Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



Saving Faith

As has already been mentioned, while repentance is antecedent to saving faith and essential to it, faith is the one and only final condition for salvation. While there is much that surrounds faith, by faith and faith alone are we saved and without it all the rest is of no avail.

By saving faith is not meant some particular kind of faith, but faith in one particular direction and for one object i.e. salvation. To assist us in our thinking it will be as well to divide the subject into three main sections,

  1. The Nature of Faith Generally.
  2. The Nature of Saving Faith.
  3. Faith in Christian Life and Experience.

a. The Nature of Faith Generally

Faith from a natural point of view is part of human life as it is in the world in which we live and life would be impossible without it. It means the acceptance of facts as true on the evidence or authority of another, and also the acceptance of persons as reliable.

What we are considering here, however, is Christian faith and this refers to reliance and trust in God and His revelation. Its meaning can be gathered from the words used in Scripture and the way they are used. The heart of the meaning of the word used in the Old Testament is reliance upon Jehovah.

Dr. Oehler defines the Old Testament conception of faith as "the act of making the heart firm, steadfast and sure in Jehovah." Other words used also have as their root meaning "to flee for refuge to". In the New Testament the word has close connection with "persuasion" and means "to be persuaded" that the object of faith is "trustworthy".

From all the various words used for faith in the different languages the meaning is clearly "confidence in", "a resting securely upon". Wiley sums up well as follows:- "But the comprehensive meaning of faith must ever be trust, that which sustains our expectations and never disappoints us. It is therefore opposed to all that is false, unreal, deceptive, empty and worthless."

Four points should be noted concerning faith:-

  1. Antecedent knowledge to some degree is necessary to the exercise of faith. We cannot have faith in that of which we have never heard or of which we know nothing.
  2. We must have sufficient evidence of some kind for our faith, whether it be real evidence or supposed.
  3. The amount to which our emotions and will are stirred will depend on the degree of importance attached to that in which we are believing. This is where the deceitfulness of sin has its power. Supposed evidence is produced and false judgments are made.    
  4. Faith has degrees and these not merely in the amount of apprehension but in the strength of the faith. See for this, Matt. 6:30; 15:28; Rom. 14:1; 2 Thess. 1:3; Luke 17:5.

Before closing the subject of faith generally it is worth considering the one clear definition of faith the Scriptures contain. Illustrations of faith abound but Hebrews 11:1 is the only actual definition. Faith is more easily illustrated than defined. The A.V. renders the verse, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". The R.V. has, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen".

Weymouth renders, "Faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see". The two important words around which everything centres are "substance" and "evidence".

The word for "substance" in all its various meanings has always the idea of something placed beneath, a foundation or basis. It is often used in business transactions and Milligan has rendered "title deeds", in other words that which assures us of what is to come.
The meaning of the word here, therefore, is confidence, confident assurance, certain assurance.

The other word "evidence" has to do with proving, conviction arising from evidence accepted. Probably, therefore, the R.V. "proving" is better. Evidence, as Campbell Morgan points out, is proof offered, proving is proof offered and accepted, thus we are convinced.

Campbell Morgan's summing up of his exposition of this verse is worth quoting in conclusion. "Faith, first, is a conviction of the reality of the unseen. Secondly, confidence that all the terms will be fulfilled, that the vision will be translated into victory. Faith enters that realm. Conviction of things not seen is the confidence of things hoped for. The conviction of the builder is the confidence that the city will be built. The conviction concerning the unseen realities is the confidence of the realisation of ideals."

b. The Nature of Saving Faith

Saving faith is faith directed towards our Lord Jesus Christ. It is personal faith in His Person, as a result of the enlightenment and work of the Holy Spirit in prevenient grace. The following are three statements as to the nature of saving faith.

