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What Exactly is Saving Faith and How do We Know We Have It?
As Christians living in a world that is hostile to God, we face a barrage of challenges to our faith every day. These attacks come in the form of anti-Creation propaganda, such as evolution and theories about the origins of the universe, as well as an all-out assault on Christian morals and values. It is not uncommon for these spiritual attacks to cause us to doubt our own faith and feel fear.
Many modern Christian churches have neglected the crucial role of biblical apologetics which provides a solid foundation for defending the Christian faith. A strong apologetic approach begins with the recognition that the Word of God is the ultimate authority and uses it to interpret the world around us. However, too many churches have adopted the dangerous idea that we should interpret Scripture through our own limited human reasoning rather than using Scripture to interpret the world. This approach is flawed and undermines the authority of God's Word—and it often leads to doubt.
It is with this understanding that we approach the doctrine of faith and understand what it means to have a saving faith in the midst of a world that hates God. In the New Testament, faith is defined as a strong and confident belief in God, his promises, and his Son, Jesus Christ. The Greek word for faith, "pistis," is used throughout the New Testament to describe this kind of belief.
The biblical understanding of faith consists of three elements:
Notitia: This is the knowledge or information aspect of faith. It refers to a person's understanding and knowledge of the Gospel message, particularly the fact that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, you've heard the truth, or you've heard about the truth, but not necessarily given any thought to the veracity of the claims.
Assensus: This is the intellectual or cognitive aspect of faith. It involves assenting to the truthfulness of the Gospel message, based on the knowledge and understanding of it. Assensus means acknowledging the truth of the Gospel and accepting it as true but not necessarily having placed your trust in it.
Fiducia: This is the personal or volitional aspect of faith. Fiducia involves a personal trust and reliance on Jesus Christ for salvation. It is the act of placing one's faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, entrusting one's eternal destiny to Him.
Fiducia is the most important aspect of saving faith and since this is where most professing Christians fall short, this is where we will spend our time. At its core, Fiducia is the means by which we receive the free gift of salvation that is offered to us through Jesus Christ
First and foremost, having a saving faith consists of all three of these elements and it is the belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the understanding and acceptance of the message that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. But it is far more than just an intellectual acceptance of the facts. Saving faith is a personal response to the truth of the gospel, a recognition that our sin has separated us from God, and a repentant heart that is turned toward Christ upon whom we place our full trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
Fiducia is the most essential component of saving faith because it is the active trust that we place in Jesus Christ. This is the element of saving faith that only God can grant us. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains that it is "by grace that we have been saved through faith" and that even that is not of ourselves, but a "gift of God." There is no amount of intellectual assent we can give to the gospel that will change our hearts and cause God to save us—it must be wholly a work of God Himself.
When we truly believe in Jesus, we are not just acknowledging that he exists or that he did certain things in history, including dying on the cross. We are actively entrusting our lives to him, surrendering our wills and our hearts to his lordship. This trust is far more than just a mere one-time decision; it is an ongoing relationship granted and maintained by Christ Himself that deepens and grows over time.
In Scripture, we see many examples of Fiducia in action of which Abraham's faith is arguably one of the most important and well-known. When God called Abraham to leave his home and go to a new land, Abraham responded in faith, trusting in God's promise to bless him and make him into a great nation. Despite his own intellectual doubts and questioning, this trust was not just a passive belief in God's existence or goodness, but an active obedience to God's call on his life. As James 2:22-23 says, "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'"
Similarly, we see Paul arguing that it was the gospel itself that Abraham heard and believed in Galatians 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed.'"
Knowing that it is the gospel itself, the Word of God, that is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16), we must see that it is the gospel itself that grants saving faith. It is God's word that transforms us, causing us to believe by removing our hearts of stone and giving us a new heart of flesh.
We also see an example of saving faith played out in the story of the woman with the issue of blood. In this often overlooked but powerful passage from the Gospel of Luke 8:40-56, we witness a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years and had exhausted all her resources on doctors, yet still remained unhealed. However, upon hearing Jesus, her faith in Jesus was unwavering, and she reached out to touch the fringe of his garment, and at that moment, she was immediately healed.
Some may argue that it was the woman who came to Christ before Christ even knew who she was, but this misses the point and fails to understand the work of the Trinity in salvation. Had she not already had a saving faith, she would have never reached out to touch Christ's garments. Her faith was not just a mental acknowledgment of who Jesus was; it was an active trust in his power to heal and save. Jesus himself affirmed her faith, saying, "Daughter, your faith has made you well" (Mark 5:34).
So how do we know we have this saving faith, this faith that goes beyond an intellectual assent or general knowledge? The Scriptures tell us first and foremost to trust in the promise of Christ. But there are evidences we can point to as well. A saving faith leads to a transformed life. When we trust in Jesus, we are not just saved from the penalty of our sins, but we are also given new life in Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul reminds us that being in Christ means becoming a new creation. Our old self passes away, and we embrace a new way of living that is devoted to God and his commands. This transformation is made possible through sanctification, which leads us to despise not only the sins of others but also our own. We begin to love what God loves and hate what he hates, although our love and hate will not be perfect. As we put our trust in Christ and follow him, we receive the Holy Spirit's power to live a life that pleases God and bears fruit for his kingdom.
Having a saving faith empowers us to face the onslaught of hostility toward God, toward our beliefs, our values, and our convictions with confidence. The world will hate us for believing what seems foolish to a lost and dying population (1 Corinthians 1:18), but Jesus reminds us that if they hate us, it's because they hated Him first (John 15:18). If you still find yourself attracted to the fleeting pleasures of sin and feel no remorse for your wrongdoing, or if you do not find the world's hostility towards God repulsive, it is likely that you do not possess saving faith.