Where is the difference between natural and spiritual faith? There is no difference.
There aren’t two sorts of faith to be connected. In both realms, it is the exercise of the one and only God-implanted faculty of faith.
The difference is merely in the object of faith. But here there is a difference so radical that it might look as if there were two altogether different types of faith.
Man was created by God to be a spiritual being. God is spirit, Jesus Himself said; and He is “the Father of spirits.” In other words, the things of the Spirit were meant to be natural to man, not supernatural. They were meant to be his normal environment. The pure “see” God.
If man had remained pure, by the faculty of his spirit indwelt by God’s Spirit he would have been as accustomed to the spiritual “sight” of God as his natural eyes are to the things of this world; a condition indeed which is fulfilled in varying measure by those who have been purified by the blood of Christ, who have been born of His Spirit, and thus “see” His kingdom.
Owing to the fall, however, spiritual sight became “unnatural”. Man became dead toward God, blind to His kingdom, and only the things of time and sense remained as his natural realm.
Now faith starts by seeing a thing, in which it thus can naturally and effortlessly believe. A man sees a book; it does not take him a split second, not the faintest conscious effort, to believe that it is a book and that he can pick it up and read it. Yet all those reactions are actually the first forms of faith. The book has stimulated his faith fully, and the man performs an act of living faith if he takes the book up and reads it.
Thus in the normal acts of life the process of living faith is so natural, so unnoticed, so continual, that no one dreams of calling it faith – but it is.
Now, however, we have a gulf to cross, a chasm which man cannot bridge, from the natural to the spiritual, from the land of man’s exile back into the paradise from which long ago the flaming sword barred him. How can faith leap that gulf? And, again, is the same quality of faith effectual on both sides of the gulf?
God, not man, has bridged that gulf, and bridged it for the one purpose of reclaiming, redeeming to Himself, back from the devil, back from the flesh, back from the world, man with his two dynamic faculties, productive of so much evil or so much good, the faculties of love and faith.
God Himself entered the human arena by the one act of matchless grace in sending His beloved Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sacrifice for sin. And in doing this, He took every possible means that could be taker to quicken love and stimulate faith in Himself. In order to act, faith must first see. Very well then, God will meet faith on its own ground. First, there remains in man, even at the fall, the moral sense, the conscience, the law written in the heart, the capacity of knowing right from wrong, of recognizing the highest, of thirsting after his lost perfection. These God then stimulates through history by revelations of truth, accompanied by mighty works of deliverance, by all His dealings with His chosen people, all rays and foreshadowings of the true light, which was to shine, all material for a truth-seeking faith. Then comes the moment, in the fullness of time, when the true light shines out in the darkness, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth.
His incomparable words, His deeds, His symbolic acts of giving the bread and wine, His victorious redeeming death, His carefully attested resurrection, His appearances, His visible ascension, the coming of the Spirit, the transformed followers, their written records, peak on peak, form the mighty mountain range of visual testimony.
And so God comes down to meet man’s faith, with His Son, His Word, His Spirit. The gulf is bridged. Faith can operate in the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven as simply and naturally as in the things of earth.
Let us note in passing, however, lest we get things out of proportion, the relative importance of giver and recipient in this matter of faith. Faith, in itself, which is the capacity to receive, to use, to apply, is utterly useless unless the material is first provided upon which it can be exercised. What use are mouth and stomach, unless there be food? What use lungs, unless there be air? God’s wondrous order in nature and spirit is very simple. He, the Giver, has provided all. In one ceaseless river He pours His gifts upon us, all things natural and supernatural, whether it be sun and rain, food and the riches of the earth, or the grace in Christ Jesus. All in unending abundance for body and soul is ours. All things but one. He does not force acceptance on us. He does not compel us to live, whether in body or spirit. Love seeks for love, free, unconditioned, love for love’s sake. Therefore God made man in His image, free in will and choice, able to accept, able to reject; for God seeks the worship, love and service of willing hearts. He gives, He presses all upon us, His gifts, His Son, Himself. But we must take. Food He provides, but we must take and eat. Air, but we must breathe. Ninety-nine per cent of life consists of God’s endless giving. One per cent consists of taking. Both are essential, but in that proportion. We are here stressing faith, for our object is to analyze and examine the way man receives and uses what he is given. That is not meant to give glory to faith or credit to faith, as if faith produced anything. Faith supplies the one per cent. That is all. God supplies the 99 per cent — to Him is the glory, in Him is the grace, for Him is our love. (Indeed, properly speaking, the l00 per cent is His, for faith itself is a God-given, natural faculty.) Our consideration is only centered round the one per cent, yet that must be considered, just because experience shows that so many Christians flounder about, not because they do not know the grace of God revealed in Christ, but because they do not know how, steadily, consistently, to appropriate, use, and apply what they are given, according to the set laws of appropriation of faith.
And now let us watch this process of faith as it passes from its exercise in the natural to exercise the supernatural.
Whathappens when the Spirit of God brings conviction of sin? It is obvious. He penetrates the thick walls of our self-righteousness.
Every man by nature has built around him some working philosophy of life. He is as good as other folk. He does not do his neighbor any harm. He believes in a Creator who is love, so hell is unthinkable, and all will be right. Or else he has a frankly materialistic and hedonistic, or agnostic, or even atheistic point of view. Anyhow, he has some basis to life, however flimsy, however unsatisfactory, or however self-satisfying. And to that basis his faith is attached. He is a believer all right, in his particular outlook: it may be a false faith, a perverted faith, but it is his faith.
Now, conviction of sin knocks that flimsy prop from under him. It no longer satisfies, it is no longer reliable. He sees through it: all his righteousnesses are as filthy rags: his sins are ever before him: he has hewn him cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Now his faith is at sea, tossed hither and thither, with nothing left for it to take hold of. Where can it ground its anchor? The Spirit points to Jesus. The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. The Word speaks its message, “Look unto Me and be ye saved”: “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out'”: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Here is faith’s sure resting place. Here is its rock of ages, Jesus, the Son of God.
The decision is made, Christ for me: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling.” Faith dares to take Him at His word: “The Lord is thy shepherd”: “My Beloved is Mine and I am His.” Not a new faculty of faith, mind you, but a new content for faith. That’s all. The very same faith which was once centered in the man’s own righteousness is now torn from that false embrace to rest itself upon “that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith”. A natural faculty purified, redirected, possessed and controlled by the Spirit.
And let us note that the one per cent of human faith had to go out to meet the 99 per cent of God’s grace. Without this, not all the conviction in the world, not all the sorrow for sin, the change of mind, the prayers and tears and resolutions, could bring the sinner to the enjoyment of that grace. The central faculty of faith had to be exercised, that faculty which is personality in action. The man who had chosen to believe in a false philosophy of life, who had acted out his faith by his self-pleasing, self-confident way of life, had now by an equally deliberate choice to reject that philosophy as a basis for his faith, and by that same faith to accept Jesus in all the fullness of His forgiveness, mercy and renewal. The faith could not save, only His abounding grace could do that, but the faith was the decisive action of a free person, seeing, believing, receiving, and opening his being to the control of Jesus Christ, his new-found Lord.
If the question is asked, what about such a text as Eph. 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”; or in 2 Peter 1:1 “To them that have obtained like precious faith with us”? The answer is that all have the capacity to believe; but actual faith is that capacity stimulated to action by a faith-producing object. In this sense Scriptural or spiritual faith – the act of believing in Christ – is a gift of God,
for it could not exist without Christ as its all-satisfying object. But it remains equally true that the capacity to believe is inherent in all; otherwise God could not command us to believe, as He does.