February 7, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
The conclusion of today’s Gospel is a summary of and conclusion to Jesus’ entire public ministry—His teachings and His healings. Only two narratives separate the healing of this blind man and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for His passion and death: Jesus’ reception of Zaccheus and a parable that anticipates His return to His Father. The statement at the end wraps up the preaching of the Kingdom and the various healings of broken bodies into one package—faith.
And Jesus said to him, “Look up; your faith has saved you” (v 42). All the modern translations—ESV, RSV, NIV, NASB, and our own—translate this saying as something having to do with healing. Now if Jesus wanted to have said that the man’s faith made him well, He could have. But He didn’t. He said something more. Your faith has saved you. He uses the word for salvation. What happened there on the road to Jericho was much more than that his eyes were opened. His eyes were opened to see Jesus. This is also what Jesus offers you—the gift of faith to see Jesus, and that faith is your salvation.
Faith Saves Because Faith’s Object Is Christ
When we talk about faith, there are two ways we can use the word “faith.” The first way is described by the Latin phrase fides qua creditur. Faith which believes. This is how the word “faith” is used most often, not only in a religious sense but also in many secular senses. It’s the act of believing. But, this kind of faith is not faith that saves. Faith has no power in and of itself; it is only receptive.
Faith has been defined at many times in the Christian Church as knowledge, assent, and trust. First, you have to know what to believe, then you must assent to it, that is, accept it as true. Finally, trust means to rely with firm confidence. For instance, hear how the synodical explanation for the Small Catechism answers the question: “What do you mean when you confess, ‘I believe in God’?” “I believer that I know, and accept as true, what the Bible says of God and trust in Him and rely on Him with firm confidence” (Question 103, Explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism, 1941). Knowledge, assent, trust.
But this is not saving faith. It is indeed fides qua creditur—faith which believes—or the act of believing, but it is not faith that saves. This may come as a shock to your ears, but before you start filling out your reports of false doctrine, hear me out. Where does knowledge, assent, and trust begin? Me. Faith defined thusly is what I know, what I assent to, and what I trust and rely on. It is an entirely subjective faith.
When faith begins with me, faith will never be alone—it will always be faith plus works. The Roman Catholic Church on one hand teaches this explicitly: faith plus works save. On the other hand the Reformed and Baptist churches, while they pay lip service to the sola fide—faith alone—they turn faith itself into a work. Instead of adding works to faith, they make works the essence of faith. I know, I assent, I trust.
And what does this mean? I save. It is the only heresy the Church has ever seen. It takes many shapes and forms and doctrinal peculiarities, but every heresy distills down to me saving myself.
Faith as my knowledge, my assent, and my trust has not power in and of itself. The fides qua creditur, the believing faith, can only be receptive. In order for me to know anything, I must first be taught; in order for me to assent to the truth of anything, I must first be convicted and convinced of its truth; in order for me to trust and rely on anything, I must first find it to be trustworthy.
In order for the fides qua creditur to be of any use, it must have something that it believes. And to get that, you only need to add one letter to that Latin phrase: fides quae creditur. “Faith which is believed.” Faith in and of itself has no power, rather, it is that which is believed, the object of faith, the content of the faith that has power. Faith is powerful to save because it trusts in the One who suffered the punishment for sins in order to set things right.
Faith in this sense is when we say, for instance, the faith of the Christian Church. It is the content of the Christian faith expressed in the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed or the confessions of the Church. Fides quae creditur is the narrative of Jesus, His words and promises. Faith in this sense isn’t mere information, but rather it is a Person. The faith of the Church is the faith of Jesus. He is the content of what we believe.
This faith is saving faith, because it doesn’t begin with me. In fact, it is entirely objective. If I don’t know it, He doesn’t cease exist. If I don’t assent to it, He remains the Truth. If I don’t trust Him, He is still the One who promised to die and rise again and actually did it. To say, “Your faith has saved you,” in this sense is equivalent to, “Jesus has saved you.” He is the object of faith that gives Christian faith salvific power.
Such a faith is not my work. Jesus reveals Himself and He shows Himself to be true and trustworthy. The act of believing—the fides qua creditur—is passive in receiving this knowledge, in being convicted of the truth, and in finding Jesus to be trustworthy.
This is where faith begins, and it’s also where the story of faith begins in today’s Gospel. Before we even encounter the blind man, Jesus says, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that has been written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be finished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles and He will be mocked and treated spitefully and spit on. And after scourging Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise.” And they understood none of these things, and this word was being hidden from them, and they did not know what He was saying (vv 31-34).
Here is the content of the faith—the fides quae creditur—Jesus will be handed over, mocked, treated spitefully and spit on, scourged and killed. And the third day He will rise. The disciples didn’t understand this at that time; they didn’t have that kind of vision. But the blind man, the one whose faith saved him, the one whose Jesus saved him, he was not seeing, yet he saw.
It’s important also to remember that faith isn’t merely an intellectual exercise. It’s not as if you’re presented with a list of propositions about Jesus, that you weigh them and consider them and decide if they’re true or not, and then willfully put your trust in the truthiness of those propositions. There is certainly an intellectual aspect to faith, but it’s much, much more. There’s also a bodily orientation. The blind man was given sight, and he was given sight. That is to say, that he understood who Jesus is, and his eyes were healed along with it. There was a bodily dimension to his faith.
This is also true for you. You have learned of Jesus, you have been convicted by the Spirit of the truth of His Word, you have found Him to be trustworthy because He is the risen Son of God. But this is not an intellectual exercise; there is also a bodily component to your faith. And it’s sitting on the altar.
Because you are not disembodied minds, but embodied creatures, Jesus, who is the content of your faith, gives you a bodily gift. Just a few verses after last week’s epistle reading, St. Paul poses the question: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16). This is why the Lord’s Supper is so important. It is a bodily gift that is the content of your faith. For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death, until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). And that’s why I dismiss you from the altar: The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul, to live everlasting.
Faith saves, but not because faith has any power in and of itself. Faith before God is only receptive. Faith saves you, just as it saved the blind man, not because it is a special work, but because the content of your faith, the object of your faith. Your faith saves you because Jesus saves you. And He saves you—soul and body.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard