Faith is Volitional

dictionary.jpgVolition(al)– adj. pertaining to the faculty or power of using one’s will; denoting a decision or choice made after deliberation; from Medieval Latin, volition(n)– from volo, I wish.

We commonly identify the major parts of a human soul as MIND, WILL and EMOTIONS. When the Bible writers tell us that we are saved by faith, which qualities of the human soul are involved? The answer depends on your definition of faith. (We’re talking about SAVING FAITH, okay?)

1.  If “faith” refers to the CONTENT of the faith, “the faith”, then the most prominent part would be the mind. You would say that faith refers to MENTAL ASSENT to a truth, proposition, or doctrine. This was the position of the Roman Catholic Church. You were saved by “the Faith”, adherence to the mother church.

To this day, the word faith often denotes the Sacraments of the Catholic church… so that saying a person is saved through faith means through participation in the Sacraments of the church.  “The faithful” is another way of saying “Catholics who participate in the Sacraments (baptism, communion, confession, etc.).”
The Reformers rejected this concept of faith.

2.  Others teach that “faith” refers to a person who has been fully persuaded that something is true. Faith is the result of being persuaded of something–you have now come to believe it is true.

I’m not sure historically who has held this position, but I know that it is the main position of many scholars within the Free Grace movement today–a movement that I’m highly sympathetic with. Click here for a sample journal article espousing this position.

To me, this position falls short. a) It leaves us a the whim of the most persuasive evidence; we can’t choose what to believe or not. b) It leaves faith entirely in the realm of the MIND, the very shortcoming James argues against in his epistle. c) It nullifies any biblical command to believe, such as “31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”” Acts 16:31, NKJV.

How can one be commanded to “be persuaded” of something?  Yes, being persuaded is an aspect of faith, but it is not the core element of saving faith.

What is?

    3.  Faith is an act of the WILL in which we repose our TRUST in Jesus and his Finished Work. Get all that?

    The MIND comes first: there must be information about Jesus. At its irreducible minimum, we are talking about Jesus, sent from God, sacrificed his life for the sin of the world, that he alone might reconcile us to the infinite, invisible, Creator God.

    Once a person has that information in his/her mind, the WILL comes into play. Now that you know Jesus is the way to God, WILL YOU TRUST HIM AS SUCH? Will you choose to rely on Jesus as your only hope? Will you end your confidence in your own morality, religion, efforts, and works… and will you transfer by CHOICE all that confidence into Jesus alone?

    The Reformers coined some mottoes: Sola fide. Faith alone!  and Fides est fiducia. Faith is trust. Faith is you, confiding in the gracious provision God made thru Christ.

    In the counter-reformation, the Catholic church fired back saying “Whoever says fides est fiducia, let him be anathema [damned].” Here’s the actual statement from the mid 1500’s from the Council of Trent:

    CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.


      You can tell they were pretty angry. I’m not here to cast anathemas on anybody. Just to respectfully and lovingly state what I see in Scripture. We have to learn now to disagree without…  being jackasses (gotcha on that one, didn’t I?).

      The concept of faith has been debated for over 2,000 years. But the Reformers were right: faith is trust. The MIND comes first: you must hear the message of Jesus, even in a simplified form. The WILL comes next: you choose to trust in Jesus alone.

      commercial_chairs_page1.jpgIf you’re reading this blog in a room with many chairs, the chances are high that ANY chair can hold you up. You believe THAT all the chairs in the room can hold you up. You are persuaded that they all can. But right now, there’s only ONE chair that you’re trusting, right? Which one? The one you’re sitting in.

      The gospel message invites you to consider all the places you can rest the burden of your salvation: the chairs of your religion, your efforts, your rituals, your beliefs, your performance. It summons you OUT OF ALL THOSE OTHER CHAIRS, and into the Chair of Christ alone! Plop your weight on him alone.

      It’s your choice. Faith is volitional. Where is your hope for eternity?

      More on faith in the next blogs. Thanks for stopping by.

