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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Article by David Garner

Saving Faith, Pt 3: The Holy Embrace

December 8, 2015 •

Blessed with the gift of saving faith, the believer is now able to hear what he could not hear before, to believe sincerely what he rejected outrightly. The sheep hear the voice of the One they now know as “my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Because of the radical change, such active listening streams eagerly and earnestly from the heart.

That is, faith not only listens to the promises of God, it embraces them. John Calvin describes faith this way: “that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them.”[1]

This warm “embrace” metaphorically yet poignantly depicts the sweet tone of faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith echoes Calvin’s language, insisting that the “grace of faith” (WCF 14.1) attunes not only the mind of the believer to the Word of Christ, but also the heart of the believer to the Christ of the Word. As the melodies of grace inform the mind, they resonate sweetly in a willing heart. Faith’s grateful embrace fills the once empty soul with Christ’s unqualified goodness.

To be clear, this faith embrace is not syrupy emotionalism or fleeting emotion, but it can never be characterized by aloofness. Saving faith knows no unstirred sterility, distant respect, or cold appropriation. Saving faith captivates its recipients: “Religion is not limited to one single human faculty [mind, will, emotion] but embraces the human being as a whole.”[2] We are captured by Christ.

As Geerhardus Vos put it beautifully in his sermon on Hosea 14:8,[3] the gospel possesses a power of intimacy and transformation; faith draws the believer into covenant fellowship with God in Christ, so that knowing God is not only intellectual assent, but rather a “sympathetic absorption” into God himself. That is, the power of saving faith goes beyond relishing the benefits we enjoy. It moves us from happiness in the benefits to delight in the Benefactor. We embrace the triune God willingly, and relish his fellowship.

Faith then is the response of the whole life to the grace of God in Christ. Amazed by God’s greatness and absorbed in his goodness, we—heart, mind, and body—respond sympathetically to the whole Christ. Exercising our faith gift, with joy the redeemed nod affirmatively to their God; our lives become a walking “yes,” to the Savior.

This is not to say that faith does not struggle or that it ever lands upon perfection in this life. Faith flounders and often needs strengthening. Yet when it flails or falters, even for extended periods, it does so discontentedly. The redeemed heart never again finds the embrace of sin finally satisfying; we will always grimace when we return to filth or idolatrous apathy. Grace compels us to rebel against our rebellion.

When we sin, our wandering soul finds satisfaction only in repentance and in return to our Redeemer. Pained by our rebellion, we confess our sin and find our Savior eager to dine with us again (Rev. 3:19–22).

We then pray with vigor, “We believe, O Christ, help our unbelief.” The concluding chapter entails final victory. Saving faith wins the day because almighty Christ is the One who holds us. Faith ever returns us to the One who alone loves us, redeems us, restores us, and embraces us.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.16.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1.268.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, “The Wonderful Tree,”


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