What is Saving Faith?


The Bible teaches that sinners are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

The moment I make this statement an array of emotions are invoked and people will line up to make the case that what I said is not true.  The reasons people think this statement is untrue can be narrowed down to two major lines of reasoning.

The first is the difficulty of people to grasp the scope of God’s love and ensuing grace. The idea that God would declare a wicked sinner not guilty, and then righteous, and give him eternal life and an inheritance in heaven just because he believed what God said in the gospel of Christ goes against every instinct of man. Such an idea is a scandal! Only the most naive would embrace such an idea! Surely sinful man must prove something to God before He can be approved.

I suggest the second, and larger problem is the common misunderstanding of what is meant by “faith“, especially “saving faith” in the Bible. A surprising number of people evidently believe that “believe” and “faith” are exactly the same in regard to salvation and have the most elementary meaning of each word in mind. It is common in our fellowship for a candidate for baptism to be asked “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?”  The problem is that believing that truth is not faith. Giving mental assent to some facts is not what the Bible means when it talks about “belief” or “faith“.

There are many places in the Bible that perfectly illustrates what genuine saving faith is. One of my favorites is found in Hebrews 6.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
(Hebrews 11:6)

Without faith it is impossible to please Him…”. Since this is true we need desperately to know what “faith” is. The remainder of the verse explains it clearly.

I suggest that biblical, saving faith has three components, and lacking any one makes what one believes less than what God demands. The second section of the verse says, “for whoever would draw near to God…

  • must believe that he exists”. Unfortunately this is as far as many people ever get. They believe a set of facts about God and about Jesus in much the same way we believe stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Believing that Jesus was actually a historical figure, and that he was called “The Son of God” is good but is only part of  what faith is. I can give mental assent to historical facts but I never have to depend upon those facts, or put my trust in one of those historical figures. When Jesus told Nicodemus he should believe on Him he meant to “rely on”, to “lean on”, or to “dependently trust” in Him. This is the most fundamental or basic component of faith, it is intellectual.
  • “and that he rewards” It is not enough to believe God exists, we must also believe he will act on our behalf. This is the emotional aspect of faith. This is the point where what you believe in your head starts to be embraced by your heart. Paul’s description in Romans 10 clearly shows this, v9 “believe with your heart” and v10 “For with the heart one believes and is justified“. When I say I believe something with all my heart it is more meaningful than just a fact I have accepted as true.
  • “those who seek him” This is when faith is complete. Those who are seeking are acting. Until what you know if your head is true and what you embrace in your heart is acted upon it is not saving faith. This is the aspect of faith I have called volitional. It requires an act of the will to do something. Looking once more at the familiar passage in Romans 10 you read in v9 “if you confess with your mouth” and in v10 “with the mouth one confesses and is saved“. A person hears about Jesus and believes he exists, they believe in their heart that he will do something for them, and they then tell someone. It is in this context Paul writes in v13”everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved“.

So then saving faith is intellectual, emotional, and volitional. Now it is easy to see that there is absolutely no tension between what Jesus and Paul taught and what James taught; “Faith without works is dead, being alone” A belief that stops short of surrendered obedience is too short to be biblical, saving faith. There are observable responses to the gospel. Going public with your faith by telling others (confession), reenacting the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, and a lifestyle of obedience to what you know to be what God wants of you are all observable and to some degree measurable. But none of these observable acts are worth a plug nickel if first there has not been the first two components of faith. Many, many people are trusting what they do (which are good and noble things) and are not depending on Christ alone. It is the outworking of that solitary dependent trust in him that matters for time and eternity.

Again and again Abraham is put forth as our example of a faithful and faith filled man. He “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”. Before he was circumcised, before Issac was conceived, before he took a step toward the place to where God would lead him, God declared him to be righteous. Let us not make the mistake of assigning human limitations to God who is unlimited. Do you not think God knew you, knew exactly what would would do on any given day, how you would sin, when you would hear the good news and respond? It is his foreknowledge that gives him the divine prerogative to justify a sinner in an instant who is yet to do those observable things. Now you will have to show me, and those to whom James wrote would have to show him (James 2:18), but God knows the beginning from the end.

The scriptures are very clear. Those who do not have the walk to match the talk are not Christians. Read 1 John. You will find over and over distinctions, a lifestyle of loving living by those who belong to God and are in Christ. They did not become Christians by doing those things, they do those things because they are in Christ. Because they have trusted him they love as he loved. 1 John 5 makes crystal clear that the division is made between the saved and lost by who believes on Christ and those who do not.

Are we saved by faith alone in Christ alone? Yes we are. But to affirm that statement we must know what is meant by “faith”. I hope this might help someone to understand better. Faith and works are not separated, they are always together in saving faith.

His peace,
Royce

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11 comments on “What is Saving Faith?

