Where Faith Comes From

by Johannes Brenz
translated by Jacob Behnken

The following sermon is a message from the early reformer, Johannes Brenz (1499-1570). In 1547, Brenz preached eleven sermons that looked at different aspects of the Christian’s life of repentance. Part of this series, the present sermon deals with the source of true Christian faith: the Holy Spirit’s work through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Ernst Bizer published this series in Predigen des Johannes Brenz: Das Evangelium von der Passion und Auferstehung Christi.

Formerly, we dealt with the grace of God. Therefore, we want to look again at the doctrine of repentance. We have, my beloved, previously shown that only through faith do we take part in the merit and good deeds of Christ. For this reason, it is necessary that we also hear and learn how we may obtain and also keep such faith. But when we speak of faith, we should not understand such faith as the Devil has, as St. James says in his Epistle in the second chapter: “The Devil also believes and shudders.” Rather, we speak of the true Christian faith, which requires of us before all things that we believe in Jesus, the Son of the holy Virgin Mary1 and believe that Jesus is truly the Christ, who had been promised to the Patriarchs and of whom the Prophets had prophesied and preached. However, that is still not enough to believe, for the Devil also believes that and is still not justified. Rather, more is required of us—that we also believe and trust that Christ is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption, as the Prophets proclaimed about him. He has taken on our sin and also our body so that we are adopted as God’s children and finally will gain eternal life. The holy Evangelist John teaches about faith in such a way in the twentieth chapter: “Jesus did many other works before his disciples, which are not written in this book. These, however, were written, so that you may believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and that through faith you may have life in his name.” Likewise, Peter says in the Book of Acts: “So know with certainty, O house of Israel, that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, Lord and Christ.” And later in chapter four of the book: “There is certainly no other name under heaven given to men, in which we should be saved.”

Well, this is now the question: Where does someone receive such faith? Answer: It is found not in human reason; it is not awakened by us, and it is not inherited from our parents. How much less can one be brought to it through human wisdom and understanding! Rather, faith is a gift of God and comes from God above, as we hear in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. For there Peter had made his confession of faith in Christ and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the true, living God.” The Lord Christ answered him and said, “Simon, son of Jonah, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you; you have not received such a confession and faith from your forefathers, but my heavenly Father has revealed it to you.” And John the Evangelist says in his first chapter, “To all who received the Son of God, he gave power to become children of God, born not by the will of flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but rather by God.”

So I imagine that some would like to say that because faith is given by God and because it is a gift of God, he gives it without any means or tools and that when someone wants to receive faith, he may sit alone in a corner and there wait for a revelation from heaven to come down. In no way! It is true that God can give his gifts without any outward signs since he is almighty and is in no way bound to created things as if he must use them when he wants to tell us something. But he nevertheless maintains and commonly uses the order which he has established to pour out his gifts on his people. As an example, God could very well create people without their parents, father or mother. From the beginning, however, he has arranged such an order that people should receive life through their parents, and he uses such an order for all generations. Likewise, the Lord God could very well preserve general peace and tranquility without the government, but since he established and ordered the government, he wants to use it as a means to create and preserve such peace. And again, the Lord God could very well create fruit of all sorts without trees and also without any plant, but he has arranged that people should plant and grow, and through such means he wants to give his harvest of fruit.

It is also like this with faith. God could give faith without any means or tools, but he wants (and he has also established) the servants of the church to be his fellow workers. As Paul himself says, “I planted, and Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” From these words we can easily notice that God wants to create and preserve faith through established means and tools.

The tool and the means through which God gives faith to us is the preaching of the holy Gospel through his Son Jesus Christ, as Paul shows in Romans chapter 10: “Faith comes from hearing God’s Word. How then could they believe something which they have not heard? And how will they hear without preachers?” When someone comes to faith in Christ and is blessed with the merit and good deeds of Christ, one must hear the preaching of the Holy Gospel because God has established that one should believe through it. In the same way, the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians chapter 3, “Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? Only servants through which you were brought to faith. Likewise in Romans chapter 1: “The Gospel is the power of God, which justifies those who believe.” This passage means that the Lord God uses the preaching of the Gospel as a means through which he causes faith in Christ his Son. Galatians 4 says, “My dear children, for whom I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” What he means to says is this: “I proclaimed the pure Gospel to you, through which you were coming to faith in Christ.” In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians in chapter 2 he says, “We thank God unceasingly for you, since when you received godly preaching from us, you did not take it as man’s word but rather as it truly is, as God’s Word, which works in you so that you believe.” We also read in Acts chapter 10 that Peter had preached the Gospel of Christ to the heathen so that they would become believers and would receive the Holy Spirit. From this it is clear to see that the preaching of the Gospel is the only means through which we become believers.

But every person who hears the Gospel does not become a believer; however, the preaching and the hearing of the Gospel remain the established means through which the Lord God gives faith. Likewise, not every place on a field on which the seed is sown bears fruit. Whatever place bears fruit, however, must have had seed sown on it. Like the parable of the seed, some seed fell on the road, some fell on the rocks, some among the weeds, but some fell on the good land, as is clearly shown in Matthew 13.

For this reason, someone who wants to be justified, who wants to preserve and strengthen faith in Christ should not sit in a corner and wait for heavenly revelations but should run to the place where God’s Word is preached to hear the holy Gospel with true devotion and the greatest diligence. We hear the Gospel at the worship service, and we give and devote ourselves to the Lord God and through the service, repent of our sin and obtain the grace of God. But the preaching of the Gospel is the service of God, not something we give God, but rather something by which God gives his gifts. Therefore, we should consider the message of the sermon and the fruit of hearing the Gospel. For it is not enough for someone to sit during the sermon and give his mind over to thoughts of the field or the market. Rather, he should bring a pondering soul and heart so that the Holy Ghost has the heart to work on and pours out faith. For the one who uses the sermon well and takes faith from it is not the one who hears it more often, but rather the one who listens with diligence and attention. As we have shown beforehand, it is necessary for us to hear the Ten Commandments or the Law of God so that we sorrow and repent of our sin, and it is necessary to hear the holy Gospel of Christ so that we have faith in Christ and through that faith be finished with sin. For whoever despises preaching and stands like a donkey without diligence and attention does not have true Christian repentance. He is not considered righteous before God but rather remains in his sins, and if he does not do something about it, he will be eternally damned and lost.

Therefore we have properly looked at the two noblest parts of Christian repentance—first that one recognizes sin and avoids it. Second, that one has knowledge, repentance and sorrow over sin and believes in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In this way, Christ’s piety, righteousness, and eternal life become our own. In order that we can have such faith and trust in Christ, we should with diligence hear the preaching of the Gospel. Lord willing, we will discuss another part of repentance in our next sermon.

  • 1. The designation “Holy Virgin Mary” may sound somewhat distasteful to Wisconsin Synod ears but was the common way of speaking at the time of the early Lutherans. Furthermore, the term is correct in the sense that Brenz hear meant it: all believers are saints through Christ and are therefore holy.