Last week we discussed Regeneration. The object of regeneration as a work of the Holy Spirit are those whom God has decreed to save from before the foundation of the world and for whom Christ has died. The Elect are the recipients of faith as a gift from God. The Reformed speak of this as redemption decreed, accomplished and here, as redemption applied.
New life in Christ must be nourished and strengthened. This new faith in Christ is a gift where women and men are able believe only because God has enabled them to do so. Faith is not a response from sinners who chose on their own free will, but an intentional particular work of God in the regenerate who come to faith through the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. The Reformed tradition has recognized three aspects or types of faith called notitia,(knowledge),assensus (assent) and fiducia (trust), all three are necessary for saving faith.
Knowledge refers to the content of the Gospel. A knowledge of the Law and the Gospel. There is knowledge of the offended holy God who mercifully gave one provision for salvation, the active and passive obedience of his resurrected son imputed to the sinner by faith.This does not need to be an exhaustive knowledge because none are able but there is a minimum knowledge that must be true.
Assent is an acknowledgement or agreement of the content of the Gospel. We are not saved simply by having knowledge of the content of the faith, but we acknowledge the content of the Gospel as true. This redemption accomplished by Jesus becomes redemption applied by the Holy Spirit when faith is given to regenerate Elect. Thus the dictum “regeneration precedes faith”.
Trusting in the finished work of Jesus is the most challenging aspect of faith. This distinguishes the Christian from the demons. (Jam 2:9) The Christian is nourished by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. They are the ordained means by which God reminds the Christian that they are to trust in Christ alone for salvation and this is by faith alone. This is redemption applied where the Christian is the object of work of the Holy Spirit.
Shorter Catechism 86 asks “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. John Flavel (1627-1691) wrote an exposition on this question. The root cause is not man’s will but God’s. This faith is produced ordinarily in the preaching of God’s word (Rom 10:17) and inhabits not only the mind but principally the heart and the will. (Rom 10:10; Acts 8:37) So what is that act of faith that justifies a sinner? The receiving of Christ (John 1:12) where the object of our faith is principally Christ and secondarily his benefits.