What is Saving Faith?
The Bible defines faith in the first verse of Heb. 11 and then proceeds throughout the rest of the chapter to gives examples from the OT to enforce the definition. Interestingly, while there are a multitude of examples of faith in the OT, the actual word ‘faith’ only occurs once (Hab. 2: 4). However, the apostle’s first example of faith is not an OT saint but creation: “By faith we apprehend that the worlds were framed by [the] word of God” (Heb. 11: 3). Faith is thus “[the] conviction of things not seen”––for no creature was present at the creation. Both believer and unbeliever have no proof of the beginning of the universe ( no matter what scientists may say to the contrary) for when God created, he was there alone.
Faith then, essentially has to do with that which cannot be seen or proven by human means. It is linked with that which cannot be established by human reasoning, although at the same time what it accepts as true is never unreasonable. However, because people believe, it does not necessarily mean that it is faith. In John 2: 23 there were those who believed “on his name, beholding his signs which he wrought. But Jesus himself did not trust himself to them”. They believed but it was not faith. They saw, they weighed up the facts, they reasoned, they were convinced about the truth of the matter and hence believed––but it was not faith. It was an example of the saying ‘seeing is believing’. Faith, according to God, is belief when a matter cannot be proved, when there is nothing to see, rather, in spite of what may be seen to the contrary, the soul is convinced––the conviction of things not seen (see Heb. 1: 1). It is the acceptance of the truth of a matter for no other reason than that God has said so.
For example, God told Abraham, the father of all those that believe (see Rom. 4: 11), to leave Ur: “Go out … And Abraham departed as Jehovah had said to him” (Gen. 12: 1, 4). God gave Abraham nothing except His word. In today’s parlance, he was given no compass, no map, no photos of the land, no bunch of grapes, not a single thing except the Word of God. Thus all that he acted upon was God’s Word. That is faith. Faith always acts independently of providence or circumstances, and in many cases contrary to it. It was so, no doubt, with Abraham. What providential reasoning could have been applied to make him stay where he was! Archaeology has shown that Ur was no collection of mud huts but a fine city. It had broad thoroughfares, prosperous commerce, an established religion, spacious villas with splendid courtyards–– everything that naturally would have induced Abraham to stay. Yet he left, and the sole reason that he did so was that God told him to.
Now in our day God speaks to men by the Gospel. The faith that responds is connected with hearing, not seeing, (see Rom. 10: 14). In 1 Cor. 15: 1, 2 Paul speaks of the Gospel “which I announced to you … by which also ye are saved” and goes on to outline it in verses 3 and 4. Consider just the first element: “that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures”. It is not just that Christ died––that is not the Gospel, nor is it in itself the object of faith. The death of Christ, as a fact in isolation, is a terrible matter and could not be good news, glad tidings in any way. It is not itself the object of faith either for history can prove that Jesus died, even apart from the Scriptures. Likewise the question of sins by itself is not the object of faith either for God never asks me to believe anything about myself. There is more than one example in the Bible of men saying “I have sinned” (see for example Ex.9: 27, Num. 22: 34 and Luke 15: 18) but some of those that uttered that phrase were lost. Their consciences may have been exercised, but they were not saved by such an outburst. While the acknowledgment of sin will not save a man, he will certainly not be saved unless he does so. To say “I have sinned” does not require faith. So the fact that Christ died is not the object of faith for it can be established by history; the fact that man has sinned likewise is not the object of faith, for the conscience testifies to that. However, put these two facts together, as Paul does in 1 Cor. 15, and say that Christ died for our sins and you have that which cannot be verified by human means in anyway, something to which neither history nor conscience has anything to say. It rests on nothing but what God has said––“according to the scriptures” and thus it is the object for faith, and can only be accepted by faith. I believe that Christ died for my sins simply, and for no other reason, than that God has said so. That, is saving faith.