Chapter 14

Chapter 14
SAVING FAITH

1 The grace of faith (by which the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls) is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts.

The confession deals with salvation first from the perspective of the acts of God: effectual calling, justification, adoption and sanctification. We now come to take up man’s response to God’s work. Had we taken these subjects in logical order, the ordo salutis, the “order of salvation,” saving faith would have been discussed after effectual calling and regeneration. It is only after God has called those whom he has predestined and then given them new life that they are capable of exercising saving faith. Faith is not our contribution to the process that makes our salvation sure, it is like all other aspects of salvation a gift of God.

It is normally brought into being by the ministry of the Word.1 It is increased and strengthened by the ministry of the Word, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God.2

While saving faith is a gift, the Scriptural pattern reveals that it is not God’s practice to bestow it directly, that is, without the use of outward means. From what we see revealed in Scripture faith does not come through mystic visions or deep meditation. The way a person normally receives God’s gift of saving faith is through hearing the preached Word. We cannot say God cannot do this any other way, but it would be dangerous to pin our hopes on anything else. Once received, this faith can be increased and strengthened by means of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and other means revealed by God in Scripture. God has joined together these outward means and the inner graces, here faith, and what God has joined together we ought not try to separate. To act as though attendance at a church where the Word is faithfully taught, the ordinances properly administered and discipline rightly practiced is unimportant is not only to deprive ourselves of the means of strengthening our inner lives, it is to dangerously fool ourselves into believing we can do without what God says we greatly need. Where one lacks faith or has only a weak faith, he can be encouraged by the fact that God has established the means to remedy that problem, and it is our duty to diligently make use of those means.

2 By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word for it is the authority of God himself.

Faith in the first place is the conviction of the truth of the gospel that is revealed in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. This conviction begins with what is called in theological terms called notitia. The first part of faith is knowledge of God’s revealed truth. Faith that we hold to with all our heart and that shapes our whole life but that is not built on truth is not saving faith. We must know the Scriptural facts about God and the salvation he offers if we are to have saving faith. These facts include the glory of God seen in his measureless love, his great patience, his infinite power. They include also what we need to know about Jesus: his divine and human nature and his saving work as prophet, priest and king. In addition saving faith includes knowledge of the Holy Spirit and his work in bringing the objective work of Christ to bear on our lives as individuals. This means I recognize that the work of the Father that comes through the Son and is applied by the Spirit is not for mankind in general, but specifically for me. The second part of faith is called assensus, the conviction that the facts we have learned from Scripture about God and his salvation are true. It is the recognition that what the Bible teaches about Jesus as Savior dovetails perfectly with our deepest need as sinners.

We also perceive an excellency in the Word above all other writings and everything else in the world, because it shows forth the glory of God and his attributes, the excellency of Christ and his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his works and operations. So believers are enabled to trust implicitly the truth they have believed,3 and to respond appropriately to each particular passage in Scripture, yielding obedience to the commands,4 trembling at the threatenings,5 and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.6 But the principal acts of saving faith are those directly to do with Christ—accepting, receiving, and resting on him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.7

The third element of faith is fiducia, the belief that what the Bible says about God and salvation is true for me. By this aspect of faith we entrust our lives, both present and eternal, into the care of Jesus. Faith is not merely believing a set of propositions about the Savior, but trust in a person, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. “Faith is the believing abandonment of every hope and the consigning of our whole destiny into the hand of Jesus Christ” (Waldron, 186). Understood thus, faith is more than knowing certain facts about Jesus and salvation. It is more than being persuaded intellectually that these facts are true. (It is more than these things though it is not less.) Saving faith is a wholehearted conviction that what the Scripture says about my sin and Jesus as Savior is true, a conviction so deep that it leads me to abandon all hope that I might achieve salvation even in part by my own effort and depend entirely on Jesus for it.

When all three of these elements are included we can avoid many of the misconceptions some have about faith today. When we remember faith is notitia we know that those who call themselves believers but reject the great doctrines of creation, hell, the deity of Jesus, the atonement and the resurrection are not really believers. Faith is more than a mystical feeling. Faith as assensus is needed, for we cannot remain committed to something we are not convinced of. Faith as fiducia reminds us that commitment is an essential element of saving faith. To say that we believe the Bible and then to act as though its great truths made no practical difference is to prove our faith is a sham.

3 This faith may differ in degree, and may be weak or strong,8

The faith that saves is not equally strong in all believers. It may be weak because knowledge of the truth about salvation is deficient. Since faith is always founded on the Word of God, a lack of knowledge about that Word can lead to a faith that is less than vigorous and lively. It may be weak because remnants of sinful self-trust keep us from abandoning ourselves wholly to Christ for our eternal future. It is important when we think along these lines that faith is not a single momentary act of the heart, but is rather a permanent state that follows an initial act of trust in the Christ of Scripture. We should not become discouraged at what we know of our faith at any given moment in our lives, but realize that God is working to bring this gift to fruition as he is all others he graciously provides us.

yet even at its weakest it is different in kind and nature (as is all saving grace) from the faith and common grace of temporary believers.9

Even when saving faith is weak, it is qualitatively different from faith that does not save. One does not move from being lost with a corrupt faith to being saved with true faith simply by having more of the corrupt faith. False faith is shallow and short term (Lk 8:13), is based on man’s thoughts about God rather than on the words of eternal life he reveals (Jn 6:68), bears nothing of the fruit of righteousness and holiness expected in the life of a believer (Jam 2:20-24). False faith has zeal without knowledge, orthodoxy without hope, or knowledge without deep feelings of conviction and contrition. True faith may be weak, but is always marked by a conviction of the truth of Scripture and a commitment to and trust in the Christ revealed therein.

Therefore, though it may be frequently attacked and weakened, it gains the victory,10 and develops in many until they attain full assurance11 through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.12

True faith always turns a man away from himself and towards Jesus, ‘the author and finisher of our faith.’ “It is not faith that saves but faith in Jesus Christ; strictly speaking, it is not even faith in Christ that saves but Christ that saves through faith” (Murray, 112). Saving faith involves the full range of man’s psychological faculties, but it is always more interested in the object of faith, Jesus Christ, than in the subject of faith itself. When we are more concerned about strengthening our faith than in learning about, loving and serving Jesus Christ, then we have missed the true importance of faith. In this context we may note that faith and assurance are not the same thing. Faith is the conviction that Jesus and Jesus alone is the Savior of the world, assurance is knowing that he is my Savior and that my salvation is therefore a certainty. These two graces are inseparable, but they can be distinguished. (Assurance will be dealt with in greater detail in Chapter 18.)