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FACT, FAITH, AND EXPERIENCE
In the present age of grace, everything is "by grace" (Eph. 2:8). Everything being by grace means that everything is done by God. Man does not have to do anything to be saved because "to the one who works, his wages are not accounted according to grace, but according to what is due" (Rom. 4:4). Because God deals with man according to grace, there are certain facts.
God has accomplished everything for man. Since everything has been accomplished, certain "facts" exist. And since they are existing "facts," man does not have to accomplish what has already been accomplished. All of God's works are complete.
However, God's grace is a righteous grace. This is why, with the "facts," there is still the need for human cooperation. What kind of cooperation is this? It is not to add anything to what He has finished, but to have man acknowledge that what God has done is real. This is faith.
Faith is to acknowledge that what God has said and done is true. Faith is to accept the facts, that is, to acknowledge them as facts.
Faith is a "cashing in." I use the words "cashing in" in the sense of one cashing a check at the bank. Suppose someone gives you a check. That the bank has the money is a fact. For you to cash the check for money is to acknowledge the fact that the bank possesses whatever amount is written on the check. It takes faith to "cash in." With faith, one can cash in and thereby have the money to use. Now, to spend the money is the "experience." To have the money in the bank is the "fact," to cash the check is "faith," and to spend the money is "experience." In God's grace, what He has done for man are facts. But man must still experience these facts.
To experience God's grace is to claim by faith the facts that God has accomplished for man. These facts are accomplished by God. What man needs is faith. The facts belong to God, and the experience belongs to man. Thus, faith is God's facts becoming man's experience. What the Bible shows us is simply "fact, faith, and experience."
We know that the Lord Jesus is the Word become flesh. He is the consummation of all divine virtues and the grand total of all perfections. His living is God's living, for He is God Himself. Christ has accomplished salvation on the cross. All those who sincerely accept the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior, at the moment they believe, God accepts them as He accepted the Lord Jesus. At that time, all the divine virtues and accomplishments of the Lord Jesus come upon the believers. In God's view and before God, they are the same as the Lord Jesus. God sees every Christian as He sees Christ. Christians possess all of Christ's work and accomplishments through their union with Him. This is the "fact" that the Christians have been given by God. This fact was accomplished by Christ for the Christians. This fact is that through the believers' union with the Lord Jesus, everything that belongs to Christ now belongs to His believers also. This is a fact that has been accomplished by God alone; the believers themselves have no share whatever in its accomplishment.
The Bible points out this fact very clearly. The writer of the book of Hebrews uses a particularly simple illustration to point out God's accomplished fact for us. In 9:15-17 what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us is illustrated by a person's making of a will. A will is a promise of "inheritance" to those who receive the will. But before the one who makes the will dies, the will is not effective. Once the person dies, the recipients of the will can receive the inheritance left by the one who made the will. The Lord Jesus is the One who made the will. He has died. Hence, all that He has promised goes immediately under our name. This is the fact that we have received from Him. Although we may not take possession of the inheritance all at once or enjoy the benefit and sustenance from the inheritance, yet the inheritance is indeed ours; it belongs to us and is under our name already. This is an immovable fact. To have the inheritance is one thing; to enjoy the inheritance is another. The ownership of the inheritance is the "fact," and the enjoyment of the inheritance is the "experience." We have the fact of owning the inheritance, not because of ourselves, but because of the One who has left the will. The possession of the fact comes first. The enjoyment comes afterward.