      16 thoughts on “Faith is Volitional

      1. this brings to mind two issues….those from a calvinist perspective on saying that even our assent, our ‘faith’ is not a decision from ourselves, otherwise it is a ‘work’, and the argument addressed to the ‘sola fide’, to wit….faith without works is dead. (often seen in those who believe in ‘once saved always saved’). the reformers, luther, calvin, and zwingli certainly had a bogey man to deal with, one that relied on outer ‘works’, so i can see the emphasis on faith alone and the desire to take a stand far away from the works issue, so as to separate and contrast, but i wonder if we are reading them correctly, or if we can read them correctly and in their fulness. i’m wondering if we have at the ready, all that they wrote on the subject? they also believed in things we would truly balk at (infant baptism, combining church/state, communion, racism, luthers view towards the revelation of john, etc).
        yes, faith is certainly volitional, but the biblical teaching seems to not leave it at that ‘alone’.

      2. Hi Rick,
        If you’re implying that I said that faith was volitional “alone” then you’ve misread me. I clearly said that the mind was involved… as is persuasion. HOW that persuasion and choice come to be, I have not discussed.

      3. Once again, the nature of salvific faith; it is one of my favorite subjects.

        I agree, salvation is found in Christ alone, by faith alone. You cannot earn your way to heaven. Your works will not save you. Luther was right & his emphasis on Paul’s “Justification by faith” using Romans as his hermeneutical lens was paramount. The Catholic emphasis on abiding in other things in relation to the work of atonement for sins was incorrect. God used Luther (reformers) to align theology to a more biblical standard.

        Too, I acknowledge Luther’s overemphasis on “Faith Alone.” Luther had a disdain for the brother of Jesus. Was it just that Luther was an anti-Semite or was it because James, correcting the theology of those who espoused an inactive saving faith (The chair saves, so I can sit here & tell you I’m saved without deeds), smelled of works. Often times, for the sake of argument, one theological doctrine is stressed above others, i.e. faith without works, which is a central doctrine to all we believe; however, this is not the extent of biblical truth as it pertains to saving faith. Works will not lead to saving faith; faith without works is not saving faith (James 2; 1 John). Or as Tozer would say, “no one is saved by works, but you are not saved apart from works.” These are not two opposing doctrines; they are two sides of the same coin.

        I celebrate the hermeneutic that was introduced for the missiological task that was at hand 500 years ago; Sola fide and Fides est fiducia renewed a saving faith into its proper perspective: Jesus’ work alone. However, we live in a culture where 80% of the population says they are Christian (Barna) because (assumption) they repeated the prayer the preacher said. Barna, & others, emphasize this statistic because its outworkings are not evident within the 80%. I’m not wrestling with the Catholic Church’s theological dominance; 2007 presents new salvific questions.

        Recently I got into another discussion with a Christian group who holds to a “works” theology. A group called the Twelve Tribes (They love Jesus very much & live a devoted life to him) espouses a theology that defines saving faith into three categories: The unregenerate, the righteous, & the Holy. They claim that the righteous will enter heaven because by their righteous living they acknowledgie God even though they do not explicitly confess or believe in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. This is incorrect. We become the righteousness of God because of Jesus alone (2 Cor. 5).

        Galatians 5:6 “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

        Paul & James agree. So do we. (I think?)

      4. Sean… yep… jumping the gun! 🙂
        No problem though.
        Think about this:

        Paul: we are justified by faith without the works of the law.
        James: we are justified by works and not by faith alone.

        These are NOT equivalent (inverse) statements. Because Paul and James attach different meanings to the words “faith” and “works.”

        More on this in a future posting.

        I would argue that Barna’s statistics show that:
        a) Most professing Christians do not really understand the gospel.
        b) Most professing Christians do not really have the life of Christ; they aren’t saved.

        However, neither a nor b would justify us harping on good works. The issue isn’t works–it’s the reality of Christ’s life within. Go ahead and preach works… and get people to do works. Won’t make ’em saved.


      5. Thanks for the insight.

        I have not, nor will not “preach works,” as I agree this “won’t make ’em saved.”

        I would agree James & Paul’s statements are not inverse. However, they are related to the issue of saving faith. Do you contend that James is not speaking about saving faith? James 2:24 “Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?” When James says, “made right” he is explicitly speaking about salvation.

        I agree with your a & b. They are not saved.

