Living By Faith: A Book Review

Oswald Bayer’s book handles the idea of living by faith. In fact his whole book centers Romans 1:17.

In the early part of his writings Bayer looks to the implications of the need for justification. As humans we are constantly in need of being justified. In fact we are so easily swayed by the opinion of others that mankind will go to great lengths to acquire approval in order to be recognized (i.e. justified). Bayer states that we constantly need “confirmation and renewal. If it is lacking, we try to regain it or even to coerce it.” From here Bayer then gives a brief summary of the Battle for Mutual Recognition, showing that history is full of people coercing recognition through enforcing and denying mutual recognition so as to ensure fulfillment of their own justification.

After a brief diagnosis of the problem of mankind’s seeking, desiring and even forcing confirmation and renewal, Bayer then lays out the idea that this recognition and perfect righteousness are not things that need to be acquired and coerced but rather something that is delivered to us, something that we passively receive by faith. Bayer states that, “We as humans want to make things by ourselves, including faith, or at least we want to assure ourselves of faith.” However, as Bayer points out this righteousness and even the gift of faith are things that we simply receive and are given. This idea of receiving righteousness passively puts a whole new spin on things. The impact of having righteousness outside of ourselves frees mankind from no longer having to be entangled with self. The passive righteousness of faith tells us,

“…you do not concern yourself at all! In that God does what is decisive in us, we may live outside ourselves and solely in him. Thus, we are hidden from ourselves and removed from the judgment of others or the judgment of ourselves about ourselves as a final judgment.”

He goes on to say,

“The desire to seek self-assurance and to find one’s identity can lead only into the darkness of uncertainty. Faith, however, involves liberation from the drive for self-assurance and therefore from uncertainty. It means liberation from the search for identity.”

Not only is identity sufficed though this passive righteousness, this alien righteousness, but sanctification is also impacted. In other words, are the momentum and motivation for living out of the Christian life derived from something external too? Bayer states,

“May we and can we look away from ourselves and solely at Christ? Or do we look back at ourselves as made anew, seeking to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, in the progress we make, even in the sanctification that is said to follow after justification? When we are blessed by God and born anew, do we seek to feel the pulse of our own faith? Doing this is a dangerous displacement that leads us away from the Reformation understanding of faith. The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God’s promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God. That is why it is so important to take note of the means or medium by which justifying faith comes. According to Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing. It comes by hearing the Word that addresses us. It comes in the promise and pronouncement by which Jesus Christ opens up himself and the kingdom of God to me, bringing me, within the Christian community, back home, to paradise, and making me a new person.”

It is in the context of the Word that we live by faith. Bayer states, “The Word of God always comes first. After it follows faith; after faith, love; then love does every good work, for… it is the fulfilling of the law.”

Bayer’s book is a little gem that captures what it means to live by faith. Our identity, righteousness and sanctification funnel into faith, or rather I should say flows out of faith… faith that springs forth from the Word.

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