The teaching of this illustration is very simple. The Lord Jesus has died and has given to us all His righteousnesses, divine virtues, perfections, victories, beauties, and so forth. By these we become the same as He is before God, and God accepts us in the same way that He accepts the Lord. This is what He has given to us. These things are facts from the moment we become Christians. As far as the fact goes, we are already as perfect as the Lord Jesus. But as far as experience goes, we may not be this way. The meaning of this "fact" is none other than the grace that God has given to us and accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus. This grace has been given to us through our union with the Son of God. It is possible for us to have the fact of inheriting the inheritance without having the experience of enjoying the inheritance. There is a big difference between fact and experience. Many believers are very rich in fact because everything that is God's is theirs. However, in experience they are the poorest because they do not practically use and enjoy their riches. The older son in Luke 15 is a good example of this condition. As far as the fact goes, he was the child who was "always with me, and all that is mine is yours" (v. 31). But as far as experience goes, he never had "a goat that I might be merry with my friends" (v. 29). He was the son of a rich man. This was his position, a fact. Yet it was possible for him not to have enjoyed even a goat. This was his condition, his experience.
We should be very clear concerning the distinction between the fact and the experience. These two things are two different aspects. In the first case, it is what God has accomplished for us; it is the position that God has given to us. In the second case, it is what we practice; it is our enjoyment of what God has given to us. At present, believers tend to go to the extreme. Some (actually the majority) do not know the riches they have in the Lord Jesus. They do not know that everything that the Lord Jesus has accomplished is theirs already. They plan and scheme to secure grace. They try to work out all kinds of righteousnesses by their own strength in order to meet God's demand and satisfy the inclination of their new life. Others (not a few) think that they understand God's grace all too well. They think that the Lord Jesus has already exalted them to a matchless position. They are satisfied already and do not seek to put into practice experientially the grace that they have received from the Lord Jesus. Both kinds of people are wrong. Those who pay attention to experience and forget the facts are bound by the law. Those who pay attention to the facts and despise experience take grace as an excuse for indulgence. On the one hand, a Christian should understand through the Scriptures his lofty position in the Lord Jesus. On the other hand, he should examine under God's light whether or not his walk matches the grace of his calling.
God has placed us in a most lofty position. Through our union with the Lord Jesus, all of the Lord's accomplishments and victories are ours. This is our position in fact. The question now is how we can experience all of the Lord Jesus' accomplishments and victories. Between the fact and the experience, that is, before the fact can be turned into experience, before God's accomplishment can be turned into man's practice, there is still the step of faith.
This step of faith is nothing other than the "utilization" or "management" of the inheritance. The Lord has left us a will. He has died, and the will is now in effect. We should no longer hold an indifferent or unconcerned attitude. Instead we should rise up to "utilize" the inheritance that we have received so that we can enjoy, or experience, the blessing of the inheritance. We are God's children already. All that God has is now ours (1 Cor. 3:21-23). We should not be like the older son who vainly possessed the promises without entering into the enjoyment of them. Due to his foolishness and unbelief, he did not ask nor did he utilize. Hence, he did not have anything. If he would have asked to exercise his right as a son, he would have had not just one goat but thousands upon thousands of them!
What we need now is nothing other than the utilization by faith of what God has promised to us; we should "cash in" by faith what God has prepared for us in the Lord Jesus. For the one who is to inherit a will, there are two things he has to do before he can enjoy and experience the inheritance. First, he has to believe that there is an inheritance. Second, he has to rise wholeheartedly to manage this inheritance. Of course, if one does not believe that there is an inheritance, he will not rise up to manage it. Therefore, we must first acknowledge that God has indeed made the Lord Jesus our "wisdom...righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30), that all of the Lord's accomplishments and victories are our accomplishments and victories. If we do not have this faith, not only can we never expect any spiritual experiences, but we are sinning against God and doubting His work! Second, those in the world manage an inheritance with their physical strength. But for us to manage our spiritual inheritance, we have to use our spiritual strength, which is faith. As this spiritual inheritance is already ours, we must advance one step further by faith to "cash in," to utilize, and to manage our inheritance in the Lord Jesus.
