The Christian and Saving Faith
We saw recently that the Christian is routinely described in the Bible as being a believer, he has a faith, he has a set of beliefs. This evening we are going to consider the nature of true faith, of saving faith. Indeed we are only interested in saving faith as all other types of faith will let us down sooner or later.
People like at times to joke about questions of faith and of belief – of course one way to avoid the seriousness of thinking about important matters is to make light of them. A good laugh and the whole question is disarmed – a bit like that child’s definition of faith as being "believing something you know isn’t true".
But saving faith is too important to laughed off or ignored. We must understand what is meant when we hear the expression and more than merely be informed as to what saving faith is we need to do all we can to make sure that we are in possession of the real deal.
We are at a milestone in church history. 500 hundred years ago the Protestant Reformation burst upon the scene in Europe when the monk Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg. That act which was the normal means of the day for triggering an academic debate within the existing church quickly became the trigger for something for more significant and wide-
Luther after years of agonizing over his own position and status before a holy God rediscovered the gospel truth that a man or a woman was to be justified (declared righteous before God) not on the grounds of the works he or she performed but by faith in what Christ had done for sinners. The strapline for this was "Justification by faith".
And so the Reformation was born.
You may know that this Protestant Reformation emphasised a number of key truths expressed as a series of 5 Latin slogans; these are the famous solas (onlys) of the reformation.
in Scripture alone
through faith alone
by grace alone
in Christ alone
to the glory of God alone
Slogans or sound-
This proved to be the case concerning the strapline “justification by faith alone”. Some ill-
It was necessary for genuine saving faith to be carefully explained. It remains as necessary for us now as it was for others then to know the truth about saving faith.
Saving faith is not to be equated with a simple acquiescence in the existence of certain things eg. that Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 + 54 BC.
This type of belief may concern a genuine fact or an error but whether or not I hold such a belief it does not have a profound influence on the way I live my life.
It is important to believe that Jesus died and rose again from the dead but knowing and believing that to be true is not saving faith.
According to Jas.2:19 the demons have this kind of "faith". They believe that God exists but this does not lead them to stop seeking to oppose him – the only effect on them is to make them tremble it does not save them in any way.
To believe, like them, that God exists but not to take any serious steps to seek to be reconciled to him is surely ludicrous. This kind of "faith" on its own has no benefit for the person who possesses it.
It may well be particularly difficult to distinguish such faith from genuine saving faith at least at the beginning. How can we recognise the real McCoy? Well simply put temporary faith does not produce any lasting fruit as it remains only a superficial adjunct or addition to the person’s life. Temporary faith involves no fundamental or profound change in the person concerned.
True saving faith is not a capacity inherent to man! Man is capable of historical faith and he is capable of temporary faith but he is totally incapable of producing saving faith within himself!
Now the natural man does not like to hear of such things and wants to argue. Tell a man what he must do and he is flattered in his natural pride but tell him of his incapacities and he is offended.
How do react to what I’m saying? Do you think this is unfair or impossible? Perhaps it makes you angry? But this is just what the Bible teaches:
So having seen some of things that are not be mistaken for real saving faith it is now time to turn more positively to consider what does constitute saving faith.
What then is true saving faith and how can we have it?
If as we’ve just said that saving faith is beyond man but comes from God as a gift we must be prepared to come to an end of ourselves and humble ourselves before Almighty God. He alone is able to grant us saving faith and happily this is what he loves to do.
Have you received this gift? Has your possession of it turned your life upside down and inside out? Such is the nature of saving faith – the old passes away and all things become new:
2Cor.5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
If this is true of you then rejoice! Let your life be characterised by praise and thankfulness toward the God who has been so gracious to you.
But what if such faith is not yet yours? How does God grant us this saving faith?
Well once again the Bible is very clear on this point:
Rom.10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (or the word of God)."
God has determined that he will communicate faith to men and women, boys and girls as they hear his word. As we listen to his word he sends his Spirit and what seemed confusing, unclear and irrelevant becomes – sometimes suddenly sometimes gradually – clear and obvious! As J.B. Phillips the Bible translator put it the Bible message has the ring of truth to it. It sounds right. It fits with our experience of reality. Its explanations correspond with things as we see them and the solutions proposed satisfy us.