  1. Quote, “Many, many people are trusting what they do (which are good and noble things) and are not depending on Christ alone. It is the outworking of that solitary dependent trust in him that matters for time and eternity.”

    Mt: 9:20: And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
    21: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
    22: But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

    Jn: 15:7: If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
    Royce, you claim to have faith strong enough to save, It would seem that faith that heals would not be required to be more than faith that saves.
    When you become ill, do you go to church or a doctor? There are some who’s faith won’t let them be treated by a doctor, and some die for that faith, is your faith that strong, or is yours only strong enough for salvation?

    I’m afraid I don’t get your point.

    Royce

  2. That is a hard one. You know what happens. In my experience it goes something like this.

    “Are you saying you don’t have to do anything?”

    “Of course not, if you really believe and have faith you will do something.”

    “Oh, well then we agree….”

    They never seem to understand that there is a difference between “doing something because of what has been done for you ” and “doing something to get something.”

    When they hear you say you do something they stop listening. There is a big difference between the response of faith and the attempt to receive. If only it was understood.

    I pray that your explanation help those who don’t understand this.

  3. Without faith that commits to Christ there is no salvation. Deep seated committment brought as a result of faith brings salvation. The pledge of my life to Christ will always result in my seeking after the Lord. Salvation is more than a formula. Salvation comes as a result of deep seated faith in Christ.

  4. An excellent blog!

    “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.”

    The same three elements of faith are present here: 1) Intellectual – “I know whom….” 2) Emotional – “I am persuaded that he is able.” 3) Volitional – “I have committed unto him.”

    Thank you for this insight.

  5. Royce I see where what I said might be a little confusing, but lets take another avenue. Using one of your favorites.
    “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
    (Hebrews 11:6)

    and the one I quoted; Mt: 9:20: And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
    21: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
    22: But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

    Royce, who initiated the interaction, we have to seek him, as is said in Hebrews, he does not seek us out as individuals. We have to take the first step.

    Laymond,

    I don’t know where you got that idea but it was not from the Bible.

    Romans 3:9-12 “9What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,as it is written:

    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

    Romans 10:20 “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

    “I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

    Acts 11:18 “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

    These are only a few verses that teach the exact opposite of what you are saying. Sinners are not looking for God, He is looking for them. Should I mention God’s calling, choosing, and drawing sinners to himself?

    I don’t know what anyone’s motive would be for trying to make sinful man more than he is without Christ, a dreadful, wicked sinner. That is God’s definition not mine. Was it God who took the first step or Saul of Tarsus? Over and over in the Bible the story of God seeking out sinners is clear and not hard to miss.

    If a man is saved God saved him. It is just that plain.

    Royce

  6. I do not understand how any human being can “know” exactly how this works.

    On the one hand “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” as it says in Romans.

    On the other hand in Matthew 25:31 +, the parable of separation of the Sheep from the Goats is all about works….

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    It sounds to me that there were surprised persons on both sides of the separation.

    Since we are not the ones to do the separating, then maybe it is not for us to know.

    What I believe is at best an opinion. No matter what I do, or how much faith I can muster, I am no better than the tax collector in Luke 18 :13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

    I hope for the result that was his…

    14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Dan,

    1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

    1 John 5:20-21 20And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

    1st John is a whole book about KNOWING. The idea that we can’t know is just plain wrong.

    Royce

  7. Lk:13:24: Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.”

    I believe this is saying, no one is righteous, because they don’t seek God.

    Mt:6:33: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    Mt:7:7: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
    Mt:13:45: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

    Just a few which say we are to seek. in order to find.

    Laymond,

    I know you have your mind made up. You refuse to accept God’s grace but want to have a bit of grace and a bit of works which is unscriptural.

    These verses from Matthew have nothing to do with my post, “Saving Faith”, or about how a sinner is saved.

    Matthew 6 was addressed to those who were followers of Jesus, not unbelievers.

    The Matthew 7 reference was a teaching on prayer not on salvation.

    In Matthew 13:45 the merchant man is God, not a sinner who is searching.

    Royce

  8. Royce said, ” If a man is saved God saved him. It is just that plain.”
    And I could not agree more, with that statement.
    That is the very reason man seeks God, if man could save himself he wouldn’t need God, but he can’t. But we do need to seek Jesus in order for him to recognize us before God. We have to want to be saved, accepted into the kingdom. God does not go seek one man over another, nor does he deny a man for no reason. Let’s take the parable of the wayward son, no the father did not go out and search for his son, but he longed for him, the son had to return to the father. If the son had not returned, he would have been lost, to his father. Royce God offered a gift, but it will do no good if we don’t first accept it. A closer relationship with God has to be initiated by man. No matter how we say it a covenant has two parties involved, it is not a contract without both participating. Yes man’s salvation is a contract between God and man, man will be rewarded “IF” .
    Mt:10:32: Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
    33: But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    Pretty plain to me it is a two way street.Laymond,

    One who is born from above will never deny Christ. A “make believer” will but not a “believer”.