In the Old Testament we see another instance which can adequately show us the relationship between fact, faith, and experience. This is the history of the Israelites entering Canaan. In the old days, God promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites. He mentioned this to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and even to the tens of thousands of people who left Egypt. To God, the land was already given. God promised to fight for them and that they would overcome all their enemies. It was a fact that God had given the land and the peoples of Canaan to the Israelites already. Although the fact was there, they did not yet have the experience. As far as the fact was concerned, the land was theirs already, yet in experience they still did not own an inch of it. This is why they had to "go up at once and possess it," for they were "well able to prevail" (Num. 13:30). However, due to their unbelief, despite the fact that God had given them the land, they were not able to possess it in experience. After one generation, God told Joshua, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses" (Josh. 1:3). They were to inherit the land that God had given them with the soles of their feet. Later when they went up, they inherited the land.
This shows us the secret of substantiating the perfection of Christ. God has already given us what Christ "is," "has," and "has done"; they are all ours already. Now what we have to do is to experience all that He is, has, and has done. There is no other way to experience all this except to acknowledge that Canaan is good; if we will realize every inch of God's land with the soles of our feet, we will indeed find ourselves inheriting the land that God has given to us. God gives; we believe and receive. This is fact, faith, and experience.
Facts are God's promises, His redemption, His works, and His free gifts.
Faith denotes the way man believes in God, trusts in His work and redemption, and claims His promises. It is a kind of working and attitude through which God's facts are transformed into man's experience.
Experience is the proper living of the believers, which they secure through believing in God. It is the expression of the life of Christ practiced in the believers' living. Experience is the realization of all Christ's accomplishments and victories. It is the practical application, manifestation, and living out of God's facts. The histories of all the saints recorded in the Bible belong to this category.
Not only those who are teachers but all believers should know the interrelationship of these three: fact, faith, and experience. Otherwise, they will be confused in their living and in their teachings. Furthermore, they will find many contradictions and apparent disagreements in their reading of the Bible.
I am afraid that up to this point I have still not presented the scriptural teachings in a clear way. For this reason, I want to present a few great doctrines in the Bible as proofs.
We Christians have believed in the substitutional death of the Lord Jesus and have experienced the effect of His redemption. Redemption is an experience for the sinners; we Christians have already been redeemed. For us, redemption is a past experience. It seems as if we have no need to speak of it anymore. Yet for the sake of illustrating the relationship between these three things—fact, faith, and experience—and in order to show us their continuity and importance, I will first use as an example an experience that we have already had.
Redemption is a very great doctrine. It is something that we should understand. The redemption of our Lord Jesus is for the whole world. We have the following verses to prove this point:
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).
He Himself is the propitiation...for those of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
Who gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6).
The Savior of all men (1 Tim. 4:10).
After reading these verses, we can see that the redemption of Jesus is for the whole world. Hence, it is possible for everyone in the world to be saved. The Lord's redemption is an accomplished fact.
However, the Bible tells us that not everyone in the world is saved. If a man does not understand the teaching concerning "faith," he may think that whether or not a man believes in the Lord's vicarious death, he is saved anyway. It seems to him that since Jesus has died for the whole world, the whole world need not die anymore, and there is no need to be concerned if one believes or not. This may seem very reasonable, but actually it is very unreasonable, for this would absolve sinners of all their responsibilities. If this were the case, there would no longer be the need for believers to preach the gospel.
Although the Bible says that Christ has died for the world, it also says that those who believe will be saved. The following Scriptures testify to this:
That every one who believes... (John 3:15).
He who believes into Him...; he who does not believe... (John 3:18).
Believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).
Through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe (Rom. 3:22).
Him who is of the faith of Jesus (Rom. 3:26).
Your sins have been forgiven you because of His name (1 John 2:12).
We can quote many more Scriptures, but the above verses are sufficient to prove that a man has to believe. This means that although Christ has died for the world, the world must still apply His death and reckon it their own death. Otherwise, the death of Christ will have nothing to do with them. Although the Scripture says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," the Bible does not stop here. Following this it says, "That every one who believes into Him would not perish, but would have eternal life." First Timothy 4:10 says, "The living God, who is the Savior of all men." God sent His Son into the world to die for men. Hence, He is able to be the Savior of all men. He is the "Savior..., especially of those who believe." These are the ones who have believed.
