as Christ was conceived and born physically by the Holy Spirit in the faith of Mary, so he must be spiritually conceived and born in me. He must grow and come to life spiritually in me. Since I am created a new creature out of Christ, I must also live and walk in him. I must be with him and in him in exile and misery. I must walk with him in humility and the rejection of the world, in patience and meekness, in love. I must forgive my enemies with him, be merciful, love my enemies, do the will of the Father. I must be tempted with him by Satan and I must also conquer. I must, for the sake of truth, which is in me, be slandered, rejected, despised, attacked, and if it is necessary I must suffer death for his sake as have all his saints, as a witness to him and all the elect that he was in me and I in him and that I have lived through faith.
To be properly conformed to the image of God is to be born in him and with him, to put on Christ properly, to grow and mature with him and in him, to live in misery with him, to be baptized with his baptism, to be despised with him, to be crucified with him, to die and rise again with him, to rule and have dominion with him, and to do all this not only by bearing a holy cross but also by daily repentance and inner regret and sorrow for sin.
You must daily die with Christ and crucify the flesh or you can not remain united with Christ as your head. Otherwise, you will not have him in you except in an external way, outside of your faith, heart, and spirit. This will not help you for he wishes to be in you, to be living, to comfort and to make you blessed. Note that faith does everything that makes the holy Word of God alive in you and it is a living witness of all that of which the Scriptures testify. Faith is a substance and essence (Heb. 11:1). Thus, it is clear enough from this how all sermons and statements of Christ—indeed, the whole Holy Scripture—are directed to all men and to each man. All the prophecies and all the parables of Christ relate to me and each man in particular as well as do all the miracles.
Therefore, it is also written that it is to occur spiritually within us. Since Christ has helped others he will help me for he is in me and he lives in me. He has made the blind to see. I am spiritually blind; therefore, he will make me also to see. Thus it is with all the miracles. Therefore, acknowledge yourself as a blind person, a lame person, a cripple, a deaf person, as one exposed, and he will help you. He made the dead live again, so that I have a part in the first resurrection.
In a word, faith does all that in man of which the Scripture testifies externally. It describes the image of God externally and that image must come to be in me through faith. It describes the kingdom of God externally in letters and it must come to be in me through faith. It describes Christ externally and he must come to be in me through faith.
By Johann Arndt
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #10 in 1986]Text is from Wahres Christentum (1606) translated by Peter Erb in the 1979 edition. Used with permission of Paulist Press.
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