When I talk about the nature of saving faith, I share the Protestant and Reformed zeal to magnify the majesty and glory and all-sufficiency of God in Christ.
My heart leaps with joy when I read how Calvin exalted the glory of God as the main issue of the Reformation. He wrote to his Roman Catholic adversary Cardinal Sadolet, “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God” (A Reformation Debate, 52).
This was Calvin’s chief contention with Rome’s theology: it does not honor the majesty of the glory of God in salvation the way it should. He goes on to say to Sadolet that what is needed in all our doctrine and life is to “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God” (Ibid.).
“Saving faith glorifies Christ by looking away from self to Christ alone.”
The ultimate issue in saving faith is the glory of Christ. How, then, does saving faith glorify Christ? One answer is that faith is divinely suited, as a receiving grace (John 1:11–13; Colossians 2:6), to call all attention to Christ. Saving faith glorifies Christ by looking away from self to Christ alone — to his all-sufficiency, including his blood and righteousness, without which we could have no right standing with God. To which I say, with all my heart, Amen! Let us be willing to die for this. As many have.
But it gets even better. There is more glory to give to Christ as we receive him for justification.
Sight of Spiritual Reality
There are good reasons to think that Paul and other New Testament writers understood saving faith as a kind of spiritual sight of spiritual reality, especially the self-authenticating glory of Christ. For example, Paul contrasts believers and unbelievers by what they see and don’t see in the gospel of the glory of Christ:
If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3–6)
Unbelievers are blind to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” But for believers, “God . . . has shone in our hearts” to give that very light. Both groups hear the gospel story. Both grasp the historical facts of the gospel. But unbelievers can’t see what believers see in the gospel. Unbelievers are still walking by (natural) sight, not by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). And natural sight looks at the gospel with no spiritual awareness of the glory of Christ in it. The natural mind (1 Corinthians 2:14), with its natural eyes, does not see what faith sees in the gospel.
But the case is very different with believers, who are described in verse 6. They experience the miracle of God’s light-giving new creation. They see what unbelievers do not see. God said, as on the first day of creation, “Let there be light!” And by that faith-creating word, God gives “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). When this happens, unbelievers become believers. This is the grand and fundamental difference between believers and unbelievers. Hearing the gospel, believers see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Awakened from Boredom
Before the miracle of 2 Corinthians 4:6 happened to any of us, we heard the gospel story of Christ and saw it as boring or foolish or legendary or incomprehensible. We saw no compelling beauty or value in Christ. Then God “shone in our hearts,” and we saw glory.
This was not a decision. This was a sight. We went from blindness to seeing. When you go from blindness to seeing, there is no moment to decide whether you are seeing. It is not a choice. You cannot decide not to see in the act of seeing. And you cannot decide not to see as glorious what you see as glorious. That is the miracle God works in verse 6. Once we were seeing the gospel facts without seeing the beauty of Christ. Then God spoke, and we saw through the facts of the gospel the beauty of divine reality.
This seeing in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is conversion. It is the coming into being of a believer. Verse 4 describes “unbelievers,” and verse 6 describes the creation of believers. One group is blind to the compelling glory of Christ. The other sees the glory of Christ as it really is — compelling. Or to put it another way, believers are granted to see and receive Christ as supremely glorious. This is the meaning of becoming a believer, or having saving faith.
‘We Have This Treasure’
Now, how does Paul describe this experience in the next verse (2 Corinthians 4:7)? He says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The most natural meaning of this “treasure” in a jar of clay is what God has just created in us in verse 6: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The word this in verse 7 makes the connection specific. “We have this treasure.” He is not speaking in broad, general terms. He is referring to a specific treasure, “this treasure,” the one he just described.
It is not strange that Paul would use the word treasure to describe the glory of Christ in the human heart. Nothing would be more natural for Paul. He loves to think of Christ as the believer’s wealth, his riches, his treasure. He speaks of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8), God’s “riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), and “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This was the heartbeat of his ministry, the meaning of his life. He saw himself “as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Corinthians 6:10) — rich with Christ!
What this means for our question, then, is that 2 Corinthians 4:6 describes the way a believer comes into being, that is, the way saving faith comes into being. It happens when God removes spiritual blindness and replaces it with a sight of the glory of God in Christ — the beauty of Christ, the worth of Christ, the divine reality of Christ. This miracle of spiritual sight is believing. That is, it is the receiving of Christ as true and glorious. In this miracle, the believer is simultaneously united to Christ. We “have” Christ. He is ours and we are his. Then to make things crystal clear, Paul calls this a “treasure” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
How, then, does saving faith glorify Christ?
It does so, to be sure, by turning us away from self to his all-sufficient blood and righteousness, without which we could have no right standing with God. Yes, the glory of Christ is at stake in protecting his righteousness from any intrusion of our own righteousness, compromising the sufficiency of his. So let the glory of Christ blaze in the all-sufficiency of his perfect obedience unto death, as the only ground of our acceptance with God.
But there is more glory to break out into view because of God’s design for faith alone to unite us to Christ. Second Corinthians 4:4–7 is one passage among many showing that what is at stake is not only the sufficiency of Christ’s work, but also the worth of it, the beauty of it, the all-satisfying glory of it. Or to be more accurate, what is at stake in the way we are justified is the shining forth of the worth of Christ himself, the beauty of Christ, the glory of Christ reflected in the justifying faith of his people.
In other words, God ordained for faith to be the instrument of justification not only to magnify the sufficiency of Christ’s living and dying obedience, but also to magnify his infinite beauty and worth. Faith is not an expedient acceptance of an all-sufficient achievement that I use to escape hell and gain a happy, healthy, Christless heaven. God did not design faith as the instrument of justification in order to turn the righteousness of Christ into a ticket from self-treasuring misery in hell to self-treasuring pleasure in heaven.
“Saving faith is not only the acceptance of Christ as all-sufficient, but also the embrace of Christ as our treasure.”
No. God designed faith as the instrument of justification precisely to prevent such utilitarian uses of the work of Christ. This is why saving faith is not only the acceptance of Christ as all-sufficient, but also the embrace of Christ as our treasure. Faith perceives and receives Christ — the sole ground of our justification — not only as efficacious, but as glorious. Not only as sufficient, but as satisfying.
God is glorified when he is trusted as true and reliable. He is more glorified when this trust is a treasuring trust — a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. God designed saving faith as a treasuring faith because a God who is treasured for who he is is more glorified than a God who is only trusted for what he does, or what he gives.
Therefore, that God would design saving faith to include affectional dimensions, which I have summed up in the phrase treasuring Christ, is no surprise. For in this way, he built God-glorifying pleasure into the Christian life from beginning to end. It is there from the first millisecond of new life in Christ, for it is there in saving faith. Not perfect, not without variation, not unassailed, but real. And it will be there forever because in God’s presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).