What is Saving Faith?

 

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Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation

by Michael J. Vlach

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WHAT IS SAVING FAITH?

 

INTRODUCTION

The theme of Jesus’ ministry and the central mission of the church are to reconcile lost sinners onto God by evangelizing the lost and making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). The message that God uses to bring unbelievers to eternal salvation is the gospel. Many passages in the New Testament present the application of the gospel as “believing” or “having faith” in Jesus. However, this seemingly simplistic command has come under much confusion, debate, and misapplication over the centuries. Just what is saving faith? How do I know if I am saved? Does it matter what form of faith I have or how I live my life after my profession to Jesus? It is the goal of this essay to answer these significant questions, because the course of one’s eternal destiny is at stake in this important theological issue. This paper will set out to define what true biblical faith is, the objections proposed by skeptics to such a definition of salvation, a thorough defense and explanation of saving faith, the results of saving faith, and will conclude with brief observations of what implications this lesson has for Christian living and evangelism.  

 

DEFINING FAITH IN THE BIBLE

Before we begin to analyze the mechanics of saving faith, let us first define what a Christian is. What exactly is a Christian? Is he a moralist? A mere admirer of Christ? A distant friend? The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology defines a Christian as one “who believes in Jesus and seeks to live according to His teachings.”[1] Similarly, the Holman Bible Dictionary presents a Christian as a follower of Christ, or one committed to Christ.[2] We see that in these definitions, the common themes are belief and living for Christ. The relationship between faith and obedience will become more important and apparent as this essay progresses, but for now I would like to concentrate on simply laying out faith according to both the Old and New Testament teachings so we can have an understanding of what it looks like.

Even before Jesus’ first coming, salvation was available to people by God’s grace through faith. This truth is illustrated by the author of Hebrews 11 when outlining the saving faith of such saints as Abel, Enoch, and Noah. The Hebrew terminology most frequently used to describe OT saving faith was amen, which means “believe” or “trust.”[3] This type of belief is a kind that goes beyond intellectual acknowledgement of facts or a general sense of trust that exists between humans. It is an obedient submission to divine revelation and ultimately submission of the will to God. This attitude constitutes the essence of saving faith, which is demonstrated in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham was reckoned as righteous because of His trust in God and His promises. The rest of Genesis goes on to illustrate the living faith of Abraham, one that consistently evidenced itself in his heartfelt obedience to God.

The New Testament also defines the nature of belief and faith in a similar fashion as the Hebrew word amen. The Greek word pisteuo means “to have faith (in)” or “believe,” expressing personal trust and reliance which is distinct from mere credence or intellectual belief.[4] The Apostle John uses the verb in the famous salvific passage John 3:16 to describe how a sinner is suppose to respond to Christ’s finished work onCalvary in order to be saved. The verb also appears in other passages which speak of soteriological themes, such as Matthew 21:25, Acts 8:37, Romans 4:18, and Galatians 3:6. All of these salvific passages, especially those written by the Apostle Paul, emphasize the unchanging reality that a person is never made innocent before God by his own works or merit. Rather, the sinner is justified by faith (Eph 2:8-9), which is harmonious with Abraham’s justification in Genesis 15:6. Scripture provides additional details surrounding the nature of this faith by describing a repentance that guides a sinner away from his sins and onto God (Matt 3:2; Acts 20:21), a repentance and faith that is granted by the Lord Himself (2 Tim 2:25; Rom 12:3), a faith that leads one into a life of sanctification (Rom 8:30; Jn 17:17), and finally a faith that allows the Lord to bring the sinner to glorification at the rapture of the church (Rom 8:30; Tit 2:13).

 

THE OBJECTIONS TO FAITH

Although the description of saving faith may look comprehensible and sound biblical, this proposed examination has not always been widely accepted by those in the church and those outside of it. In fact, even within Christian circles and evangelical academia, there is controversy regarding the matter of what “faith” really is and how that should impact, or not impact, a professed believer’s life.

