Where Does Faith Come From? | Reflections on Romans 10:17
What does the unbeliever need to be saved? He needs faith! But what is the origin of faith? The answer to this question is part of the nexus that sets biblical apologetics categorically apart from traditional apologetics.
Traditional Christian apologists would agree that unbelievers need faith. But they understand the nature of faith differently than just explained above. And they also propose that faith comes from countless sources that flatly contradict what the Bible says on the matter. They say faith can come from logic or human reason, natural revelation, natural theology, history, experience, intuition, education, and a host of other sources.
On the contrary, the Bible teaches that there is only one source of true faith. Faith comes only from divine revelation given by God! That’s the simple litmus test that can be used to scrutinize all apologetical approaches to discern whether they pass or fail. Ask the apologist under consideration: “Where does faith come from?” His answer will expose an entire intricate system of beliefs, presuppositions and a worldview that forms the foundation of everything related to his apologetical approach. The Bible teaches that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It is that simple. True, saving faith comes from hearing the Word of God centered in the Person of Christ and His saving gospel. And that is the only place it comes from.
The Certainty of Faith
Let’s take a look at the details of Romans 10:17 along with the implications of our findings. The passage in the New American Standard text is as follows: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Faith is a main theme of this passage. Paul refers to it or a synonymous variant of it in eleven of the first seventeen verses (vv. 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17). This faith is the supernatural capacity to believe in the gospel that results in salvation (10:9). The noun has the definite article showing that it is a specific kind of faith—a faith that saves. This kind of saving faith speaks of certitude, not mere probability.
Traditional apologists often tell us we are seeking to attain mere “probability” and not “certainty” when interacting with unbelievers in the apologetics task. But such epistemological agnosticism flies in the face of the meaning of faith in this passage. The notion of the certainty of faith is replete throughout Scripture. The Hebrew word,’āman, for example, denotes firm conviction, based on the reliability of the message. We also find this certainty conveyed in the New Testament: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1; emphasis added). When Paul speaks of faith in Romans 10:17, he is referring to certitude and full assurance that flows from God’s character and Word, not mere probability or plausibility in the abstract.
The Source of Faith
Unbelievers need supernatural faith to be saved, and such faith overcomes personal sin and satanic blindness, enabling the sinner to believe in the gospel. But what is the source of such faith? Is the source of saving faith the laws of logic as traditional apologists would have us believe? No, Paul says saving faith comes “from hearing.” The preposition “from” (ek) refers to the source, “out of,” and that source is “hearing.” “Hearing,” then, refers to the specific gospel message being preached to unbelievers. This is established by the immediate context as Paul mentions, “the word of faith which we are preaching” (10:8).
To sum up this phrase, “faith comes from hearing,” Paul means “the only source of saving faith is in the preached message of the gospel.” So faith comes from no other source. Traditional apologists say faith comes from mere “evidence,” usually the so-called evidence produced by human logic apart from special revelation in order to prepare the way for the gospel. In stark contrast, Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, says, “faith comes from hearing” the preached message of the gospel.
The Medium of Faith
In the last part of 10:17 Paul specifies what he means by “hearing” or the published message that produces faith—specifically it is “hearing by the word of Christ.” The preposition “by” is dia with the genitive here it is instrumental, “by means of.” Faith comes “by means of” the word of Christ.
The Origin of Faith
Finally we examine the ultimate origin of saving faith—divine, special revelation about Christ, “the word of Christ.” Where does faith come from? Saving faith comes from the “word of Christ,” and only “the word of Christ.” Here “word” is not the usual logos but rhema (cf. 10:8). Rhema refers to uttered and spoken words, and in the New Testament specifically in relation to special revelation uttered, spoken, proclaimed and preached by Jesus and the Apostles, usually revolving around the good news of the gospel. The gospel must be verbalized so people can hear its propositional truth! We don’t “live” the gospel for unbelievers; we “proclaim” it in propositional verbal speech. We are not the “good news”; Jesus is. Again, the very important point is reiterated: efficacious faith comes only from divine or special revelation. Or as Luther said 500 years ago in his commentary on this verse: “Hearing indeed comes only through the Word of Christ.”
This means that faith results only after an unbeliever has been exposed to special revelation from God’s Word that is Christo-centric as it is preached and taught. This is what Peter meant in his apologetics passage. The apostle said we begin by “setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). We begin with the gospel. We station ourselves, pivoted on Scripture. All our conversation is Christ-centered, cross-centered and Scripturally-driven, because we know the unbeliever needs supernatural faith. And faith comes only from hearing about Christ in Scripture.
The Gift of Faith
Romans 10:17 makes it clear that faith only comes from special revelation. And that special revelation concerns the gospel truths of Jesus Christ: who He is and what He did. Faith comes from no other source. Faith is a divine gift given by God. That is what Paul meant when he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is not the by-product of clever rational arguments. Faith does not result from impressively amassed, indisputable archaeological evidences. Faith does not come from life-changing personal encounters and experiences. Faith is a supernatural gift from God. May these truths help us keep the Bible central as we share the gospel with our family members, friends, and colleagues.