After believing, there must be the experience. If one believes in God's fact, there surely must be the experience of the fact. Please consider the following Scriptures:
He who believes into Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe has been condemned already (John 3:18).
He who...believes...has eternal life (John 5:24).
Every one who believes into Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16).
Justified out of faith (Rom. 5:1).
Hence, when man believes that the salvation God has prepared for him is a fact, and when he applies this salvation, he is saved.
DYING WITH THE LORD
Let us now explain the matter of fact, faith, and experience in relation to our dying with the Lord. It is just as important for believers to know the matter of dying with the Lord as it is for sinners to know the matter of redemption.
Fact: When Christ died on the cross, not only did He die for the sinners, but the sinners died in Him as well. He not only died for sins, but He brought death to the sinners as well. It is a fact in God that the sinners have died with Jesus on the cross. The following Scriptures prove this:
One died for all, therefore all died (2 Cor. 5:14).
Knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6).
We who have died to sin (Rom. 6:2).
After seeing these few verses, we can realize that in God's view the believers have been crucified with Christ on the cross already. When a believer is not aware of this fact, he will try to crucify himself day after day and will find that no matter how much he tries, he does not die. Little does he realize that we are dead in Christ already. We should not try to crucify ourselves; rather, we should apply His death by faith and reckon His death as our death. Baptism is the demonstration and acknowledgement of faith. It both demonstrates and acknowledges the fact. Romans 6:3 says, "Baptized into His death." "Baptism into His death" (v. 4) is the demonstration and acknowledgement of our application through faith of this death.
We are dead, we have been crucified with Him, and our death and our crucifixion with Him are facts, yet the Word of God goes on to charge us to "reckon [ourselves] to be dead to sin" (Rom. 6:11). Reckoning is an act of faith. We do not consider ourselves dead, because we cannot consider ourselves dead. We may try to consider ourselves dead day and night, but how can one actually consider himself dead? The more we consider in this way, the more we will realize that we are alive and that we are capable of and even prone to sinning. The only way is for us to "reckon" ourselves dead in Christ. Christ's death is our death. If we have this faith, we will have the experience of dying with the Lord. In the Bible, Paul is a good pattern of a person who had the experience of dying with the Lord. He said, "The cross...through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). He also said, "To know...the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10). Again he said, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). If a believer is to have the experience—the life experience—of dying with the Lord, he cannot do so by his own methods. He must take God's way, the way of fact, faith, and experience.
It is a fact that the believers have been crucified with Christ on the cross. Do you believe this fact? Are you willing to accept this fact and to reckon yourselves dead? If you believe, you will have the same experience of dying with the Lord that Paul had.
All of the teachings in the Bible concerning God's way of dealing with man follow the order of three things: fact, faith, and experience. All that God has done is perfect. The way He deals with the world is to accomplish all the works on behalf of the world, so that they will not need to use any human ways, but rather, receive and claim by faith alone. Since God deals with man in grace at present, He does not need any work from man (Rom. 4:4). The same principle applies to crucial doctrines such as "sanctification" and "victory."
Sanctification is not a work of our own. Sanctification is accomplished for us by God. The Bible says, "That He might sanctify the people through His own blood" (Heb. 13:12). "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (10:14). Sanctification is an accomplished fact. Since Jesus has died, we are all sanctified. Nevertheless, 1 Peter 1:16 charges us to be "holy." Why does it charge us in this way? The reason is that though believers are sanctified, this sanctification is merely a fact with God; it is not yet an experience in the believers' lives. In order for one to be sanctified, he has to apply the sanctification accomplished through the death of Jesus, taking this as his sanctification. Only then will he live a sanctified life.