The first and most obvious group is the one who believes that salvation is achieved by a combination of faith and works. These adherents do not believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient enough to cover all of their sins, and that their own works or righteousness plays a part in earning God’s forgiveness. These works-based systems include religions of the world such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others, but for the sake of this essay, those who profess Christ or adhere to the teachings of the Bible will be discussed. Roman Catholicism is a prime example of this faith plus works paradigm. It holds to the fact that “grace” needs to be increased or earned by good works. No one can be certain of saving faith, therefore one must continue to maintain a high moral order, good conscience, and good works throughout his life as his merit.[5] Catholicism does not declare justification as happening before and apart from sanctification, but as one and nearly the same process as sanctification.[6] In other words, man achieves his own justification at the end of his life after an endless process of faith and works, relying upon his own righteous qualifications to find acceptance before God on Judgment Day.

There is also the more subtle but prevalent group of evangelicals who claim to believe in “salvation by faith alone.” This category is a little trickier, and will be a major focus for this essay because of its ill-informed teaching which, in extreme cases, leads to antinominanism and stunted discipleship. The Christians in this camp, categorized in the evangelical world as the Free Grace Theology adherents, believe that sinners can believe, or “accept Jesus Christ,” but not necessary have to live for Him. In other words, Free Grace adherents believe that sinners are not required to surrender their lives to Jesus’ rule and thus follow Him, because if that was the case, then such commitment of one’s life to Christ would corrupt the gospel message into a works-based religion.[7] In the world of the Free Grace theology, there can be such thing as the carnal Christian, and possibly even a complete backslider such as an atheist, who still ends up being saved from eternal hell because he professed Jesus at one point in his life.[8]

Since Free Grace theologians say that a person is not required to submit to the authority of Christ upon conversion, they imply that a sanctification process does not necessarily need to follow in a believer’s life as well. This means that a person, once truly saved, might possibly never grow in holiness and Christlikeness throughout his life. He can even live like a rebellious pagan if things turned out so. The last point to mention regarding the belief of Free Grace theologians is the fact that there are some who do not believe that repentance is necessary for saving faith. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer listed repentance as one of “the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief.”[9] Because of certain passages that do not mention repentance when describing saving faith, Chafer concludes that there is not enough evidence to prove that the NT imposes “repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation.”[10]

In recapitulation, religionists believe that saving grace is essentially heightened or maintained by appropriate works, while Free Grace theologians believe in a “faith” that is valid with cognitive assent and no need of repentance or desire to actually be Jesus’ disciple. Now the question is: Do any of these exemplify saving faith according to Scripture? The following section will present a biblical case of and defense for the true saving faith as characterized by a more comprehensive understanding of Jesus and the Apostle’s soteriological instructions.

 

A DEFENSE OF SAVING FAITH

The objections documented represent two very opposite views of salvation. One tends to rely more on the works and the other more on the belief. Neither one is correct according to Scripture. The true teachings of Scripture on saving faith is that it involves a turning (repentance) from the practice of former sins to Christ for salvation. Christ transforms the individual by regenerating him (giving him new spiritual life), which enables him, irreversibly, to come to Jesus in repentant faith, to remain in faith throughout his life, and to bear good fruit.[11] It is important to note that the fruit of salvation is the demonstrable proof of one’s justification before God, and not the means of it. The fruits that appear during the sanctification phase are not to be confused with salvific works-righteousness, which is, at most times, empty externalism or visible moralism that is guided by the person’s flawed motive of trying to find justification before God. This is not the kind of “works” spoken of in passages like James 2:26. The works spoken of in James is the divinely fostered fruit that blossoms in a Christian’s life after he has been reborn by the Holy Spirit and justified by faith. Essentially, saving faith is repentant trust in Christ, yet such faith is always accompanied by fruits (“works”) that testify of one’s eternal salvation.

The essence of saving faith may still be difficult to comprehend and may need clarification based on some points of contention raised by skeptics. This is why the remainder of the essay will provide a biblically based explanation of what constitutes saving faith (the components) and what saving faith entails in the life a true believer (the expected results).

