“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” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 86).
I thank the Lord for yet another opportunity to consider with you the important truths taught us in His Word on the gospel. Today (as promised yesterday), I plan to discuss the question: “What is saving faith?” While I will not be able to discuss this subject exhaustively, I do hope however that I will be able to do so sufficiently with the Lord’s help.
Common Faith vs Saving Faith: Before going any further, I would like to point out an important distinction which is implied in the question that I seek to discuss – namely, the distinction between common faith and saving faith. The very fact that we can ask this question suggests to us that there is a kind of faith which is not saving otherwise the question would be redundant and senseless. If all faith is saving, then there is no need to talk about “saving faith.” But the fact of the matter is that not all faith is saving. Therefore, it is very important that we delineate and distill the distinction between common and saving faith, as best as we can, under the faithful guidance of the Holy Scriptures.
Common faith is natural and dead. It does nothing for sinners and offers nothing to them. Saving faith however is supernatural and alive. It saves sinners by graciously offering them Jesus Christ through the gospel. Each one of us needs to stop and examine ourselves to see whether we have common or saving faith. Any cursory reading of the Scriptures warns us of the danger and deception of common faith. We read of many who “believed” but had no saving faith. Consider King Agrippa in Acts 26; or the hearers whom Christ compares to the rock in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6; or the multitudes who believed in the Name of Jesus when they saw the miracles which he performed in John 2:23, etc. Although it could be rightly said that these “believed,” the Bible says that “Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24).
Saving faith is different from common faith both in its nature and essence. According to 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” (Q & A 86). What a helpful definition and summary of what the Scriptures teach on saving faith! A close examination of the teaching of Scripture suggests to at least the following five things about saving faith:
Firstly, saving faith is intended for God’s elect. The LORD God has ordained from all eternity those who will be saved “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:1-14). These are the true subjects of saving faith. All of God’s elect have been chosen by God in Christ from the foundation of the world. Therefore, these will come to Him and find life in Jesus’ Name (Acts 13:48; John 6:37).
Secondly, saving faith is invoked by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works this faith in the hearts of God’s elect. The Bible tells us that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Saving faith is “the gift of God” given to those who were once spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of faith” in 2 Corinthians 4:13.
Thirdly, saving faith is inspired by the Word of God. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Word read or preached is by God’s appointment, the chief means by the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of His elect. He uses the Word to draw sinners to Himself for their salvation. A classic example of how this happens is recorded for us in Acts 16:14 concerning Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” This was most definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Fourthly, saving faith inclines one’s heart toward Christ. Saving faith is Christ-centered. It supernaturally bends one’s heart Christ-ward. By His Spirit, through the Word, the Lord God is pleased to open the eyes of His elect to His glory in Jesus Christ and He becomes their singular delight and passion. “…The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
Fifthly, saving faith initiates a lasting spiritual transformation in the life of the believer. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “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.” Also in Hebrews 12:14 we read, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Saving faith will necessarily and gradually produce holiness in the life of the believer. “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5:44; 1 Peter 1:16). Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…” I like what William Gurnall says on this:
Mark, not because He foresaw that they would be of themselves holy, but that they should be holy; this was that God resolved He would make them to be. Consider it is not necessary that thou shouldst be rich; but it is necessary thou shouldst be holy, if thou meanest to be happy. You may travel to heaven with never a penny in your purse, but not without holiness in your heart and life also.
Please look out for Part 2 of “What Constitutes Saving Faith?” tomorrow, Lord willing! Resting in Christ!