“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
Some people feel that faith is a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit that flies in the face of evidence. Others take the opposite view that faith is induced by intellectually impelling evidence such as the Bible, philosophical proof, or experience. Historical evidence differs from mathematical proof or scientifically observed events. Persuasion is based on evidence to be sure, but it is the evidence of testimony – in the case of Scripture, the testimony of the prophets, and the apostles. There are many reasons for considering this testimony thoroughly trustworthy, such as the character of those who gave it, the unity of the testimony, its content, and so on. The evidence alone, however, does not compel acceptance. The work of the Holy Spirit is needed, and thus faith is a miraculous gift that confirms the evidence and even carries one beyond the evidence if necessary. It does not contradict evidence nor is it “sight” based on irrefutable scientific proof.
Faith is at once a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our own responsibility. How God’s sovereign, autonomous authority and our responsibility to believe relate to one another is not clarified in Scripture. Scripture makes it clear, however, that we must respond in obedient faith in order to receive God’s promises of salvation. In summary faith is a choice to commit all of oneself unconditionally to the person of God, who is revealed in the Bible and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14 & Romans 10:17).
Are there degrees of faith? Must it be absolute to be effective? Scripture seems to answer both yes and no. When the disciples asked for an increase in faith, Christ responded that if they had even the smallest amount, it would be quite adequate (Luke 17:5-6). In this sense any faith at all is adequate, since it is not the faith itself that saves but the object of one’s faith. One may have strong faith in thin ice and drown but have weak faith in thick ice and be safe.
One may not have an emotion of confident assurance, or heart peace, about a matter. And yet, if he or she chooses to act in obedience to God and launches out in response to what is known to be God’s will, this choosing is saving faith or sanctifying faith. Such a person may feel quite unsure and may be fearful and unable to predict the outcome of the step of obedience. But the key question is, “What is the response of the will?”
A person who is living by faith may have – indeed ought to have – an inner tranquility, Christlike behavior, a doctrinally correct confession of faith, and unwavering conviction and assurance. None of these, however, is the key evidence of sufficient faith. A person can have inner peace with confidence in the wrong object – as do some devotees of false gods, as well as those Christian who have confidence in some misappropriated Bible promise. Again, while living by faith produces tranquility, one’s emotional state may vary with changes in health or circumstances.
A Christlike character is the result of true faith. On the other hand, not all character comes from biblical faith. It is quite possible for a person in ideal circumstances to develop a commendable degree of personal integrity and good behavior without God’s regenerating power. So far as correct doctrine is concerned, even the devils know the truth.
The most important evidence of faith, as we have seen, is unqualified commitment to doing the will of God. Obedience may not evidence full or mature faith, but it certainly gives evidence of some faith. Abraham proved his faith through obedience (James 2:21-24), and Israel proved its unbelief through disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19). The choice to obey is absolutely necessary for birth into God’s family or growth as God’s child because God does not force a person. Faith frees the Holy Spirit to work. Unbelief, or disobedience, stops that work.
Note that it is quite possible for the will to speak contrary to the emotions, as Christ demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane when He initially cried out in anguish for deliverance but in the end chose the will of the Father. Ordinarily, the other two elements of faith – emotional response and understanding – will follow the choice to obey (John 7:17).
As we have seen, it may be possible to be an surrendered Christian, although there is no legitimate biblical ground for assurance of salvation for the one who is deliberately rejecting the known will of God. “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die” (Romans 8:13). At the least, without this basic confidence of a saving relationship with God, growth in the Christian life is impossible. If there is a longstanding rejection of the known will of God, a person is certainly not living by faith; moreover, the Bible clearly teaches that God is saving those who are believing. Thus, the essential element of faith for one who is disobedient is obedience. The unyielded person must surrender.
Scripture gives many evidences of a heart needing surrendering: unreconciled personal relations, unforgiving spirit, a complaining attitude, unloving criticism, persisting in a wrong even after realizing one is sinning, grieving more over what hurts oneself than what hurts God, making decisions on the basis of personal benefit rather than promotion of God’s purposes, and seeking the praise of other people. Even if you do not display conscious rebellion, behaviors such as these indicate that now is the time to choose to surrender unconditionally to the will of God.
 Taken from Five Views of Sanctification by Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M. Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin, and John F. Walvoord. Copyright © 1987 by Zondervan. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com.