 

The Sovereignty of God in Saving Faith

A preliminary understanding of saving faith, which would help us comprehend the necessity of such factors as repentance and sanctification, must first begin with understanding God’s role in this whole process of human salvation. The NT writers constantly speak of God as initiating (taking the first step of) the salvation process when He elects the saints. Election is the simple truth that God determined and planned for certain people to be saved from before the beginning of creation, in which He took the full initiative, executed the agenda, provided the grace, and deserves all the credit for the final outcome.[12] This means that if God elects someone from eternity past to be saved, that person will undoubtedly become Christian and live in obedience to Christ until glorification.

It is important to remember that even though God elects people to be saved, this does not absolve sinners from the personal responsibility to act. Sinners are not to be passive and think that they will be saved regardless of whether they exercise saving faith or not. They are commanded to have faith, and when they do respond in such a manner, they receive the benefits of eternal salvation, which God had already planned and grants to them in His sovereign will. This mysterious relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is called compatibilism, which means that human choice is somehow compatible with divine sovereignty and determinism.[13] It is not entirely comprehensible, but passages like Philippians 2:12 teaches that this concept is real. So we must humbly accept the reality that God’s role and man’s role in the process of salvation is mutually inclusive.

The process that begins with election ends with glorification in an ordered list that various theologians call the order of salvation, from the Latin phrase ordo salutis, and is roughly based on the theological content of Romans 8:29-30. Though the list varies amongst individual, the standard list is as follows:[14] 1). Election (God’s predestination of His saints), 2). The gospel call (God calls sinner to faith with the gospel), 3). Regeneration (the person is born again), 4). Conversion (the person exercises repentance and faith), 5). Justification (the person has a right legal standing), 6). Adoption (the person gains membership into God’s family), 7). Sanctification (the person is empowered for righteous living), 8). Perseverance (the person remains a Christian forever), 9). Death (the person goes to be with the Lord), 10). Glorification (the person receives his resurrection body).

If this list is an accurate indication of the divine process involved in someone’s redemption, then it tells us much about what a Christian will experience and what he will not. It tells us that a sinner cannot turn to God in sincere repentance and have enduring faith unless he is spiritually reborn from God (John 3:3). It tells us that repentance and faith work hand-in-hand in conversion (Acts 20:21). It tells us that a converted sinner is once and for all justified in God’s sight, never to be condemned again (Romans 8:1). It tells us that those who are justified are officially opted into God’s family and are given the promise of the kingdom (Romans 8:17). It tells us that God’s children will undergo sanctification and not live in carnality (Hebrews 12:14). It tells us that believers will remain in the faith and never fall away despite trials, tribulations, and temptations (Jude 24). It tells us that believers will go to be with the Lord upon death, and after the rapture of the church, will receive their glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:52).

Therefore, if a professing believer refuses to repent, does not care for a life of sanctification, or falls away from the faith, then he is one that evidently breaks the mold of Romans 8:29-30 and may never have experienced God’s saving grace to begin with. This does not mean that he is not elect or that he could never get saved later on in life. This just implies that the person never got saved to begin with. This is why it is imperative to gain a good understanding of what constitutes saving faith and to respond to it the way it commands us.

 

Gospel Knowledge

From the side of human responsibility, it is important to know that saving faith must always start with an accurate understanding of the gospel message. Without a true acceptance of the nature of Christ, sin, and the remedy of the gospel, there can be no salvation (1 John 2:22-25; Gal 1:6-9). Since God is truth, saving faith must also be grounded both in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), especially in regards to the One (Jesus) whom it points to.