VICTORY OVER THE WORLD
Concerning victory over the world, the same thing applies. First, there is the accomplished work of Christ, which is God's fact. Jesus says, "I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Second, there is our faith, for "the victory which has overcome the world [is] our faith" (1 John 5:4). When a man claims the victory of Christ as his victory, he overcomes the world. This is an experience in life that comes after we have believed. Facts are works of God; faith is our trust in God's works; while experience is the spiritual encounters in our life. Not only does sanctification follow this principle; many other major doctrines concerning God's way with man also follow this principle.
All of God's facts are God's own works; they do not come from man's struggle. God's facts, such as sanctification and victory, cannot be accomplished by the believers' prayer, work, self-denial, holiness, charitable donations, or planning. God's facts are accomplished by God alone. God has entrusted all His enterprises to Christ. Only by faith can we appropriate these facts; there is no other way.
Let us now consider an example to see the great difference between God's fact and man's experience. According to God's fact, the church in Corinth was sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). It was the temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19). It had been washed (v. 11). Yet in experience, it was "altogether a defeat" for them, for they wronged and defrauded (vv. 7-8) and sinned against Christ (8:12). The reason for this is that they did not apply the grace (i.e., the fact) that God had prepared for them. The result was a loss. The high position that we have obtained in fact does not come through our self-effort, diligence, self-buffeting, or pretense. We do not obtain this practical experience by exerting our own effort. In order to experience the reality of the fact that God has prepared for us, all we need to do is exercise our faith to claim what the Lord has accomplished for us and to count it as our own. The perfect and genuine faith is that which daily acknowledges the works (i.e., facts) that the Lord has accomplished. The meaning of claiming is to acknowledge daily all that the Lord has accomplished for us, that is, to acknowledge that all these accomplishments are effective in us. Then, when temptation comes, we will live out these accomplishments as if we have already attained to the position (the fact) that the Lord has placed us in. If we do this, our experience will follow.
A believer who is high in spiritual achievement is not high in himself. Rather, it is his claiming that makes him high. The spiritual experiences of the believers are not isolated matters. This means that there is a basis to these experiences; they do not exist in themselves or evolve around themselves. The experience of the believers' spiritual life is fully based on the facts that God has accomplished for them. The facts are the basis, the experience is the accomplishment, and faith is the process. In other words, the facts are the cause, faith is the way, and experience is the result. The experience of the believers' spiritual life is just the end result, the final achievement. Before there can be any lofty spiritual life in the believers, there first must be the perfect work of the Lord Jesus as its wellspring. It is absolutely impossible for a believer to try to be sanctified, to overcome, or to die by his own effort. Sanctification, victory, death, and so forth do not come from self-effort. They come from: (1) acknowledging our sanctification, victory, and death to the self in the Lord Jesus Christ, and (2) practicing it by believing that one is joined to the Lord Jesus in life and that one will be as sanctified, victorious, and dead to the self as the Lord Jesus is. The Lord Jesus has already encountered every experience that we have and will have. To claim by faith is to reckon as ours all that the Lord Jesus has and to apply through an attitude and a conduct of faith all that we have counted as grace.
Here we must never forget the Holy Spirit. Why does God's fact become man's experience through his faith? It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit. When we believe in God's facts shown in the Bible and when we claim these facts, the Holy Spirit will apply to us all the graces that God has accomplished for us in Christ, making them real to us in our lives. In this way, they become our personal experiences. An acknowledging and claiming faith opens the door for the Holy Spirit to work and to apply in our lives all that the Lord Jesus has accomplished so that we will have the practical experience. The work of the Holy Spirit is based upon the facts of God. The Holy Spirit does not accomplish any fact for us; He only makes the things that have been accomplished real and living in our lives. God has accomplished all the facts in Christ. What we must do is acknowledge and claim these facts, trusting in the Holy Spirit to apply in our lives what God has accomplished so that we will have the spiritual experiences.