    Concerning the covenent, it is an “eternal covenent” and Christ is the strength of it. If it depended on our doing good, our worth and work, it wouldn’t last one day. But it is an eternal covenent. “It is he who is in us both to will and to do his good pleasure”. That sounds to me as if God is in control, not me.

    Royce

  9. Royce said; ” In Matthew 13:45 the merchant man is God, not a sinner who is searching.”

    I still can’t believe it but he did! I am beginning to see just why Royce and I see things so differently. It is how we perceive what the bible says. I say the merchant refers to man , he said no it refers to God. maybe we need a third Christian to step in here, this is the verse in question.
    45: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

    In order to put vs 45 into context here we need to go to vs 44 to set up just what 45 is saying.

    44: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

    After reading 44, what do you think the reference “merchant” was referring to in 45.?
    I say the “Kingdom of Heaven ” is being compared to “hidden Treasure” and “goodly pearls” and there is no need for God to seek either, they belong to him already.
    The “Kingdom” is a precious thing, and all men should seek it.

    Laymond,

    We do see things very differently. I did not write the following but agree with it.
    These two parables are somewhat similar. There is a man and a treasure, and after he finds it, he goes and sells everything he has and buys the treasure. These two parables are universally thought to be positive parables, unlike the first four.

    We have already interpreted two of the symbols found in verse 44—”the field” and “the man.” We find in verse 37 that the one who sows good seed is “the son of man.” Wherever the term “man” shows up in these parables, it tends to mean “Christ.” The “Son of Man” is obviously Christ, and “man” in these two parables is also Christ. In verse 38, Jesus says the field is “the world.” In these parables, “treasure” is found in the world, and a “man,” Christ, is doing something with it.

    How is “treasure” used in Scripture? Obviously, the literal meaning of “treasure” is what first comes to mind: Jewels, gold, silver, other precious metals, art, and fine clothing would be considered “treasure.” But this is a parable, and a parable is metaphorical. The symbol must mean something other than just a jewel, a chest full of coins, or a collection of fine art. How is “treasure” used metaphorically in the Bible?

    In Exodus 19:5, God says that if Israel “will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.” Psalm 135:4 says, “The LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure.” Notice also Malachi 3:16-17:

    Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I make them My jewels.”

    The margin on “My jewels” is literally “special treasure.”

    We see the same thing in the New Testament. I Peter 2:9-10 says:

    But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

    Notice the progression of identity here. First, this “special treasure” was Israel, the one God made a covenant with on Mount Sinai. In the Psalms, He calls His “special treasure” specifically “Israel” and “Jacob.” In Malachi, God describes His “special treasure” as “those who fear His name” and “those who speak one to another” about His way. In I Peter 2 it is the elect are His “special people.” It has gone from “Israel,” to a little bit more general—”those who fear His name”—to specific again—”His special people, a holy nation.”

    In Matthew 13, the “treasure” is the church, which fits all of these descriptions. It is spiritual Israel, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The church is composed of those among all the people of the earth who truly fear His name. And because God called us out of the world separately and individually, the church is now a people who were not a people.

  10. Royce, I have read this chapter many times, looking for the explanation of the parable contained in vs 44, 45, 46. it seems to be the only one which Jesus did not see fit to explain.
    No I do not believe he was referring to himself as “a man” or a “merchant” I do believe he was saying when a sinner truly finds the treasure which he seeks , “The Kingdom” he will / should give up all else to keep that treasure.

    Since you hold that view, let me ask, what have you paid for that treasure? Good works?

    The only payment made for my salvation was the blood of Jesus.

    Royce

  11. Royce, I can’t name one single thing that I have done that qualifies me for such a reward. not one.
    But as your favorite verse says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
    (Hebrews 11:6)
    I do believe that God exists, and seek in my meager way to draw closer to him, through his Son Jesus Christ, and I believe and trust that Christ will do what he said. Because I do believe in God the Father, and trust in Christ the Son. I try in my meager inept way to do what they ask. and I know I fail miserably. but it is all I have to offer. I am not like many who say when asked do you know you are going to heaven, and they answer yes. My answer is no, but Jesus does, that is his decision, my job is to do the best I can to follow him, stumbling and falling all the way.

    I don’t know why anyone would want to stay here, if they knew they were going to be with Jesus. I have that “saving faith” in Jesus, but I’m not much to brag on.

    Laymond,

    God makes it clear that you can know for sure.

    “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

    I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:9-13)

    It is too plain to easily miss. If you have the Son you have eternal life because Jesus himself is the Life. And here God tells us how to get the Son too. It is my sincere hope that you find the peace of knowing you are safe in Christ.

    Royce

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