For any person to come to saving faith, he must have a basic but well-informed understanding of the following concepts: 1). God’s Righteous Expectations. This fact not only presupposes the existence of the God of the Bible, but also acknowledges that He is the rightful ruler and owner of all things, and has a standard of holiness that people are called to abide by, 2). Man’s Hopeless Condition. This is the realization that man has broken God’s Law, is a sinner by nature and by conduct, and cannot earn salvation by his own merits, 3). The Certainty of Judgment. Man’s transgression calls for God to execute His justice against unrighteousness, and those who are guilty will be condemned and end up in the lake of fire for all eternity as punishment for their sin, 4). Jesus’ Perfect Sacrifice. This is the solution to the problem, in which Jesus fulfilled God’s Law, satisfied God’s justice by dying on the cross in place of the guilty so sinners can be forgiven of their trespasses, and 5). The Sinner’s Necessary Response. The sinner must repent of all sin and place his entire trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

Step 5 is the necessary application of the facts that preceded it. There are three elements involved in successfully applying the gospel to one’s life and exercising genuine saving faith: 1). The intellectual element (positive recognition of the truth), 2). The emotional element (a deep conviction of the truth), 3). The volitional element (surrender of the soul, as guilty and defiled, to Christ’s governance).[15] It seems as if the commonality between Free Grace theologians and Lordship Salvation adherents ends at Element Two, or even One. However, we have stated before that biblically defined faith (both in the OT and NT) is not just intellectual acknowledge and conviction, but a purposed commitment to God and His promises. This truth is best illustrated in James 2:19, which states, “You believe that God is one…the demons also believe, and shudder.” The author James comments that demons, like professing believers, know the facts about God. They agree with orthodox doctrine (intellectual element) and tremble at its implications (emotional element), yet such knowledge is no proof of saving faith because demons are entirely hostile to God. Their volitional will is set entirely against the facts presented in God’s truth, which demonstrates that knowledge without action is futile for salvation. This is not to say that demons can be saved, because they were never purposed for such an end. However, humans can be redeemed, which is why people must pay attention to the lesson of James 2:19 if they desire to benefit from the offer of forgiveness that God offers them. 

 

The Need for Repentance

One of the hotly contested elements of saving faith is the inclusion of repentance. The Ryrie Study Bible lists it as “a false addition to faith” when made a condition for salvation.[16] Many verses speak contrary to the statement made by such scholars as Ryrie (Acts 20:21; Matt 3:2; Isaiah 1:16-17). However, some scholars do believe that repentance is part of faith, but they define it as only a change of mind and not necessarily a change of action.[17] Whenever the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is used in the NT, it always speaks of a change of purpose and turning from sin.[18] It moves beyond the intellectual, and emotional stages and into the volitional stage, which is the observable fruit of repentance.

At this point, some may claim that repentance is a form of works that is added onto the gospel message. When we analyze the elements that make up repentance in Scripture, we see that it should not be categorized as human works. It is actually an attitude of the heart as much as faith is. Both involve the intellectual, emotional, and volitional assent of the sinner. Both are also sovereignly granted by God to the sinner as part of the divine calling and regeneration process. This principle is illuminated in verses such as Acts 11:18, which states that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” In describing the relationship between faith and repentance, Grudem states that the two are “simply two different sides of the same coin…” in which “the person who genuinely turns to Christ for salvation must at the same time release the sin to which he or she has been clinging and turn away form that sin in order to turn to Christ. Thus, neither repentance nor faith comes first; they come together.”[19]

A faith without repentance is an incomplete faith and a water-downed version of the gospel. Since faith involves a wholehearted commitment to Christ, repentance must logically be the step that leads a sinner there, because one cannot be committed to Christ unless he has first turned away from his former idols and enslavements. The sinner must not only be convicted of the errors of his former life, but must also empty his hands of all sins, self-righteousness, and whatever he is trusting in for justification before he can accept the gift of God’s mercy and imputed righteousness which comes by faith. The true believer is one who has turned away from the love of material and self to the service and supreme authority of God.[20]