So we must listen to the Word of God, read and preached. This Word of God is the word that proclaims the absolute centrality of our Lord and Saviour Jesus-
Saving faith is a lively faith and a faith that transforms. It is a faith that understands and believes certain things being convinced of their truthfulness and reliability. Saving faith also crucially includes the idea of trust. Not only do we believe certain things that we maybe didn’t believe before but we count upon then, we build our lives upon them.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
In first place man’s intellect is spoken to. Real faith involves believing in certain very precise truths – biblical faith is never vague. The believer may not be able to explain in detail every aspect of the articles of faith but he is nevertheless persuaded of their truthfulness. At the same time he is persuaded that these truths are pertinent to the way he must lead his life in relation to God and his fellow man.
The early reformers insisted upon these two elements as essential ingredients of saving faith. They maintained that a person firstly had to know certain things and then secondly he had to be convinced that these things were indeed true.
While it is important not to require too detailed an understanding of the Christian faith before a person can be deemed to be a Christian it is perhaps spiritually unhealthy to focus all one’s attention upon what might be considered a strict minimum of those things that are to be believed. Surely no true Christian will be satisfied with the barest essentials but will want to know as much as he possibly can! Having said that for Christian faith to be genuine the following must surely be understood in some measure and embraced as true before a person can be called a Christian:
That God exists and is holy, honest, good and just
That man is a sinner and thus incapable of saving himself
That the Lord Jesus-
Such faith will not leave us emotionally indifferent either. While the Christian must never be defined in terms of emotionalism neither is he to be seen as just a brain. The true Christian faith always has a greater or lesser effect upon our emotions. The heart – the centre of our whole being and the seat of our emotional life – is not, and cannot be, left unaffected by the wonderful truths believed!
This truth we find repeated in variety of ways:
1Jn.4:19 "We love because he first loved us."
1Thess. 2:13 "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers."
True saving faith informs the mind, touches the emotions and thirdly engages man’s will or volition.
The believer is not content to adhere to certain articles of faith and nor does he wish to stop with some kind of sentimental experience! No! He wants to go on to action, to respond appropriately to such love, to such mercy, to such grace and compassion!
The first effect of true saving faith on the will of a believer will be that he calls on the name of the Lord to be saved!
Rom.10:13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
James summed it up this way:
James 2:26 "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."
The book of Hebrews contains perhaps the most famous chapter in the Bible that talks about faith, ch.11.
Heb.11:13 (NIV) "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth."
Illustration: Blondin and the Niagara Falls
"On June 30, 1859, Charles Blondin became the first man in history to walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls. 25,000+ watched him cross without a net or safety harness of any kind. The slightest slip would prove fatal. When he safely reached the Canadian side, the crowd burst into a mighty roar.
In the days that followed, he crossed the Falls many times. Once he walked across on stilts and once he pushed a wheelbarrow across loaded with 350 pounds of cement. On another occasion he asked the cheering spectators if they thought he could push a man across sitting in a wheelbarrow. A mighty roar of approval rose from the crowd. Spying a man cheering loudly, he asked, "Sir, do you think I could safely carry you across in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes, of course." "Get in," the Great Blondin replied with a smile.
But the man refused."
You see, it’s one thing to believe a man can walk across by himself and it’s another thing to believe he could safely carry you across. But it’s something else entirely to get into the wheelbarrow yourself!
It’s not enough to believe that Christ theoretically could save you. Until you "get in the wheelbarrow" and trust all to him, you are not saved."
All true faith leads us to count upon the Lord and Saviour Jesus-
Does this describe you?
If it doesn’t yet then I must warn you that whatever you have it is not the saving faith that characterises the believer as he described in the Scriptures.
Don’t fool yourself but listen to the Word of God, repent of your self-
If it does describe you then rejoice. Press on to discover more and more – indeed as much as you can – about God’s wonderful plan of salvation and the Saviour who stands at the heart of that plan. And go on and on and on trusting because it is not beginning that counts it is those who persevere to the end who shall be saved. May we all be included in that number.
To God be the glory!