The Wisdom and Art of Faith
Dr. Luther wrote that the great art and wisdom of faith is that “it does not run to and fro in the face of trouble.” Faith in God’s promises does not lose hope, cry on a friend’s shoulder, or imagine God as enemy. Faith, instead, clings to all God’s promises despite what it sees, hears, tastes, and experiences. Even when God appears to came at us like a furious parent, bent on punishing us, faith does not flinch or lose confidence in God’s fatherly goodness in action. In short, faith is an art and wisdom that no person can claim he has mastered, let alone grasped in such a way that he never worries about losing faith.
Faith is an art and wisdom that is the skill above all skills, as Luther noted. This is why Dr. Luther focused on the fact that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is, in fact, God in action. When we imagine faith is our action toward God, that is when faith is corrupted, perverted, and ordered according to the desires of our heart and the justification of our mind. But, the only true Christian is the one who makes no claim on a faith of his own, but only on the work of God’s Spirit in him.
When we claim faith is our work we are in the ditch with all the other self-righteous hypocrites. They praise their good works even though they do not understand good works and have never performed any. And, they go from bad to worse when God does not reward their efforts according to their measure of their worth. They imagine that when God does not show them special favor over and above other Christians, He is unjustly angry with them. They then believe God has taken His grace from them and there is nothing left for them to do except to work more and strive with more intensity to do the works that will gain them God’s favor, even though this will never happen and will drive them away from God altogether so that finally they secretly damn God for His coldness toward them.
What Does Faith Focus on?
Instead, Spirit-created faith confesses, in spite of the desires of our heart and justification of our mind, that, “The Lord answered me and set me free.” In this freedom, faith, holiness, piety, and worthiness are seen for what they are, attributes of our heavenly Father, not a laundry list of our personality traits or spiritual achievements.
Faith does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy, saint and sinner, great faith and anemic faith, it only focuses on Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith. Apart from Christ, faith sees no good for itself, no benefit worth fleeing to the cross for, no hardship that has not already been overcome in Jesus’ bloody suffering and death. Faith asks the temptations of sin, death, and the devil, “What do I still lack that I have not already received whole and complete in Christ Jesus?”
The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel by which He works faith in us by turning us to Christ crucified. Jesus alone is our help, comfort, and worthiness. He is true God. He is God’s goodness in action. Therefore, with this Lord on our side, says faith, “I am not afraid. What can any man do to me?”
True faith comes to us when the Holy Spirit, Who alone possesses the great art and wisdom of distinguishing faith from self-righteousness, comforts us with the certainty that even when we are faithless He is faithful because He cannot deny Himself. Even when sin, death, and hell come against us we can, on account of the faith at work in us, declare, “Please, Mr. Boogeyman, don’t eat me up! You look horrible enough to scare anyone who wants to be frightened. But I have another, lovelier vision, to light my way, like the sun, into eternal life. And so I ignore you, feeble and temporary dark cloud and angry little wind that you are!”
That is the beauty of Spirit-created faith in Christ Jesus. Even in the face of sin, death, and hell (especially when they come against us with all their ferocious threats) we can call them what they are in fact: a dark cloud and a little wind. This is the art and wisdom of faith, that it calls a thing what it is in fact. All things are measured and judged in relation to Christ crucified for the sin of the world. The Savior Who does not take our measure according to whether we are worthy or unworthy, saint or sinner, holy or unholy, and so on. The only question He asks is, “Do you believe the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost? Do you believe that I have come to rescue great sinners, like you?” And before we can answer, the Good News is preached to us, the Spirit goes to work, and faith is created. This is our great comfort and consolation in Christ even in the face of doubt, temptation, and our own faithlessness.