This is not to say that a Christian is expected to be sinless during his life or never make mistakes. Nowhere does Scripture teach that anyone can reach moral perfection in this life, for this would contradict what the Bible says concerning the sinful nature of humanity, even for those who have been regenerated. Soundly saved Christians will stumble into sin because of their fallen nature (1 John 1:8, 10). Christian living is not about absolute perfection, but general direction, which the Holy Spirit graciously provides to the Christian in his daily walk with the Lord. God’s grace allows us to be constantly forgiven and cleansed. The life long pattern of forgiveness and cleansing from sin is an expected part of the sanctification stage, which is why Jesus highlights this theme as part of Christian living in the Disciple’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12: “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

 

Counting the Cost

A topic that is highly related to repentance is the counting of the cost of being a Christian. Some label this as the cost of discipleship, which is essentially the change that one must expect if he were to become Christian. This cost involves not only an abandonment of the old sinful lifestyle, but also the willingness to enthrone Jesus Christ as the highest priority of one’s life. It is the willingness to follow Jesus and to treat Him as the one and only Master over one’s own life. It is essentially the desire to become a disciple.

The Parable of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30) perfectly illustrates the axiom of this principle. In this account, the young man asks Jesus how to attain eternal life. Jesus takes him through the perfect law of God, and the man surprisingly admits to having kept all of them. Then Jesus asks the young man to do something astounding: “sell your possessions and give to the poor…and come, follow Me” (v. 21). The ruler does not obey this commandment. Instead, he walks away from the Lord in grief, because he “owned much property” (v. 22b). Christ was getting to the heart of the young ruler’s major sin, which was blocking him from coming to the Lord. It was the ruler’s resolute love for his wealth. The young man was not willing to repent of that idol. The intention of this passage is not to teach salvation by philanthropy, but to highlight the detriment of the seeker’s resolute refusal to give Jesus first place in his life, which constitutes the call to faith.[21] Anything less of Jesus’ set terms manifests as unbelief.

The necessity of taking into account the authority of Christ when coming to salvation is clear even in Jesus’ kingdom teachings like The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In this account, Jesus depicts the four soil conditions, three representing useless soil (v. 3-7) and one representing the perfect soil (v. 8). The second and third soil condition, the rocky places and the thorn grounds respectively, represent seekers of the Christian faith who eventually fall away from the faith or are exposed as hypocrites on Judgment Day. They are false converts who did not exhibit the God-given repentance, perseverance, and fruit characteristic of true Christians. Though people in either soil conditions exhibit different conditions (one being shallow and the other thorny), they have one thing in common: they have never made a volitional commitment to be Jesus’ disciple. They have not calculated the sacrifices of being a Christian and have not placed kingdom interests above their own life priorities.[22]

 

The One and Only Savior

A final element that constitutes saving faith is the issue of trusting in Christ alone to save from sin and eternal judgment. The gospel message is about repenting and trusting in Jesus as not only Lord, but as the only Savior (John 3:16; Romans 10:9). This piece of information can easily get lost amongst religious people who trust more in their works, morality, and ancestral connection to save them rather than on Jesus and the gift of His righteousness. It can also be ignored by licentious people who only give intellectual and emotional assent to this fact, but never entrust their eternity to Christ. Their trust is entirely misplaced and is not adequate enough to be reckoned as righteous by the Lord. A willingness to submit to Christ as Lord but failing to trust in Him as Savior is akin to trusting in something else to save a sinner from the consequences of his sin, which does not constitute saving faith at all. If one lives his life trying to add to what God’s Son accomplished on the cross, then he foolishly believes that Christ’s sacrifice was not entirely sufficient to satisfy his eternal debt. Therefore, the professing believer is not trusting in Christ as Savior. Likewise, if one puts hope or priority in false religion, an idol, personal works and merit, then he is not truly trusting in Christ as Savior.