      6. Sean, I know you don’t preach works!
        I should also add to my previous comment… a c)

        c) Or it shows that they are genuinely saved, but have never grown mature at all (2 Pet 1:5-11). Those who don’t “add” to their faith “virtue” have forgotten they were purged from their old sins… they lose everlasting reward. That vast statistic of Barna’s is either people being not saved, or immature and saved, or carnal and saved.

        And it’s why we need to teach, teach, teach.

      7. I agree with c.

        Why is it that the church in China does not have the “lukewarm” problem we have in the U.S? Too, their churches are exploding, while the American church, as a whole, is in decline. What are they doing that we are not? Also, their churches are growing as a result of new disciples. This is, I assume because hell, evangelism, salvation, & church (as a people group, not a service or instituition) are taken more serioiusly; whereas our American churches generally flux in size because of transfer growth. Are they recieving better teaching? We have all the “famous” teachers, schools, preachers, Bibles, Bible software & churches; yet we’re in decline, soon to join Europe as a overly secular culture.

        I don’t think the Chinese church’s explosion is occuring because they understand better what faith is on an intellectual level. In fact, I assume on a general level, a laity in an American church would know more about the Bible & the definitions of faith. However, a typical chinese believer (generalizing) would take their faith more seriously; it’s a life or death thing, not a consumeristic thing. We don’t need more learning, but more dying.

        I agree: Teach, teach, teach. 1 Cor. 11:1.

        Good stuff. I do love playing tennis with you!

      8. i read an article from an msn homepage link… about faith and volition and forgiveness!!! here is the link forward….

        Amish donate cash to school gunman’s widow
        An Amish community that lost five girls in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting massacre last year has donated money to the widow of the gunman, the community said Wednesday.

      9. Sean,
        Funny you should mention the Chinese church. It was in fact the Chinese church leadership that highlighted in America the very truths I am propounding. Men like Hudson Taylor, one of the first missionaries in China, and Watchman Nee, who ministered in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other places as a pastor… only to be thrown into prison and spend his last 20 years in a communist jail. He died in prison. These guys taught that Christianity is the life of christ, the power of Christ lived out through us; and that the harder we work, the more we fail to live up to Jesus’ standards.
        The Chinese church exploded precisely because it was founded on these monumental teachings of GRACE ALONE which the American church has largely ignored.

      10. there seems to be something we’re missing in this discussion on faith/works/grace….i think it’s a classic case of semantics, but some other description or phrase might define it better….”faith alone”, “grace alone” does not seem to satisfy, they seem extreme and deconstructive….personally i like the amish or mennonite version….they just ‘do it’, simple, no fanfare.
        in a very instructive book ‘thy will be done’ which is about the rockefellers in latin america mostly and about mission work done there and elsewhere, at times it’s a sad tale about bible translators and how they work with the local governments……just so happens that it’s the right wing dictators who are most amenable to their work……the mission work seems to pacify the ‘natives’ who stand in the way of ‘progress’…i.e. capitalists, industrialists, and kept the natives from supporting the communists/socialists (and the u.s. weaponry support will keep flowing, by the way) the resultant destruction of the natives way of life and ecology was tremendous. happened in the american west too, as a way of gaining access to oil and gas on tribal lands. there is so much we dont hear about when we are told one side of the story. some countries reactions to missions and mission work are not illogical. i’m not impugning the missionaries themselves but sometimes an overriding philosophy that in retrospect (at best) can cause a reaction against what we may see in a naive way as completely altruistic and ‘faithful’. remember the auca indians and the massacre of the missionary pilots? there is another side to the story that may change your view of it all. we understandably want to hold onto a ‘good’ story we’ve known since childhood but sometimes the evidence smacks you in the face.

        i realize i’m rambling a bit and likely stepping heavily on some toes but i thought it might be of value….

      11. Rick good stuff. I’m not sure how your second paragraph ties into what we’re talking about.

        I don’t know that I would attribute the Chinese churches explosion to “Grace Alone.” Although this is an important part of our faith & I appreciate you beating the drum. We are saved by grace alone.

        I don’t think it’s because they have better teaching. We own the market (literally) & boast the best schools, teaches, etc.

        Faith produces works. Christ does the work. However, we will be accountable for what we’ve done or haven’t done in this tent, so…

        The Chinese church is growing because they count the cost of salvation; “Let the dead bury their own dead” theology. I’ve been there twice & witnessed people accepting “Grace Alone” knowing it will cost them their relationships with their communist family. They really have to think about the cost of accepting “His Grace.”

