Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6)
The Scripture does not say it is difficult to please God without faith. It clearly says it is impossible. Faith is the key word in determining our relationship with God. It is God’s chosen means whereby we obtain forgiveness of sins and enter into eternal life. It is the channel that connects a sinful person with a holy God through the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. Again and again the Bible states we are saved through faith. Faith is so basic that those who are the children of God are called believers (those with saving faith) and those who do not belong to God are called unbelievers (those without this faith).
What is the nature of saving faith? How is it to be exercised? What does this involve? What is the difference between true faith and a professed faith that is not real in the eyes of God? Many people seem to “believe in believing.” They say we must believe but they have a wide difference of opinion as to what it is they believe.
A humorous story may illustrate this. A young boy was being baptized through immersion by a group that believed in triune baptism. That is, they dipped the candidate three times. The baptizing pastor asked the boy, “Do you believe?,” and he answered, “I believe.” Then he was immersed and held under for quite a while. When he came up for air, he was asked again, “Do you believe?,” and he replied, “I believe.” He was immersed and held under for a longer time. He emerged, struggling and gasping. For the third time he was asked, “Do you believe?” This time he exploded, “I believe you are trying to drown me.” That reply was not too far removed from the kind of confused and vague belief many people have about water baptism. There needs to be a better understanding of saving faith than that.
Examples of Faith
The Old Testament gives several examples of faith. The most significant one speaks of Abraham’s faith, since he is cited in Romans 4 as the pattern of saving faith. Genesis 15:6 says, “He believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him as righteousness.” What did Abraham believe? He believed God’s promise that he would have a son, though he was an old man. He believed that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. He had first showed belief in God when he obeyed His command to leave Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 12:1-4). He likewise believed God when he obeyed Him in offering up Isaac (Genesis 22). Abraham’s faith was not mental agreement with abstract statements about God. It was belief that led him to obedience.
One phrase that sometimes parallels the idea of belief in the Lord is “the fear of the Lord.” This kind of fear is grounded in true faith (Deuteronomy 31:12-13). Job is identified as one who feared God and turned from evil (Job 1:8; 2:3). Those words state his condition both positively and negatively. When Abraham said at Gerar, “there is no fear of God in this place” (Genesis 20:11), he was describing a city in which there were none who trusted in the true God. To fear the only true God is to hold Him in deepest reverence. Many ancient peoples did have a superstitious fear of many false gods and evil forces. However, this did not lead them necessarily to turn away from evil, as was the case with Job, nor was it based upon any special revelation.
In the New Testament, faith means firm persuasion, based upon
hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The words for
unbeliever are variants of this word. The fundamental idea refers to confidence in what God has said. Confidence means firm persuasion or conviction that implies commitment to the Lord and submission to Him.
Equivalent Expressions For Faith
Other expressions are also used to indicate the way we are saved. These include receiving Him (John 1:12), hearing God’s Word (John 8:47) in the sense of responding (John 12:47), beholding the Son (John 6:40; 12:45), coming to Jesus (John 5:40), calling upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13), confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9), looking unto Him (Isaiah 45:22) and following Him (Mark 2:14). This evidence (following Him) is close in meaning to “abiding” or “continuing” in Him, which is evidence of true faith.
No one of these expressions should be emphasized as though it included the sum of doctrine about how to be saved. By faith believers accept “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is a gift in the sense that it cannot be earned. It is not a ticket to Heaven passed out at church meetings, without commitment to the Lord and reliance upon His finished work. Condensing the message of faith into a simple invitation to “receive this free gift” does not deal honestly with the whole teaching of Scripture about how to be saved.
The same could be said for reducing faith to the idea of asking (John 4:10). Believing is more than asking. Neither is Revelation 3:20 a proper foundation for the advice, “Just ask Jesus into your heart” so you will be saved. That phrase is one of the most abused salvation formulas. This Bible verse was not used in an evangelistic context. This portion was written to the Laodicean church, which the Lord said He would vomit out of His mouth. This would indicate they for the most part were unsaved. It was not a formula for being saved.
God’s Word As The Ground Of Faith
When the Philippian jailer was saved, it is said that he and his house “believed in God” (Acts 16:34). This does not refer to believing in God’s existence, but rather to what the jailer had been told by the apostle Paul concerning the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). We usually believe something we have read, or that has been told to us, or from some other source. What is the basis or foundation of what we believe in a saving way? It should be the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 10:17). Faith comes from hearing, or reading the Word of God, or by a message from God’s servants as to what God has said (Romans 10:14). We believe “the witness of God” in the Scriptures (1 John 5:9). We believe that God is true in what He says though every man be found a liar (Romans 3:3-4). We believe “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2).
