There are only two types of religions in the world: one of grace and the other of works. These are the two main lenses through which understanding of Scripture is done. This article considers the religion of grace since salvation is all of grace, Eph. 2:8–9, Rom. 4:5, 16.

The meaning and message of “grace” eliminates any human merit in salvation because the basic thought of grace is that it is free (Arp 1997:30).

What is faith? 

Since salvation is by grace, how can one receive this salvation?  This is where faith comes in. It is the vital link between our soul and the living God in salvation. For a person to be saved he must exercise “saving faith” in Christ (Heb. 11:6).

“Faith is, therefore, defined as an instrument that God uses to bring individuals into a saving relationship with himself. Spurgeon calls it a hand of the soul, which when stretched out, it lays hold of the salvation of Christ, and so by faith we are saved” (Sermon 1162–3).

What is saving faith?

It is Weil, however, who adds an interesting component to the definition, which explains how faith is exercised in a saving manner when he says, “Faith is the ability given to us by God that enables us to believe in the truths of his revelation and put our trust in him” (Weil 2007:212).

By saying “faith is the ability given to us by God,” Weil is stating that faith is as much God’s activity as it is man’s activity. That sounds confusing and naturally raises the question: But how can saving faith be both God’s and man’s activity at the same time? Saving faith belongs to a category of truths that are described as an antinomy. “Antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable” (Packer 1961:18).

One example of an antinomy is in Matt 16:15–19, about Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question regarding his identity. Notice that in verse 17, Jesus acknowledged the answer as Peter’s but at the same time made it clear that God was responsible for Peter’s correct answer. On his own, unaided by God, Peter could never have figured out the right answer. He was enabled by God to give the correct answer.

Similarly, though we are required to exercise saving faith in Christ for our salvation, yet on our own we cannot. God must give us faith (enablement) since in our unconverted state we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 1 Cor. 2:14). 

How is saving faith brought about?

Faith comes because of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit in a soul. It is one of his gifts. He quickens our hearts to believe. Without the new birth there can be no saving faith (Phil. 2:13). “The grace of faith by which the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls is the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts” (The 1689 Baptist Confession, 1990:36)

God the Holy Spirit must grant the enabling or assistance to the spiritually dead soul for it to respond to the revealed truths in Scripture. Thus, God’s normal method of granting faith is to inform the mind through hearing his word (Rom. 10:17; Matt. 28:19–20).

What are the components of saving faith?

Saving faith is based on historical events and historical characters. It entails a proclamation of Jesus Christ as a historical person and what he came into the world to accomplish. Weil (2007:210) mentions three key elements involved in saving faith; namely, a message to be understood, a message to be believed, and a person to be trusted. But for our purposes, we will simplify these elements as involving the head, the heart, and the hands.

Saving faith is addressed firstly to our minds, secondly to our hearts, and thirdly to our wills—and in that order. Only when all these three components are altogether present would there be saving faith in an individual. Sadly, much of the Charismatic wind so prevalent today has blown off two of these three key elements; namely, the mind (head) and the will (hands) leaving the heart alone. Thus, they emphasise subjective (experiential) salvation based on feelings rather than the objective salvation based on revealed facts.

  1. Head – knowledge

Piper captures the thought well when he says: “Belief is not a leap in the dark. It has foundations and content. It is based on what really happened in history” (Piper 2006:50).

People must first hear before they can believe (Rom. 10:14). As earlier mentioned, God’s normal method of granting faith is to inform the mind through hearing his word (Rom. 10:17; Matt. 28:19–20). Isaiah 6:1–7 brings out the historical facts that must be recognised as the true claims of the gospel and upon which saving faith must rest:

  1. The holiness of God (v.1–4)
  2. The sinfulness of man (v.5)
  3. The grace of God (v.6–7)

First, the holiness of God (v.1-4): Scripture reveals the true nature of God. Until God is clearly seen in his purity, majesty and power, man remains undisturbed in his fallen state. But immediately he grasps God’s true nature, he is never the same. In verse 5, we are told that Isaiah saw the holiness of God. Immediately Isaiah saw the living God, the ruler of the universe, in his splendour and majesty, he cried, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”

Isaiah’s sense of integrity, self-esteem and uprightness may have been better than his fellow men. But in comparison with God, everything about him was shattered. God and not man must be the measuring standard of human worth. Since the Bible is God’s written word that reveals his character and being, men do well to measure up with its revealed contents.

