What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 2
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…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 11:1 & 6).
Faith by its very nature has to do with unseen realities. Realities that are outside of us and beyond us. Nowhere else is this more true than in the matter of our salvation through the gospel. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to receive and rest in a salvation that has been worked out outside of us, apart from us and in spite of us. I find the F.A.I.T.H. acronym below is helpful in this regard:
This is essentially what happens or what needs to happen for the sinner to receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Everything must be forsaken! The sinner must turn away from his sins and his supposed righteousness and embrace Christ alone for salvation. He must rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice for sin on the cross. That is what is meant by saving faith! Remember our definition from Q & A 86 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.” But we must also note that this faith is given to us as a gift from our gracious God and Savior. What saves us is not our faith (our act of believing), but God who gives us that faith and offers us eternal life in Jesus’ Name. Thus faith is only but the hand (or channel) by which we receive God’s salvation. I like what Alistair Begg once said in his sermon on Titus 3:3-7. He said:
This is one of the reasons that people hate the gospel. The average person if you tell them that they can go to heaven based on philanthropy or based on their endeavors in some way, they might actually step up for that. But if you tell them that the message of the Bible is that we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace and upon His goodness and that we contribute nothing to our salvation save the sin from which we need to be forgiven, they say, ‘Uuh, I don’t really like the sound of that.’
Our salvation is not based upon our act of believing, but rather on God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. We look away from ourselves to the perfect righteousness of Christ and His atoning death as the only sure basis for our salvation. As Begg further says, it’s “all of grace, all in Christ, all of faith, all of God.”
The 16th Century Reformers employed the following three Latin words to define and describe saving faith: Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia. I am not a Latin scholar and I am not trying to be one. So I will try to explain these terms in a layman’s language.
Notitia (Knowledge): This refers to the intellectual aspect of saving faith. Faith is not the antithesis of fact. Faith is based on historical, accurate and reliable information. Saving faith is not a blind leap into the dark as the Danish philosopher/theologian, Søren Kierkegaard said. One does not have to lose his mind to win God as Kierkegaard suggested. True, saving faith is founded on facts. True, saving faith is rational. B. B. Warfield, the old Princeton theologian was right when he said, “We do not believe even though it is irrational, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ because it is the most rational thing that we can do.” God, through His Word, has provided everything that we need to know in order to make a credible profession of faith in Him. Some of these facts include: the virgin birth of Christ; His sinless perfection; His duo nature (God & Man at the same time); His death; His resurrection; His ascent into heaven; His Second Coming, etc. For those of you who would like to explore this further, I recommend Tim Keller’s book, A Reason for God. In that book, Keller writes about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith. Among other things, he gives examples of former atheists who are now Christians because they examined the facts about the Christian Faith and found that it is credible and rational. C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity is also helpful in this regard. But one could have the right knowledge about Christ or the Christian faith and still not be saved. The second element (assensus) is necessary and it builds on the first (notitia):
Assensus (Assent): This refers to the emotional aspect of saving faith. At this stage, one is caught up in the facts of Christianity and personally acknowledges them to be true concerning himself. It’s like walking into a room and you see a box sitting in the corner of the room. The box contains a gift for you, but you don’t know that yet. You notice the box, you analyze it, but you have no personal attachment to it. It’s just another box. But when the owner of the house takes that box and gives it to you and says, “This is for you,” everything changes! You are now all of a sudden personally involved with the box. The gift remains impersonal until it has been given to you. You are not personally involved with it until it has been declared yours. So you take the facts about Christ and make them personal. You come to a point of saying: Christ’s virgin birth was for me; He lived a sinless life for me; He is God and became Man for me; He died for me, He rose again from the dead for me; He ascended into heaven for me; He is coming again for me; etc. It’s like the Psalmist saying in Psalm 56:9, “…This I know, that God is for me;” or Thomas saying to Christ in John 20:28, “My Lord and My God.” The Apostle Paul expresses this very clearly in Galatians 2:20 where he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Archibald Alexander (first principal and professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary) said of his conversion, that as he read more and more, his heart was hardened. Then he says, “I had a vision of the Crucified One as has never been paralleled in my experience. The grace of God came to me as clear as day and I understood, God accepted me.” He had personally come to believe that these things were true for him. But, a personal belief in all the right facts about Christ or Christianity is not enough to save anyone. The third aspect (fiducia) is also necessary and builds on the first two (notitia and assensus).
Fiducia (Trust): This refers to the volitional aspect of saving faith. Trust is a required, personal response to the truth claims of Christ and of Christianity. It’s an act of the will. Without it, everything that you believe remains outside of you. Until you trust in Christ, you are not born again, you are not going to heaven and you are not saved. Trust says, “I accept Jesus Christ; I give myself to Christ; I look to Him alone for my salvation; I accept God’s forgiveness and invite Him into my life.” If Christ is not living in you today, you are not a Christian. I have a friend who is so afraid to fly. The funny thing about him is that he works for Boeing. He actually has worked in the department that manufactures and services the parts of a plane. He knows how all the parts of a plane fit together so that it can go up in the air and be safe. But the problem is that he can’t trust any of the planes to fly him! Saving faith in Christ requires us to put our whole weight on Christ and trust that He will carry us through this life into a joyful eternity with God our Creator. It is faith, faith and faith from beginning to end! Without this third aspect of faith (trust), salvation is absolutely impossible. The rich young ruler (in Mark 10:17-22), knew the facts about Jesus Christ and the Christian Faith. He was even personally involved at some superficial level. But he stumbled and failed at this third and very important step. He could not get himself to “trust” the Lord Jesus Christ and forsake all that he had. His wealth was too precious to him. Christ was right there before Him. In Christ, was his only hope for salvation! Yet he missed it! At Christ’s words, his face fell and “he went away sad because he had great wealth.” May the Lord grant us the grace to trust Him alone for our salvation that we might truly “receive and rest in Christ alone as He is offered to us in the gospel.”
Forsaking All I Take Him
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7