By Pastor Don Strand
There is faith and then there is saving faith. What, you ask, is the difference? Some people claim to have no faith, but that’s not possible. If that the case, no one would fly in an airplane, ride in a car, go to school or work, or engage in any other activity that carries a level of risk. It is by faith, that when you are asked to “sit down” and are shown a chair, you trust the chair won’t collapse. We wake up each day believing the sun will rise, the earth will continue to turn, and gravity will continue to exert its downward force so that we don’t fall off the earth into outer space. Faith by this definition; as a belief that things will continue as they have always proven to be, then everybody has faith. But according to the Bible, that is not a faith that saves. There is a big difference between human faith and saving faith. Everybody has human faith, but not everyone has saving faith. Saving faith is a gift; one from the Father that is given by the Spirit of God (John 1:13; 3:6-8; Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is this God-given faith that resides at the very heart of the gospel and the center of Christianity. A proper understanding this faith is important because this faith is the ground of justification; the forgiveness of our sins and the crediting of Jesus’ perfect righteousness by God the Father. That is what makes this faith saving.
The word “faith” and related words like trust, honesty, firm, reliable, and truth is found more than 430 times in the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament presents faith from two different aspects. The first in on people having a strong confidence in God’s promises. Abraham’s believed God when He promised of a land for his ancestors. The outworking of that promise is the account of Israel’s rescue from slavery in Egypt, their wilderness journey described in the Exodus, and the conquest of the Promised Land. But what underlies that story is that Abraham believed God’s promise and he was credited as righteous, a word that means innocent or being in right standing from a legal perspective (Genesis 15:5). A second aspect of Old Testament faith is the faithfulness of God to His people and His promises. Again, the entire narrative of the Exodus and entrance into the Promised Land is centered on God’s trustworthiness. Those who believe God were promised a righteousness that leads to eternal life, and God went to great lengths to prove to His people His promises were sure.
In the New Testament, faith is presented primarily as the active, responding belief that occurs and the impact on one’s life when the gospel is heard and believed (John 3:7-8; Romans 10:17; Ephesians 2:8). Of the more than 260 references to faith in the New Testament, 75 are statements to “trust in the gospel” and another 26 emphasize that the good news of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ is true and should be believed. Paul writes: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:21–22a). In other words, Jesus was the final revelation of God and His life, death and resurrection are God’s saving plan for mankind. Jesus kept the law perfectly and, Paul says, all those who have faith (belief, trust) in Him are credited with the righteousness necessary for salvation. Later, Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).
In summary, every human person has a type of faith that comes from life experience that enables all people to live and work and hope and have dreams of a better life. No one is truly without ‘faith.’ But until the gift of saving faith comes from God, no one has the type of faith necessary to believe in Jesus Christ and gain the promised peace with God that Paul mentions in Romans 5:1. Everyone has faith, but not everyone believes in Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that brings dead hearts to life and gives saving faith. When that happens Hebrews 11:1 says, we gain a faith that: “…is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This faith is saving faith and is a gift from God by His grace.
It is a hard reality, but a biblical truth that until the Spirit makes someone alive to God and Christ, they simply can’t see the truth of the gospel (Isaiah 6:10; Matthew 13:14; Luke 8:10; Romans 11:8). But the Bible also tells us that “all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” and this is a truth found in both the Old Testament and the New (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). So if you have been given this saving faith, you need to tell others. If you have been given this faith, it also gives you the power to proclaim Jesus, to love others and live in gratitude to God for what He has given you. For He has given you the righteousness earned by His Son as you righteousness and has punished your sins on Christ. And all of that is given not because of any goodness in you, but simply because of His grace. This is good news indeed. And may you rest in this truth as you seek to glorify God in all you say and do.