Second, the sinfulness of man (v.5): Scripture not only reveals the true nature of the holy God, but it also reveals the true nature of man, that he is sinful. Having seen the holiness of God, Isaiah could not but see his unworthiness and sinfulness. He confesses that not only him but also all his people are equally sinful. With no hope and no help, Isaiah lay broken, trembling, naked and alone with God, looking for some place to hide himself from this exposure of his sinfulness. This truth of the sinfulness of man is taught throughout Scripture (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10–12, 23; Tit. 1:15).

Third, the grace of God (v.6–7): Scripture reveals God’s grace as the only remedy for man’s sinful condition. Because man cannot please God, he is dependant on the grace of God. What was Isaiah to do to change his hopeless and helpless condition? Nothing! Unless helped by God, he will continue to wallow in his sins and guilt. Only grace would help. And grace was extended to Isaiah, as we see in v.6–7.

  1. Heart – belief

The head knowledge mentioned above must affect the heart. Scripture does not present faith as simply a mental assent to the facts of the gospel. True saving faith involves repentance from one’s sin and a complete trust in the work of Christ to save from sin and make one righteous. When a person hears the gospel, he responds by believing its message and trusting God. Being satisfied with all that God has done for him in Jesus, and convinced that Jesus’ promise is true and that it corresponds exactly with his need, the unbeliever asks Jesus that he meets that need in him.

“Saving faith is described not only as believing whatsoever is revealed in the word of God but also as obeying its commands, trembling at its threatenings, and embracing the promises of God. The focus of saving and justifying faith is, of course, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone” (Shepherd 2002:82).

  1. Hands – trust

God grants us faith and that faith is evidenced by our walking in the good works that “God [has] prepared beforehand” for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10). Saving faith brings about an active response. “The Christian is enabled to trust himself implicitly to the truth thus believed, and to render service according to the different requirements of the various parts of Scripture. To the commands he yields obedience; when he hears threatenings he trembles; as for the divine promises concerning this life and that which is to come, he embraces them” (The 1689 Baptist Confession, 1990:37).

What are the implications of saving faith?

Saving faith is fixed on Jesus and his merits alone. Watch against any spirit that lifts itself to the level of Christ or even above him, claiming to possess super powers that help others tap into the divine through special revelations such as dreams, visions, prophecies, Saints, Mary, etc. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 1:1– 2). Avoid dependence and putting confidence in human authority and ingenuity like witch-doctors, seers, prophets, “papas”, “Commander-ones”, as well as all similar self-proclaimed and self-styled spiritual superstars dubbed “men of God” and “women of god”. These people cause masses to fix their eyes on them and their miracles than on Christ and his merits for salvation, for life and for godliness (remember Acts 4:12).

Saving faith is God’s chosen instrument of saving sinners. No one gets saved any other way. Through this act of faith, a person receives God’s salvation. Since faith and repentance go together, anyone who has confessed his sins and put his trust in Jesus Christ possesses saving faith.

“If you come before Christ with your righteousness in your hand, you come without faith; but if you come with faith you must also come with confession of sin, for true faith always walks hand in hand with a deep sense of guiltiness before the Highest” (Spurgeon, Sermon 1162–3). See also Rom. 10:9–11 and 1 John 1:8–10.

