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What is Saving Faith?

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)

What is a good definition of biblical saving faith? A good definition of saving faith is personal confidence in God. When an individual has confidence in God it implies that the individual has come to know God to some degree in a personal experience. Obviously, not all individuals can make this truth claim. Scripture is clear that not all men have faith in God and His plan of salvation.

Thus, when defining biblical saving faith, it is clear, that what lies behind the meaning involves knowing God in a personal way. The Bible affirms this truth by stating,

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son determines to reveal Him (Matthew 11:27).”

According to this passage, the only ones who can know God the Father in a relational way, are those whom the Son chooses and reveals to Him. However, Jesus continues by extending an invitation to all those who are weary and burdened in the world, to come to Him, and find rest for their soul (v. 28). Both aspects of biblical saving faith can be observed in Scripture, first, that it is a “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and secondly, that man has an open invitation to come to God through faith in the Son and is responsible to believe.

Since faith is not a blind leap into the dark of nothingness, faith then must rest in content, facts, or someone and something that is real. As a result, faith produces a sense of certainty and confidence for the individual to enjoy. As Charles Ryrie in his book, Basic Theology explains,

“Normally the New Testament word for believe (pisteuo) is used with the preposition eis (John 3:16), indicating reliance or confident trust in the object. Sometimes it is followed by epi, emphasizing the trust as laying hold on the object of faith (Rom. 9:33; 10:11). Sometimes it is followed by a clause which introduces the content of the faith (10:9). The verb is used with a dative in Romans 4:3. But whatever the form, it indicates reliance on something or someone.”

Words like “trust” and “reliance” are sufficient terms when defining biblical saving faith. This concept is illustrated by the examples given by Abraham, Moses, and Rehab in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Each hero of the faith demonstrates a complete reliance on God, who they believed was a trustworthy God, even though they could not see the future.

More specifically, saving faith recognizes and appropriates God’s saving work in Christ alone. One must believe in the person and the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. The accomplishments of Jesus involve the historical biblical facts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…”

Therefore, faith is required from man by God and is the only appropriate response and attitude that God is one and has revealed Himself through the personal life and work of His Son Jesus Christ.

In secular Greek literature and the New Testament, the word pisteuo “to believe” (pistis, pistos) has at least, three distinguishable elements that can help us understand the full concept of New Testament biblical faith.

The first element involves the word “data” or “knowledge” as in head knowledge. In other words, the first aspect of faith includes the knowledge concerning the historical and biblical facts of the gospel, such as the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world.

True faith must be based, upon scriptural facts, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). To affirm only these historical biblical facts alone, by faith, is not complete saving faith that results in salvation. Yet before an individual can submit to the gospel, it is clear that one must first have factual knowledge or information to believe. That much is true.

"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" Romans 10:17.

The second element involves the words “belief” or “intellectual assent.” This is when the mind accents to the historical biblical facts as being true. In other words, the individual has a sense of conviction and persuasion that Jesus is the Son of God and that what He accomplished was satisfactory to effect salvation.

This type of faith still does not bring about salvation or require any action on the part of the believer other than that individual’s intellectual acceptance. This idea is affirmed by James when he describes this type of faith as dead faith, explaining that even “The devils also believe, and tremble” (Ja. 2:19). Therefore, this type of faith is still not adequate to make one a Christian. As James concludes, it does not go far enough.

Here is where the third dimension of faith comes into play. The third element of faith involves a “personal trust” or an embracing of the will. Saving faith must involve the active use of the will or volition of an individual by “putting faith in” or “relying upon” Jesus Christ. An example of this is in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

The meaning of pisteuo here means “to trust in” or “rely upon” Christ as one’s Savior. Without this important dimension, the individual has only “knowledge” and “intellectual assent,” which is not saving faith according to Scripture.

Therefore, true biblical saving faith must involve all three aspects of faith, in Christ, for salvation. Who can determine if one’s faith is genuine and involves all aspects of true biblical saving faith? Only the Lord can, He alone “looks at the heart” of man and knows it (1 Sam. 16:7).


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