Strength to Stand
In his short book, The Sacrifice of Praise, Herman Bavinck writes a chapter on the ‘The Strength of Confession’. The chapter speaks about ‘the courage to give witness to the truth of God in Christ in a firm, trusting faith, openly and freely before each and every one.’ In the chapters leading up to this Bavinck demonstrates that he is aware of the challenges to a faithful confession of Christ. He discusses the elements that fight against us: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. By the time you get to this chapter the question lingers, ‘How does one stand and give a faithful confession of Christ?’
Bavinck’s answer is simple, and it is one that I think is easy to forget. All too often we think that it is our job to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. It is my job to work in my power to maintain a faithful confession. Yet, Bavinck reminds me (and he does this so often in so many areas of my life) that this work of having ‘the courage to give witness to the truth of God in Christ in a firm, trusting faith, openly and freely before each and every one’ is a work of God.
It can be easy to think that my salvation was a work of grace. I can agree with the Westminster Shorter Catechism when it says that:
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. - Q&A 33
However, I have a harder time believing that my:
Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. - Q&A 35
The Spirit is at work in our lives not only to enliven our dead hearts but also to grow us in our faith. This is Paul’s point in Colossians when he says: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (2:6–7). We walk in Christ, the same way we receive him by grace. Bavinck puts it this way:
But even then, when faith has been implanted in the heart, the working of the Spirit always remains necessary, leading faith to confess in word and deed in the face of the manifold temptations to unfaithfulness—for it is God who works in us not only to will but also to do his good pleasure [Phil. 2:13]. From him, we receive both the power of faith and the boldness to confess.
How does the Spirit grow us? Well, once again we can get off track by thinking that there are these extraordinary ways in which the Spirit works. However, what Scripture shows us over and over again is that growth in the Christian life is seen most often and through the ordinary, every day, regular means that the Lord has ordained.
The Spirit uses things as simple as reading Scripture. He uses Scripture both to assure us in our faith, giving us confidence to proclaim it in front of a watching world, and to show us Christ, giving us hope for the world to come. He uses things as ordinary as regular Lord’s Day worship, surrounding us with a body of saints who are walking together in their faith. The Lord has given us each other that we ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ (1 These 5:11).
[T]he ones who confess Christ are never alone. Some- times, in a certain place and at a given time, they may feel lonely and abandoned. But even then it is very often revealed that there are yet thousands who, with them, have not bowed the knee to Baal [1 Kings 18:18; Rom. 11:4]. And when out of the anguish of their souls they arise and look over all the earth and throughout the ages, from the beginning to the end of the world, they realize that they are members of a communion that is gathered in unity of faith out of the whole human race by the Son of God and by him likewise protected and preserved. The church of Christ is the essence of humanity, the salt of the earth, the light of the world [Matt. 5:13–14]. Whoever is a living member of it counts among his brothers and sisters the best and greatest and noblest of our generation, prophets and apostles, church fathers, martyrs, and reformers. And at their head stands “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth” [Rev. 1:5]. - Herman Bavinck
We are called to make a faithful confession of Christ before a watching world. Thanks be to God, what he commands, he gives the grace to fulfill. What Christ accomplished on the cross, is applied through the work of the Spirit. God not only works in us to will but also to do his good pleasure (Phil 2:13), and that is a promise that allows us to rest in his work. For it is in him that we not only receive the power of faith but also the boldness to proclaim that faith.