Thus, faith is attached to the testimony of God given to us through the Holy Scriptures. The apostle proclaimed “the testimony of God” because it is essential to saving faith (1 Corinthians 2:1). Faith is not about the creeds or traditions of churches, or the human assurances of leaders or family members, no matter how well meaning. It is not just subjective confidence in our heart or what we think personally. If faith is not directly attached to what God says in His Word, then it is resting on another foundation. It is the Bible that tells us about a God who is willing to redeem His people, a God who sent His Son to die for us on the cross, a Christ who is “able to save to the uttermost [forever, completely] those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25). Without this, our faith would rest on the shifting sands of human subjectivity based on “feelings.”
The Lord Jesus Christ As The Object Of Faith
There is no question but that the New Testament presents the Lord Jesus as the object or focus of saving faith. He invited people to come to Him, follow Him, trust in Him and obey Him. It is “whoever believes in Him” who has eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). Some may call this concept narrow-minded, bigoted or extreme, but Jesus Himself is the authority for this exclusive claim that rejects all other religious approaches to God. He said, “I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). To those who asked what work they might do to please God, He replied, “This is the work of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Believing is not a religious good work whereby one earns salvation. It is a response to the command of God. God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The Gospel of John declares it was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
A person cannot believe whatever he or she pleases about the Lord Jesus to be saved. We should not create a subjective Jesus according to our own wishes and trust in Him. We are bound to the testimony of God about Him. It is important to ask, “Who is Jesus?” To say He was a great man, a prophet, even the foremost man in history, is insufficient.
John’s Gospel begins with the statement that Jesus is the Word of God and that He existed from an eternity past. “In the
beginning was the Word” and the Word was God. “Beginning” does not mean when He came into existence. He has always existed. As God the Son He is both distinct from God the Father and yet co-identified often with God. Jesus is God the Son, not God the Father. As such He interacts with the Father within the remarkable unity of the one, yet plural God. As the Son of God, He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He entered a world which He had created but which did not know Him (John 1:10). Most of His own people (the Jews) did not receive Him, that is, as their Creator, God and Savior. It is in the sense of receiving Him personally as our divine Lord that we can become children of God (John 1:12). Such are we who “believe in His name,” which means believing all that He is.
If you do not believe that He is the I AM (the name of God from Exodus 3:14), Jesus says you will die in your sins (John 8:24). Jesus once told the people, “I and My Father are one,” the last word being a word of essential unity (John 10:30). That caused His hearers to attempt to stone Him. When He asked why, they replied, “For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy because you being a man, make Yourself to be God” (John 10:33). They understood clearly who He claimed to be.
It is necessary to understand that receiving Christ is not a matter of saying a rote or ritual prayer (as is often suggested), but rather a matter of believing who He is: our Creator, and our Lord. Thomas realized this when he said, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Both ideas (Lord and God) are implied in Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” In his first sermon, Peter openly proclaimed Jesus as both Lord and Christ, the promised Deliverer of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:36).
The apostolic proclamation of Christ emphasized His resurrection from the dead and hence His victory over sin and death (Acts 2:31-32). It was the risen Lord Jesus to whom men and women were called to be saved. He said, “Come unto Me” (Matthew 11:28). Salvation is in a Person.
Personal Relationship With Christ By Faith
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Salvation involves a personal relationship with Christ. The New Testament word for faith is often followed by other words that add light to the subject. A common construction has Jesus as the object of faith (John 3:16; Acts 20:21). Literally this means to “believe into.” It denotes a faith which, so to speak, “takes a man out of himself and puts him into Christ,” says Leon
Morris in the
Illustrated Bible Dictionary. “This construction suggests not only intellectual credence but also moral commitment to the person of Christ according to R.E. Nixon in
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. This “faith union,” as it has been called, is the basis of the comparison with human marriage in Romans 7:3-4. There it points out that believers are “joined to another,” meaning Christ, in a lasting union (see also Romans 6:5). Coming to Christ is not just walking up to Him and shaking hands. It is turning yourself over to Him, body and soul.