There are numerous passages in which Jesus urged audiences to follow this path to salvation. One of the most regarded verses that teach this principle is found in John 14:6. The Apostle Thomas asks Jesus, “…how do we know the way?” (6a), to which Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (6b). Jesus claims to be the only Savior of mankind. It is an exclusive and narrow path (Matt 7:13), but the only road that leads to eternal life. Without full and undivided trust in the Savior, there is no access to the Father and to eternal life. That is why a sinner cannot place his ultimate trust in other religious figures, religious systems, personal morality, or work ethics. One must not only trust in the intellectual details of the gospel message, but must willfully give his life to the Living Person of Christ for his redemption. The postmodern belief that there are many paths to religious truth is a satanic life, as F.F. Bruce comments:

He [Jesus] is, in fact, the only way by which men and women may come to the Father; there is no other way. If this seems offensively exclusive, let it be borne in mind that the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word…mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach.[23]

Whether one is a religionist with the outward deeds but no external change wrought by trust in the Savior or the antinomianist who understands the facts of the gospel but does not commit himself to it, the message is the same: Christ is the only parachute that saves from eternal death. Therefore, the exclusivity of the one and only Savior is an inescapable reality.

 

THE RESULTS OF SAVING FAITH

This brief final section is not about what is involved in the process of coming to Christ for justification, but it is important to discuss because it reveals what a Christian’s life looks like after his salvation. We will focus on a couple of key aspects of sanctification, which reveal the genuineness of one’s professed faith. They are fruits of salvation and perseverance in faith. These elements are characteristic of a true Christian’s life and attests to the validity of his salvation. They can also be the grounds to question a believer’s profession of faith and the means to confidently declare that backsliders were never saved to begin with.

 

An Obedient Life

Those who have been regenerated and justified through saving faith will be sanctified. During this lifelong sanctification process, God causes Christians to bear fruit that evidences their salvation. This is why it is necessary for the Lord to regenerate people, because without it, people cannot seek God or obey Him (Rom 3:11). Truly saved Christians are those who bear fruit and are willing to obey Christ’s words. Fruits manifest in various forms, such as seeking God’s word, prayer, evangelism, holy living, discipleship, financial generosity, a fervent love for God and neighbor. However, the amount and type of fruit varies with each individual, as passages like Matthew 13:23 indicates. This means that some Christians will be stronger and more productive than others. But all Christians bear fruit to some degree (Matt 7:16; Jn 15:8).

This is the sobering lesson behind James 2:14-26. This passage teaches that all Christians produce some fruit in their lives, otherwise they would possess a dead, non-saving faith. James 2:26 states, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Once again, we must bear in mind that this is not teaching salvation by works or showing that James’ teaching is incompatible with the Apostle Paul’s teaching about justification by faith in the book of Romans. The works described in James 2:26 are the divinely granted fruits that God bestows upon a believer upon regenerating and justifying him, not the type of self-willed, extra-biblical religious deeds that a sinner does to try to find pre-salvific acquittal before God. Commenting on James 2:14-26, John MacArthur states that God gives the believer a “new genetic structure for producing moral and spiritual good works… Just as a fruit tree has not fulfilled its goal until its bears fruit, so also has faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.”[24] That is why it is appropriate to say, in regards to James 2:14-26, that “justification by faith pertains to a person’s standing before God, whereas justification by works that James speaks of in this verse pertains to a person’s standing before other men.”[25] It is the only conceivable way we can be confident of a person’s salvation in Christ.

 

Perseverance in Faith

Labeled in the Reformed tradition as the perseverance of the saints, perseverance is defined as the continuance of the justified in the grace of justification.[26] It basically means that a true Christian will remain in saving faith until death or glorification. He will never fall away, in one sense because of his steadfast obedience, but the primary cause is God’s sovereignty which acts to preserve the person’s faith from beginning (election) to end (glorification). Bruce DeMarest comments on the totality and certainty of God’s work in a Christian’s life by stating: “God elects believers not only to salvation but also to the personal holiness that leads to the heavenly goal.”[27] This doctrine gives believers hope in that their faith will bring them to the finish line because of God’s empowerment in their lives. It also rightly informs us that apostates and backsliders were never of true saving faith. They have never truly repented, counted the cost of following Jesus, or trusted in Christ as Savior.

