Faith does not spring from nature, nor from our own reason, strength, or will. The Holy Spirit creates faith by the Word and Sacraments.
When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. “For He spoke, and it was; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:9) Light could do nothing to bring itself into existence. Creation could not bring itself to be.
It is the same with faith. By faith, a Christian is a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) As with the old creation, a new creation cannot bring itself to be. God must create faith. As with the first creation, God creates the new creation by his Word. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
Faith means to hear God’s Word and, by the Holy Spirit, to believe it. We cannot know God directly. We know him by his Word. To believe God’s Word is to believe God. Hear the difference between the confessions, “I believe in God” and “I believe God.” Many believe in God, but don’t believe God. They acknowledge He exists, but quibble with his Word. To believe God – to take him at his Word – is faith. Such faith glorifies him. “You have magnified your word above all your name.” (Psalm 138:2)
Faith is not simply an optimistic outlook or a confidence for something God never said. Had God never said anything, there would be nothing to believe. Without the Word, there can be only speculation and either man-made or demonic religion. The Word is prior. With the Word, the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit grants faith where and when it pleases him. Faith is a creation and a gift of the Word and Spirit.
This pattern puts a stamp on prayer and worship. In prayer, before we say anything to God, first, God says something to us. Then we speak to him according to that Word. We hear and then speak. In worship, first God serves us, and then we serve him according to his Word.
It is natural for sinners to revolt against this pattern. “Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’” (John 13:8) First Jesus washes our feet. Then we have part with him.
Jesus washes us by the Word and Sacraments. He said, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” (Ephesians 5:26) “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:20)
If there were no Word, no Sacrament, and no washing – that would be horror. The monster of uncertainty would dominate. Terrors of conscience would harass. The Word brings peace. Peace accompanies faith. The Word gives faith and peace together. God has chosen the means of his Word to grant us faith. By faith we receive his promises and every treasure.
Dear Christian friends, value the Word and attend faithfully to hearing it. Without the Word, you would have nothing; no faith, no peace, and not life itself.