What does it mean for someone to “have faith” and specifically, to have faith in Christ that leads to salvation?
Is faith simply hoping for the best? Is it hoping for something even though you might not know if it is really true? Or is it something more?
In our previous article, we discussed genuine conversion and how a person is not a Christian simply because they raised their hand, prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle during an invitation. No, a person is truly a Christian when they put their whole trust in Christ alone. A person is not genuinely converted, meaning they are not truly a Christian, until they have turned from their selfish ways, repented, and now trust in Christ, and seek to live like Christ, which the Bible calls faith.
But what is true faith? From the Bible, we see:
Saving faith is a conviction, brought about by the Holy Spirit, of the truth of the gospel and trust in the promises of God in Christ.
Saving faith then has three elements involving the entire person coming to Christ, the mind, the emotions, and the will.
What True Faith is Not
The modern conception of faith says that faith is hoping in something that you cannot see. It’s a “hope so” mentality. You intellectually believe that something is true despite lacking evidence. An example would be when someone is going through a hard time and a friend encourages them to “have faith that it will all work out,” or they say “you just need to have faith in faith.”
Have you heard or said either of these phrases before?
As my pastor pointed out in a sermon, this view of faith is common in many hallmark movies and a lot of movies in general. One common theme among many of these movies is “if you just believe hard enough, it will come true.” You’ve heard this before. This idea of faith is more wishful thinking than confident assurance. This is not the biblical model of faith.
Unfortunately, this is how many people view their faith in Jesus. They are hoping that what they have heard about Jesus is true and that He will save them from God’s wrath. In essence, their faith in Jesus is simply “fire insurance” to save them from Hell.
But is this the way the Bible describes faith? Is this the faith that saves?
Biblically, no, it is not.
This is where the world’s view of faith has infiltrated the church. This idea of faith as hope in things not seen has become prevalent in the church today. You may be thinking right now, “well isn’t that what the Bible says faith is? Doesn’t the Bible say that “faith is the hope of things not seen?” I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that way because this view of faith surrounds us and permeates our culture today. But we must be sure that we correctly interpret and reference the Bible.
So is that really what the Bible says? Let’s look at it in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Notice that this verse did not say that faith is the hope of things not seen but rather the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. There is a significant difference here. Notice that faith is not the description of the hoping but rather the confident assurance and conviction of the things hoped for. There’s a deeper level of trust, a sense of being fully persuaded.
Emphasizing this, one theologian defines saving faith as “a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance (trust) on the promises of God in Christ” (Berkhof, 503). This full assurance of faith is wholly based upon the work of Christ and nothing of what we can do. We can have complete confidence in our salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit in us because of what God has done for us.
This confidence, this conviction, involves our entire being. We are fully persuaded not just in our minds and even our emotions but also in our desires, our will. Faith is an act of the whole man. This is where the three elements of faith need to be properly understood: the mind, the emotions, and the will, or as the Protestant Reformers referred to them, notitia, assensus, and fiducia.
When we place our faith in something or someone we have to know something about that thing or person. This is the notitia of faith. The “notes.” These are the things that make up our understanding of that thing or person.
In our case, when we place our faith in Christ we must know about Christ. We must know the basic facts of the gospel, that God is holy and righteous, and we do not live up to His standards. We are sinners in need of a savior and God graciously sent His own Son and reconciled us to Himself.
God gave us His Word to know these things. He has given us the Bible to direct our mind that we might be renewed in the spirit of our minds and think God’s thoughts after Him. But we must be careful not to judge God’s ways. Though God has given us a mind for a reason, our mind is not to be ultimately trusted which is why we need the Bible to direct our thoughts.
The Christian life is not intellectualism, but we use the truth to inform and humble our minds. In our evangelism, we must forsake evangelistic methods that either completely ignores the mind or leave the gospel message only to this intellectual assent. In our Christian faith, our mind is not to be bypassed nor is it the only aspect of our faith.
True faith not only involves the mind but it also involves our emotions, the assensus of faith. This emotional element is a deep conviction and affirmation of the truth of the gospel. Not only do we recognize the facts of the gospel but we deeply believe that they are true.
As Will Metzger says in his book Tell the Truth, “emotions are part of the image of God in us. If our feelings have been legitimately roused, they should be expressed, not suppressed. Emotions have a valid place in our lives, but they are not to lead our lives. Truth is to lead to the emotions and will conforming. We must allow truth to grip us.”
In witnessing we must be emotional. We need to let our non-Christian friends and those with whom we are sharing the gospel see that our emotions and affections have been moved for Jesus and not that we are unemotional and numbed by our culture. But we must be sure that truth is leading our emotions.
For many Christians and churches, emotions lead to everything. This deceives people as they are led only by their emotions and not by a genuine, true understanding of who God is. This hurts instead of helping Christians in their walk with Christ. The Christian life is not emotionalism but we are to show love and touch the heart. Not only does true faith involve our mind but also our emotions. Yet there is a third aspect to saving faith that often seems to be left out.
True faith is only real if it includes a personal trust and surrenders to Christ as both Savior and Lord. This is what the reformers referred to as fiducia. We must not only know with our mind and believe the facts of the Gospel with our emotions but we must put our whole trust and reliance on those facts with our will. Until we completely surrender our lives over to Christ and trust in Him we don’t have saving faith. A faith that saves is a faith that surrenders to Christ’s authority.
Staying in Hebrews 11, which we looked at earlier, we see Abraham showing his faith by his obedience: “By faith Abraham obeyed…” (v8). Throughout Hebrews 11 all the heroes of faith showed their faith by obedience. As John MacArthur says in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, “Obedience is the inevitable manifestation of true faith.” If you want to have a deeper understanding of the Gospel and what Jesus means when he says “follow me”, I couldn’t more highly recommend that book to you.
In our evangelism, we must be sure that individuals rightly understand this third element of saving faith. Unless they have been convicted of the truth of the gospel and surrender their lives over to Jesus as Lord they are not a true believer.
But we must also recognize that there is a danger of purely driving people to come to Christ based on their will, their desires. As Will Metzger says, “it’s a mistake to appeal to the unbeliever’s will directly if we do not accompany such an appeal with biblical content because such content is needed to instruct the mind in its choice and humble its sinful desires.” The balance should be God moving sinners through persuasion.
It’s possible to encourage unbelievers to arrive at decisions from false motives. We don’t want people to be driven to decisions based on false motives. Too many of our evangelistic methods are benefit-oriented, and as Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it, so well, “the most serious of all dangers is that of seeking to produce decisions as a result of pressure brought to bear upon the listener’s will.” Again from Will Metzger, “The true reason for becoming a Christian is not that we may have a wonderful life, but that we may be in a right relationship to God.”
In our evangelism, we shouldn’t be putting people in a position in which they are making a decision purely because they have been pressured into making that decision. That is not true evangelism. Instead of appealing to natural desires we should be inviting pleading and even exhorting allegiance to a new leader in their lives because Christ is Lord, Jesus is king. We are to present the gospel in such a way that people are able to understand it and be genuinely converted through the work of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word.
We should be faithful in teaching the Scriptures because it is the Scriptures that inform the mind, which stirs our emotions and moves us to act. Our will does not act unless our emotions have been stirred by the beliefs of our minds.