The Saving Content Of Faith
In view of the centrality of the Lord as the object of faith, it is misleading if we separate Him from any part of what He did to accomplish our salvation. A verse such as Acts 16:31 is not a complete statement of the message of salvation, but rather is one sentence in a Scriptural narrative. The message, of which Jesus is the central personage, is called the gospel or “good news.” The gospel in which the Corinthians believed, included the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The Lord commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). The sequence of salvation for the Ephesians was that they first heard the word of truth, the gospel, then they believed the gospel, and then they were sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). The gospel was first proclaimed to those who then believed (1 Thessalonians 2:9; Acts 15:7). “The power of God” is in this message of good news which leads to salvation for the receptive soul (Romans 1:16). Any who would alter its basic content or seek to add religious work or religious rituals to the requirement of faith is under a divine curse (Galatians 1:6-9), As we have noted, there are brief references to elements of the gospel which do not constitute a complete statement. Sometimes it is done by simply calling people to believe in Jesus. His blood or sacrificial death is emphasized in Romans 3:25. The cross, where He died, is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 1:18. The resurrection is emphasized in Romans 10:9; Acts 17:3,18,31-32, and in many other places. No one aspect should be exclusively emphasized so as to deny or leave out the other elements.
This powerful message centers in the living Word of God and leads to the new birth (1 Peter 1:23). The apostles therefore were careful to preach Christ fully wherever they went (Romans 15:19-20), sowing the wonderful seed (Matthew 13:3-8). Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
From this description of content, we see that knowledge of the gospel is necessary for salvation. Proclamation brings the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) that leads to salvation (Luke 1:77). The gospel must be preached (Romans 10:14), or distributed by the printed page. It requires the sending forth of missionaries and evangelists. AH people must hear of the present, living Lord Jesus and His substitutionary death for our sins (1 Peter 3:18), which pays the wages of our sins (Romans 6:23). Each hearer must understand how God will justify through faith the one who believes in Jesus (Romans 5:1). Such evangelization will not lead people to a dependence on past prayers, “dedications” and church rituals as a hope of Heaven.
Obedience To Christ Necessary In Faith
Both the will and the intellect are involved in saving faith. The Lord Jesus said, “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God” (John 7:17). When we are willing to do God’s will, we are ready to submit our own will to God, which means to obey Him. Neither willingness nor readiness implies the need to do good works, or to abstain from evil ones, before submitting to Christ. God’s call to us from Old Testament times was often, “Obey my voice.” That command was first directed to a rebellious, sinful people (Deuteronomy 8:20; Jeremiah 7:23-28). God calls us to choose life or death. He offers blessings or a curse, depending on our choice (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Disobedience is classified as unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). Disobedient people, in the sense of habitual practices, are unsaved people (1 Peter 2:7-8; Romans 10:21). Thus they are called “children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6). The parable of Luke 19:14 describes the reaction of such people to the Lord this way: “We will not have this man reign over us.” Jesus wept over His rejection by the people of Jerusalem and said He was willing to save them but they were not willing (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41-42). Therefore, saving faith is an act of the human will, yielding to the living Lord. The act leads to an inner willingness to obey Him. “You obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17).
To obey Christ (or the gospel) is a parallel expression to believe in Christ (or the gospel). The coming judgment of God will be upon those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). Salvation is “the
obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). This is more than believing the facts. The Spirit of God is given in salvation to those
who obey Him (Acts 5:32). The golden chain of salvation is stated in 1 Peter 1:2: we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” An act of obedience is involved in believing the proclamation of the gospel and the call of God. Believers are seen as “obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14). It has often been said that there are no rebels in the kingdom of God. Those who refuse the authority of Jesus are classified as His enemies and are therefore doomed (Luke 19:27). Eventually they will be compelled to bow the knee to Him in a coming day, for God’s glory, but it will be too late for their salvation. Then “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow” (Philippians 2:10).
What possibly could hinder millions upon millions of God’s creatures, made in His image, from availing themselves of the eternal benefits of the gospel offer? The next chapter will examine several possible factors.
Study Guide Lesson 4 What Is Saving Faith?
1. How would you describe true saving faith? Be brief but sufficiently comprehensive.
2. Which of the verses most clearly states how to be saved in your opinion? Why would you choose this one as the most clear?
3. What must you believe about Jesus to be saved?
4. What does it mean to obey Christ or “obey the gospel” to be saved?