We get about eight hundred emails per month from listeners like you. I wish we could answer more of your questions, but we do our best to keep up. Here’s today’s question: “Hello, Pastor John. My name is Pedro, and I pastor a church in Granada, Spain. Is there a danger of Christian Hedonism confusing joy and faith?”
Knowledge, Assent, Trust . . . Joy?
There are dangers everywhere. It would be a mistake to simply make joy and faith identical, not because faith doesn’t include delight in God, but because faith — as the Bible presents it — is more than delight in God. I have spent most of my ministry trying to get people to experience faith in such biblical fullness that it has joy in God as its essence. So yes, the danger exists that joy will be misunderstood as being the same as faith. If I say joy is the essence of faith, people might say, “Well, then it is the same as faith.” Let me say a few things that I hope will minimize that danger and clarify what I mean by faith including joy in God but being more than joy in God.
“Jesus is the joy that we have always wanted, and we embrace him as that in the act of saving faith.”
Historically — I think this goes back at least to the Reformation, perhaps to the Fathers — saving faith has been seen as three things: notitia (knowledge), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust). Those three together make up saving faith. Faith has an object that it knows, faith assents to the truth and reliability of that object, and then faith actually puts trust in that object.
I think the best exponents of that threefold view have intended when they say trust to mean something like what I mean when I say that a delight in the object of that trust is included. But I have said that maybe we should add a fourth word to those three. If we wanted to, we could use a Latin word like beatum or felicitas or gaudium — happiness, felicity, joy.
Love the Chair
Let me give an illustration. I remember being with R.C. Sproul at one of his conferences. He had just used an illustration of the chair to illustrate what saving faith is, and he said, “Now, you can know the chair is there, and you can assent to the fact that it will hold you up, but will you sit on the chair and thus prove that you are trusting in it?” When I came on to speak after him, I repeated that and I said, “Yes, yes, yes. And do you love the chair? Is the chair beautiful, and are you unsatisfied with your fellowship with the chair?” And everybody laughed, of course, and so did R.C. Sproul. He knew that did round out a fuller picture of what saving faith is. If you were trusting Jesus, and you thought he was a broken-down, ugly, dilapidated chair that you would never want to be around, then the trust of sitting on him wouldn’t be what the Bible means by saving faith.
I basically want people to ask, “If faith is trust, what are you trusting him for?” If the answer doesn’t include Christ himself as our greatest treasure, our greatest hope for satisfaction, I don’t think we have saving faith. If Christ is only a means of getting something other than Christ, if you don’t really want him but just use him to get what you really want, I don’t think that is saving faith. John’s Gospel, I think, makes that pretty clear in a couple of ways.
Goal of Faith
You know, everybody knows John 1:11–12: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So, believing is receiving Jesus for who he is. Who is he, then? How are you receiving him? Savior? Yes. Lord? Yes. And I want to say, Treasure.
“If faith is trust, what are you trusting him for?”
You have to receive Jesus as your treasure, not just receive him as Savior and Lord. I think that is made clear in John 6:35, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” We are coming to Jesus to have our thirst satisfied in him and our hunger satisfied in him. Jesus is the joy that we have always wanted, and we embrace him as that in the act of saving faith.
When we have saving faith, what are we trusting Jesus for? We are trusting him to remove every obstacle and bring us to God as our fullest satisfaction. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). That is what we are trusting him to do. Delight in God as our all-satisfying goal and treasure is in faith. That is what he died for. That is what we trust him for. Trusting him to “bring us to God” means trusting him so that God is our fullest soul-satisfaction.
Here is my conclusion: Faith includes knowing the fact of Christ and assenting to the truth of the fact and trusting in him and treasuring him as the best promise of all. Faith is more than being satisfied in God.
The question was this: Is there a danger of confusing faith and joy or making them mean the same thing? Yes, the danger is there. But I hope I have made clear that joy is an essential part of saving faith, but not the whole thing.