The Faith That Saves
1. The faith that saves in Jesus Christ must have in it at least three elements. There must be knowledge of the gospel truths; there must be an intellectual acceptance of those truths. That is, we must be able to say, "These things are true!" And there must be a personal and willing commitment of oneself to the person of the Jesus Christ of the gospel.
2. It's that third component that needs careful attention. The first two may exist in the same person and that person may still be outside of Christ, not reconciled to God. Having been raised in a Christian home a person may be able to recite the profound basics of the gospel and may believe they are accurate but for many reasons have no wish to benefit from that gospel truth.
3. Nevertheless, though these two are not enough to bring us into saving union with Christ they must exist. We can't commit ourselves in faith to him of whom we haven't heard (Romans 10:13) nor can we trust ourselves to Christ if we deny the truth of what's preached about him. Presuming we have heard and do assent to the truths of the gospel we're still not in Christ until we willingly commit ourselves to him by faith. Faith means more than gladly confessing the truth of what we've heard.
So what is saving faith?
4. It is a personal human response. (It is not God's response to himself.)
It is a personal confession of utter, limitless need.
It is a personal confession that God alone is the model of moral and spiritual life; that he alone is the fount of holiness and the ultimate model in whose image we are to live.
It is the personal submission of the will (in light of Jesus Christ) to live in the likeness of God as reflected in Jesus Christ.
It is the fruit of the Spirit of God at work in us.
5. It is all this and more but it is at least that. This means we shouldn't reduce it to a humble confession that God alone can save us. That is true beyond exaggeration but saving faith is more than that confession. It is more than that because God's eternal purpose is infinitely wider than rescuing us from sin. The larger purpose is eternal life with him in holy love and joy. This is the purpose behind his purpose to redeem us from sin. Redeeming us from sin serves the grander and wider purpose of eternal life!
6. This means that faith is related to eternal life. Faith (in Jesus Christ) does not bring us life because faith has some inherent quality in itself. There is no life-bringing or life-creating power in faith itself. Saving faith links us to the one who alone has life-giving power and the grace to bestow it on the undeserving. Still, faith is inextricably linked to eternal life. What it's linked to that should lead us to look closely at the ethical element in faith. "Life with God" is more than mere human existence which itself comes from God and is sustained by God.
7. Beyond mere existence and life that is common to all God's creatures (see Acts 17:25) there is life with God that is life lived in God's favour. That life includes forgiveness of sins and all the other blessings that come to us and will come to us in Jesus Christ. That life is found only in and through Jesus Christ, only in and through the Jesus Christ who reconciled us to God. (We might well call this "life to the full"--John 10:10.)
8. It is that life that faith lays hold of. That life cannot exist apart from Christ and apart from faith in Jesus Christ. But life that is life in favour with God is shaped by the nature and character of the holy Father. Because he is who and what he is the life that he gives can only reflect him; can only reflect the quality and essence of his own life. It cannot be that light would dwell with darkness and it cannot be that I freely and cheerfully choose to hold God in contempt and at the same time share his life. If we share his life we must embrace his character and so embrace the "kind" of life that he has and gives. This is why the Christ insists that to "know" him and the one true God is "life" (John 17:3).
9. Life is relational! It isn't a legal status conferred on us but the experience of a dynamic relationship with the holy Father in and through Jesus Christ. That restored relationship (with all it entails) is what we call "reconciliation" and it is grounded in what God has done in Jesus Christ at the cross. That is what faith secures for us: the blessing of reconciliation that comes through the redeeming work of Christ.
10. Without faith we can't have relationship or life. Why is that? Is faith an arbitrary condition God laid on us if we want his favour? Might he just as easily have made financial success the path to reconciliation and life? No, the nature of "faith" is determined by the nature of God and who we are before him. Faith is gladly accepting the truth of the message and gladly embracing the demands of the character of God implicit in the message.
11. Faith is both intellectual and ethical. Faith is trust, of course, but it isn't a trust without moral and ethical content. By his life and death Christ comes saying we have offended the infinitely holy Father and that we must be realigned to him if we are to have life. It is faith that lays hold on that life. Christ not only creates that faith, he gives it its nature because it is the Christ himself that faith embraces. The heart and mind and will that embraces Jesus Christ in trust is a heart that is like God's. The believing heart echoes the Lord's, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." When the sinner by grace has such a heart he and God have been reconciled.
12. Having that heart, making that confession and commitment is what the scriptures mean by faith. So faith gains reconciliation with God because the heart of faith is the heart of God. Reconciliation is relational and thoroughly ethical and there is no reconciliation with God unless we are personally realigned and re-identified with God.