        Here in America we mark a card, leave a service, & hope a paid staff that, more than likely, is too bogged down to disciple us calls. In China they cling to the church; it’s their new family, it looks like the book of Acts. The church is growing in China because it is the church; whereas, America has rendered church to mean: A quality service I attend for me; I go, I leave, it’s institutional programmatic structures clearly missing from the pages of scripture.

        Furthermore, they understand that when you accept “Grace Alone” you are “bought & paid for with a price:” you are a slave; you have not rights, none, zero. Here in America we become Christians, which means, I just need put a Christian bumper sticker on my American Dream & I’m good. (Generalizing of course, but it’s a huge root.) They have nothing else to live for; we have, nearly everything & sadly want more.

        We need a new hermeneutic Dr. One that speaks against the opulence of our society & preaches freedom in becoming a slave to Christ. Grace alone.

      12. GRACE ALONE which the American church has largely ignored.

        I know we have already touched on this, but could you further explain this statement? Are you talking about the mainstream Evangelical Church? People along the lines of Billy Graham? Are you talking about the mainline denominations? Methodist, Episcopal, etc.? Roman Catholics?

        When I speak of the “American Church” I largely mean the Evangelical Church. I think of churches like yours, or some of the other prominent churches in Redding, or nationwide; Little Country, Saddleback, etc. guys like John MacArthur (lately with the anti-yoga remarks), or the popular radio preachers from Calvary Chapel, etc.

        To me, these prominent churches and individuals have done the opposite of what you have said, they seem to have embraced a doctrine of grace that is easily construed as skeptical, if not hostile, to a salvation that includes obedience. I know that this is a generalization, but I think it is an accurate one. It is this cultural current of grace without works that I feel compelled to swim against.

        Again, perhaps when you say “american church” you mean something different than I do?

        It is easy for me to define the american church in this way (and to see its faults in this way) as this is the place that I called home for so long (even if it may have been a home I was frequently absent from!).

      13. Hi. Just thought I’d add a few thoughts, as this subject highly interests me!! I heard faith described something like this: you’re falling off a cliff and see a small branch sticking out of the mountain….your doom is sure in a matter of seconds; so you see this branch and cling to it. (this Branch actually saves your life). How much faith did it take to reach out and grab that branch? I would guess you may have thought…”Oh that branch is to small or weak and I’m pretty silly for trying to hold on to it, but I’ll try it anyway”. In fact that Branch did save you…not because of your amazing faith…but because the quality of the Branch.

        In terms of growth in America vs. China and the early church…I think it’s all God’s grace. God knows the obstacles we face in any place we live and His Grace is sufficient. I believe He will give us the strength and faith we need for His sovereign plan to flourish.

        I marvel at the missonary martyrs that I’ve read about, who had seemingly weak faith (major doubts about God even) and yet they are known for their moment of trust as they’re being martyred….it’s all God’s amazing Grace!!!

      14. billy graham, john macarthur, james dobson, jerry falwell, pat robertson….. i’m compelled to be skeptical of whenever a person or a movement has a mass following. some years ago i was asked about my opinion of graham and i was quite puzzled by even the question, for how could anyone not like and appreciate him and his work? whew….was i naive! the same was about wycliffe bible translation and summer institute of linguistics and the mission aviators….how could anyone not hold them or it on a pedestal?…..then i learned that i was definitely applying some cultural and racial bias and superiority to evaluating these childhood heroes. i had no idea of the political context (and yes, it does matter). someone mentioned ‘watchman nee’ his sacrifice and martyrdom….do you know what he preached, do you know the factors involved? does it even matter to you? we hear ‘he’s a christian’ and that makes all the difference. i think this touches quite directly on the issue being discussed now……grace alone v what you do with that grace. it does make a difference! the long term credibility of christs message is at stake.

        cheri, if you’re interested in reading about christian martyrs, there is an amazing book, not easy to find, that is quite large in size, named ‘martyrs mirror’….it traces the history of christian (and pre-christ believers) martyrdom up until the first century or so past the reformation. there is also a preceding section on christian doctrine, mainly contrasting protestant v roman catholic theology, but very instructive and thorough.

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