Sola Fide ("Faith Alone")
Saving Faith in Christ
Faith or belief has become such an ambiguous term in our day and age, hasn’t it? It reminds me of my days as a baseball player back in high school. “All you have to do is believe in yourselves!” said my high school baseball coach back in 1993. We were in the semi-final game of the CIF playoffs, one victory away from playing in Anaheim stadium for the championship. Well, as it turned out, we lost 10-1 that day. And it wasn’t because we didn’t “believe in ourselves.” In fact, we were quite “self-confident.” You see, truth is it didn’t really matter how much we “believed in ourselves” if we didn’t have the ability to win that game on our way to earthly glory! Your faith or belief is only as strong and as reliable as the “object” of that belief. In our case, we were a sorry group of young men who didn’t have what it took to win that game!
Many people treat their eternal state the same way. They trust, have faith in, or believe that something “within” themselves will achieve them glory or favor before God, or the deity of their choice. But the truth is that our faith is only as strong as the object of our faith. In the case of Christians it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves.
The nature and even evidence of saving faith was one of the primary issues under scrutiny during the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) taught that faith was necessary for salvation. It was the initial step of justification, but then one must build on that initial faith by doing works of merit, practicing the sacraments, etc. It was possible to have faith, and yet not be in a sure state of justification. You can understand how to people like Martin Luther, this brought little to no assurance of where they stood before God.
By contrast, the Reformers said that upon exercising saving faith in Christ, one is instantaneously, immediately, and completely justified before God. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen and Amen! In response to this definitive biblical assertion, the RCC explicitly or indirectly would accuse those who proposed this as giving license to people to sin for, after all, if all that is required of them is simple faith, then now they can live however they want! Having been saved and secure of their salvation, the way they live doesn’t matter.
Again, the Reformers looked to Scripture to assert that those who have exercised saving faith will also be progressively sanctified by the Spirit. God’s work of salvation is all by grace through faith alone, all the way to the end (Titus 2:11-14). Those who have experienced God’s saving grace and given the gift of faith will walk in the works that God has prepared for them from before the foundation of the world (Eph 2:8-10).
What is faith? Faith is NOT mere head or intellectual knowledge. Faith is NOT only the affirmation of a set of facts. James tells us that “the demons also believe and shudder” (James 2:19). To be sure, faith includes knowledge (notitia), but also assent (assensus). You must give assent to what the Bible teaches about God, about man’s problem of sin and need for salvation, and especially about Christ as the only and exclusive solution to our problem. Hebrews 11:16 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Two key statements here. First, faith affirms that God exists and who He is as revealed in His Word. Second, faith exercises sure confidence in those things He has promised to do, especially in and through His Son, Jesus, the God-Man.
Faith involves a right understanding of the truth of the Gospel (Knowledge, notitia), a heart-felt affirmation and embracing of the Gospel (assensus), but also, Commitment to the truth of the Gospel (fiducia). Faith is a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. This commitment shows itself in your desire to know Christ, to love Christ, your grateful obedience to Him, and your desire to make Him known. We must always distinguish between the “root” and the “fruit” of our justification. The “root” of our justification, that is, the basis and ground of it, is the person and finished work of Christ! The “fruit” of justifying faith are the good works that God has called and empowered us to walk in. Saving faith will manifest itself in loving obedience.
Next time we will see how saving faith always has as its supreme object, the Lord Jesus Christ! It’s not “faith” by itself that saves, or “faith in our faith” that saves, but faith IN CHRIST that saves (Solus Christus).