by Doug Smith
One’s definition of faith inevitably shapes one’s view of salvation. Faith has historically been understood to consist of three essential elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. To exercise faith, one must be cognizant of information, agree that such information is true, and believe it is true in his own case to the point of having confidence in the object of his faith. But the first two elements are insufficient to constitute saving faith, as even the demons “believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). To have something more than the faith of demons, the third element must be present. The third element, trust, inherently includes a measure of assurance: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The English Standard Version renders this verse thus: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 prefaces an account of various examples of faith. This faith is a confident belief, or trust. This trust is directly connected with action and obedience in many examples, implying that true faith results in good works.
Faith is necessary to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and the following words clearly present saving faith as a trust that people continue to manifest by their lives: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39).
Faith motivated these people to act in following God, as they trusted his promises. By faith, “Abel offered” (Hebrews 11:4), “Noah…prepared an ark” (11:7), “Abraham … obeyed,” “sojourned,” “looked for a city,” and “offered up Isaac” (11:8-10, 17), and “Moses” chose “to suffer affliction with the people of God” and “forsook Egypt” (11:24-27). Others “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (11:33-34).
We are justified (declared righteous in God’s sight) through faith alone, apart from performing good works, as the believer in Christ receives the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as a free gift. The Scriptures are clear concerning faith’s unique role as the instrumental cause of salvation:
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28)
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
However, the Scriptures are clear in teaching that the faith through which a sinner is justified apart from works is the very seedbed of the works God desires in a believer’s life: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
NEXT TIME: Repentance