Faith is therefore a personal matter. No one can exercise it on behalf of another. If your testimony of salvation is that someone prayed for you, you are still in your sins. No man has power to impart faith or the Holy Spirit on another except God. Beware then of the “sinner’s prayer” that is often offered on behalf of the sinner by another person. Beware also of the impartation of the Holy Spirit by a prayer of  “a man of God”. Even the popular deliverance sessions that promise to break sin in a person’s life, family curses, oppressive demonic powers, as well as promises to bestow health and wealth on people, are all but subtle ways of the agents of the enemy that have usurped God’s prerogative and power, and are determined to demean God’s chosen methods of saving and sustaining his people by claiming to possess supernatural powers through performance of so called “miracles.” Yet, salvation is through faith and those so saved live by faith.

Saving faith recognises the mercy of God in salvation; for unless and until God enables (quickens) there can be neither faith nor salvation in the soul. The appropriate response from a faith-full person is a grateful heart that is rooted in the worship of God and praise of his name. The characteristic badge worn by a person possessing saving faith should be humility (Ps. 51:17) that is totally dependent on God.

A genuine believer knows that he is a debtor to mercy alone because he has been saved by God’s grace alone. A spirit of pride, boasting and self-righteousness arises from a false faith. Most likely, this is an indicator of an unregenerate heart. Many worship services today lack this sense of indebtedness to God and instead portray a God who owes man something and can be manipulated or commanded to make man happy. This kind of worship is tantamount to blasphemy.

Saving faith taps into the power of God by getting hold of Jesus. It enables one to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, causing one to declare triumphantly like Paul does in Phil 4:13. And when so strengthened, saving faith achieves a continuous victory over the world as the world is crucified to the person and the person to the world through Christ. This entails a triumphant walk of life in the Spirit.

Holiness, then, is still the measure of the duty required of all of us. When we compare it with our weak and wavering performances, there is nothing left for us but destruction and despair. But the same God, who hates every unholy person and thing, has made a way of escape, that man may be able to bear it. That way is Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the law of holiness for man (2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 5:8).

Christ suffered not only for our good but also in our place. A person living a persistent, unrepentant sinful life possesses a non-saving faith. Therefore, health and prosperity are no reliable proofs that one has found favour with God in a saving way and in their daily walk with the Lord (See Ps. 73).  Holiness is a hallmark of possessing saving faith. You do well to watch the sinful traits in your life!

Saving faith works by love. It recognises the love of God in Christ and thereby responds with love for the person of Christ. The person hates that which displeases his Saviour, and loves intensely that which is pleasing to him who saved him. This leads to witnessing and defending his name and his cause unashamedly (Rom. 1:16, Jam. 2:26). Being ashamed of the proclamation of the gospel as well as a lack of zeal and enthusiasm for the work of the Lord in general could be a sign of possessing a counterfeit faith (Phil. 3:18-19).

Here is a serious warning to many pew-warmers in our churches. When was the last time, through your feeble efforts, the Lord was pleased to save a soul through Jesus Christ? When was the last time you engaged upon personal evangelism as an appreciation to God for your own salvation? It is not so much about regular church attendance but soul winning that ultimately counts the most for those possessing saving faith.

Conclusion

Saving faith is a gift. His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Saving faith grasps this sufficiency of Jesus Christ and clings to him alone. This alone brings salvation.

At the same time, it is also God’s will that our faith should become strong and that it should increase. So what should we do? Read Matt 7:7-8.

This is the Lord’s foremost concern for every person, it is our spiritual well-being, here below and hereafter. God is not so much concerned about our material prosperity, health, etc. That is not a priority. It is secondary. Let us place emphasis where God has placed emphasis for our wellbeing—the spiritual above the material (physical).

Bibliography

Arp, William. 1997. All grace and Grace Alone in Reformation and Revival:

A Quarterly Journal for church leadership.

Packer, J. I. 1961. Evangelism and the sovereignty of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press

Piper, John. 2006. What Jesus Demands from the World. Cross Way Books

Shepherd, Norman. 2002. Justification by Faith Alone in Reformation and

Revival: A Quarterly Journal for church leadership

Spurgeon C. H. Saving Faith. (Sermon No. 1162–3)

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. 1990. A faith to confess. Carey

Publications limited

Weil, Roger. 2007. Foundations of the Christian Faith. Grace Publications