The passage that best captures the truth of this doctrine is Jude 24, which states, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the glory of God our Savior…” The author ends the book of Jude with a doxology that inspires the congregants to a bright hope, informing them that their faith will last because of Him who protects them from apostasy. Various passages in the book of 1 Peter also speaks of this blessed hope. The Apostle Peter speaks of those “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). J.N.D. Kelly comments that “God is continually using his power to guard his people by means of their faith,” a statement that implies that God’s power in fact energizes and continually sustains individual, personal faith.[28] Although many passages instruct saints to be responsible in continuing in the faith (Col 1:22-23; Matt 10:22; Heb 3:14), Scripture gives us assurance that it is entirely possible and inevitable for them to do so because of the Author who has planned it before history. Those who end up falling away from the faith do so by their personal choice, but it also testifies that they never responded in true saving faith to begin with, and may possibly not be among God’s elect. If they truly repented and received Christ as Lord and Savior, they would remain in faith to this day (1 John 2:19).

 

CONCLUSION 

Based on a comprehensive overview of Scriptural evidence, we are given a picture of salvation according to the OT and NT and have assurance of how true saving faith is applied. It is not a works-based system driven by the flesh in order to attain salvation, and it is also not a mere intellectual assent to beliefs without a volitional commitment to Christ. Saving faith is essentially a heart attitude that moves a person to turn from sin and convert to Christ, trusting Him alone to save and be the sole Shepherd of one’s life. The sinner responds in this way through his own will, yet it is a mysterious work of God in the person’s heart in which He transforms the character and allows the world to see that justification has taken place in the believer’s life. This is the essence of saving faith. A true understanding of saving faith is important for three reasons. The first is that it rightly informs us of the content and application of the gospel in a sinner’s life. This is practical for orthopraxy and a right interpretation of God’s word. The second is that it gives Christians confidence of their salvation during their moments of doubt. The third is that it awakens false converts and apostates to see their lost condition so that they can have the opportunity to respond and be saved while there is still opportunity. A solid understanding of the saving faith should be available to every Christian, not just for the sake of one’s personal assurance, but for the cause of properly equipping saints for evangelizing lost souls with the unadulterated message that is the power of God onto salvation.




[1] Millard J. Erickson, Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 30.

[2] Darren W. Robinson, “Christian,” in Holman Bible Dictionary, ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 252.

[3] David J.A. Clines, ed., and John Elwolde, exec ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Vol 1 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 319.

[4] G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, NY: T&T Clark LTD, reprint of 1999 volume), 361.

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. Patrick Lynch (Rockford: Tan, 1960FNT#), 261-62.

[6] Ibid., 257.

[7] Alan Day, “The Lordship Salvation Controversy,” Theological Educator no 45 (Spring 1992): 24.

[8] R.B. Thieme, Apes and Peacocks or the Pursuit of Happiness (Houston, TX: Thieme, 1973), 23.

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary, 1948), 372.

[10] Ibid., 376.

[11] Henry W. Holloman, Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology: Over 500 Key Theological Words and Concepts Defined and Cross-Referenced (Grand Rapids,MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 81.

[12] F.H. Klooster, “Elect, Election,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 201.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1238. Hereafter ST.

[14] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 79-87.

[15] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Judson, 1907), 837-38.

[16] Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1976), 1950.

[17] Blauvelt Livingston Jr., “Does the Bible Teach Lordship Salvation?” Bibliotheca Sacra 143 no. 569 (Jan-Mar 1986): 42.

[18] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1981), 280.

[19] Grudem, ST, 714.

[20] Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), 92-93.

[21] John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Updated Edition (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1396-97.

[22] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2004), 480.

[23] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 298.

[24] John MacArthur, James, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998), 139.

[25] Ibid., 137.

[26] Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, Dictionary of Theology (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, second edition, 1981), 378.

[27] Bruce DeMarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), 141.

[28] J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude. Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Black 1969), 52.

 

  • Bruce Abercrombie

    Wow. Well, Steve, you definitely spent some time thinking, researching, and compiling the material for that topic. Makes us sad you missed the true grace® of God and fell for the “Discipleship Salvation” argument. Keep seeking Him is our prayer! <