  1. John Wesley - "Faith is a divine evidence and conviction not only that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, but also that Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me.
  2. Watson - "The faith in Christ, which in the New Testament is connected with salvation is clearly of this nature; that is, it combines assent with reliance, belief with trust."
  3. Dr. Pope - "Faith as the instrument of appropriating salvation is a divinely wrought belief in the record concerning Christ and trust in His Person as a personal Saviour, these two being one."

As with faith generally, there are one or two points to be noticed concerning saving faith.

(i) In saving faith, as in repentance, there is a divine and a human side. While faith is a "gift of God" and a "Divinely wrought belief", this does not mean that man has nothing to do in it at all. Just as the power to walk and the power to see are gifts from God, and yet we have to use these gifts otherwise we neither walk nor see, so it is with faith.

Adam Clarke states this excellently - "Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace and power to believe and the act of believing are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man's own.

God never believes for any man any more than He repents for him; the penitent, through His grace enabling, believes for himself; nor does he believe neeessarily or impulsively when he has that power; the power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else, why the solemn warnings with which we meet everywhere in the Word of God, and threatenings against those who do not believe?

Is not this a proof that such persons have the power, but do not use it? They believe not, and therefore are not established. This, therefore, is the true state of the case; God gives the power, man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God: without the power no man can believe; with it any man may. (Christian Theology pp.135,136.)

(ii) Saving faith involves the action of man's entire being. It is not merely an intellectual belief, an assent of the mind to saving truth. Neither is it merely the stirring of the emotions at divine truth; nor is it only the action of the will toward moral renovation.

Saving faith is the whole man casting himself in utter confidence on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, including the assent of the mind to the truth of God, the stirring of the emotions toward the Lord Jesus Christ in a sense of need and desire and the determined act of the will surrendering to the claims of Jesus Christ.

Saving faith is the "yes" of the soul to the central position of Christianity which includes the fact of man's lost condition, of Christ's atoning work on his behalf and man's utter helplessness apart from the work of Christ.

(iii) Saving faith is based upon the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God. It is this which reveals Jesus Christ and His atoning work for us and almost invariably it is through the Word of God, quickened and applied by the Holy Spirit, that faith is kindled and exercised.

c. Saving Faith and Good Works

There has been a great deal of unprofitable discussion concerning good works as if works were always and at any time an abomination to God. The clear teaching of the Scriptures is that saving faith and good works are vitally related the one to another.

While it is quite true that no amount of good works can have any merit by which to obtain salvation, yet it is utterly unscriptural and erroneous to maintain that there can be saving faith without good works, even before that faith has actually touched God and brought salvation to the soul.

As Fletcher points out, are not repentance, seeking God, forsaking our evil way, ceasing to do evil and learning to do good and many other like things which the Bible commands, good works. Then after salvation, faith becomes the law of the Christian's being and good works flow naturally from it.

"Although good works which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit." (Wesley). Thus faith and works are closely interrelated like breathing, the beat of the heart and the flow of the blood.

  1. Dr.Pope in his "Higher Catechism" explains the relation of faith and works in this way:-
    (i) Faith is opposed to works as meritorious, and the formula is: "A man is not justified by works of law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ". (Gal. 3:16).
  2. (ii) Faith lives only in its works, and the formula is: "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).
  3. (iii) Faith is justified and approved by works, and the formula is: "I will show thee my faith by my works". (James 2:18).
  4. (iv) Faith is perfected in works, and the formula is: "By works was faith made perfect". (James 2:22)."

d. Faith in Christian Life and Experience

The faith by which we are saved becomes the law of the Christian's being, "the initial act becomes the permanent attitude of the regenerate man" (Col. 2:6,7). As he was saved by faith, so the Christian can only continue to live the regenerate life by faith.

This faith works by love (Gal. 5:6) and is one of the fruits of the Spirit and as such is the quality of the regenerate life. It is also one of the gifts of the Spirit. As such it is given for the accomplishment of particular things for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom.

< back to previous page >

©2008 Church Education Trust