True Salvation: Saving Faith

True Salvation: Saving Faith

True salvation begins with God’s sovereign choice in eternity past to save sinners: Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes (Eph. 1:4, NLT). Before there was a universe God chose to set His grace upon fallen, lost humanity. He understood that if He created human beings with a free, moral will, we would willfully sin and separate ourselves from Him, thereby creating the reality of death. 

Therefore, in the fulness of time, Jesus, eternal, Second Person of the Trinity, was born in human form as the perfect God / Man to offer Himself as the atoning, substitutionary, redeeming sacrifice for the sins of the world. Having provided an atonement for sin, a means of salvation, the Lord then awakens us to the possibilities of grace. He awakens us to repentance and faith.

In our last lesson we discussed repentance. God awakens us to the reality of our sin, of our separation from Him and the cost of this separation. He brings us to an awareness of the destruction which our sin has created in our lives, in the lives of others and especially, a conviction that it is ultimately against the Lord that we have sinned. He awakens us to a willingness to confess our sin and forsake it, turning from sin to Christ. Repentance is a reorientation of life, a transformative turning from evil to Christ.

The Lord then gifts the repentant sinner with saving faith.

Question: What is saving faith ?

Saving faith is more than merely understanding facts regarding Jesus. Yes, He is the pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity who was born in human form. Yes, He died an atoning death for sinners, taking our sin and God’s judgment against our sin upon Himself. Yes, He rose from the dead. But more than merely knowing information about Jesus, saving faith is an abiding trust that Jesus Christ died in my place, did for me what I could never have done for myself — paid the penalty for my sins, thereby reconciling me to the God from whom I was separated.

This saving faith is not produced by the sinner. It is the gift of God to the sinner whose will has been awakened: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). The awakened will is enabled by God to turn from sin through repentance and enabled by God to receive the gift of saving faith. Saving faith is a gift and a work of God from beginning to end enabling a continuing, confident surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a commitment to follow Him. 

The Apostle Peter directed his Second Epistle, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). We did not invent our faith, did not imagine it. We received it. Jesus said, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44). Paul reminds us, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

Question: How do we know that faith is true, saving faith?

The devil believes there is a God and certainly understands basic truths about the incarnation, atonement and resurrection. He has some information but the devil is not saved. True saving faith results in a changed life made evident by obedience to Jesus Christ.

Question: What does this changed life look like?

1. It is a life that is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, willing and able to obey Him. Jesus said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15 ). 

The Apostle John said, And we can be sure that we know Him if we obey His commandments (I Jn. 2:3, NLT).

We are able to obey because we are not who we were. Saving faith results in the transformation of our nature. The old nature, which is inherently sinful and rebellious, is put to death in union with the death and burial of Christ and we are regenerated as new creations by the power of God through faith. As new creations, indwelt and energized by the Holy Spirit, we are able to obey Jesus, able to follow Him, able to overcome any manifestations of our old nature.

Inability or unwillingness to obey Jesus is evidence that a person is not a new creation and therefore, whatever they say they have believed in, it is not true, saving faith. Jesus asked, Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). He warned against false prophets, false believers who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15). How can we discern these false believers? 

Jesus said, So then, you will know them by their fruits (Matt 7:20). We discern true faith from false faith, true discipleship from false, by the fruit of a life. Are we submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, obeying His word? If not, if we are still living according to the habit patterns of the old nature, that is not the result of saving faith. It is evidence of false faith.

In fact, Jesus said that when history is ended and people are held accountable for the way they lived, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ (Matt. 7:21-23).

People can talk about Jesus, sing about Jesus, teach about Jesus and minister in His name but if their life is characterized by lawlessness — unwillingness to submit to the Lordship of Jesus — their faith is false. We are not talking about perfection — we are talking about direction, a new orientation, a desire to please the Lord. Yes, we do fall short, we do sin. But we do not practice sin, do not remain in sin. We resist it, confess it to the Lord, turn from it, receive the cleansing, restoring, forgiving grace of the Lord and continue to live as the new creation that we are.

Paul lists sins which, if practiced without repentance, demonstrate that a person is living outside the kingdom of God. These are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). This is not an exhaustive list —  a somewhat different list is found in I Corinthians 6:9-11. His point is that these deeds of the flesh are manifestations of the old, unredeemed nature. His point is that those who practice these sins without repentance will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul then lists the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22,23). These are qualities of the life of a person who is truly saved. In other words, true saving faith is evident in the fruit of our living though it is God working in us who produces the fruit.

2. There is a hunger for the word of God, a desire to learn abut Jesus. 

Jesus compared the word of God to bread (Matt. 4:4). Peter compared it to milk (I Peter 2:2). A living organism needs nourishment and pulls that nourishment in. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is given to guide us into all the truth about Himself (John 16:13-15). Paul tells us that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). If our faith is true, saving faith then we are truly alive in Christ and we are hungry for the word of God. The person who says, “I’m saved, I’m a follower of Christ” but they are not hungry to learn about Christ, not hungry to hear and study the word of God — their faith may be false faith, not saving faith.

3. There is a desire to worship God, to praise Him, a heart of gratitude and thanks for the wonderful gift of salvation. 

David said, I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God (Ps. 40:1-3). True saving faith pours out thanks and praise to the God who saves us.

4. There is a desire to serve the Lord, to employ our time and talent and finances for the glory of His name and the advancement of His kingdom.   

Paul rejoiced that the believers at Thessalonica had turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God (I Thes 1:9). True saving faith expresses itself in a desire to serve the God of our salvation. Salvation is made evident by good works. James said, I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18). How do you know an apple tree is alive? In the proper season it will bear fruit, as Jesus said, So then, you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:20).

Martin Luther said, “It is impossible indeed to separate works from faith just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.” We are not saved by our works but if our faith is true, saving faith, there is a desire to serve the Lord. If that desire is not present in someone, then that person may be holding to false faith, dead faith, as James said, Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:17).

5. There is a desire for holiness. 

The writer to the Hebrews says, Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord (Hebr. 12:14 NLT). Paul began many of his letters with words like these, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ (Col. 1:2). The word saint, hagios, has to do with holy separation to the Lord. God has separated us unto Himself for His purposes and though we continually wrestle against sin, saving faith creates in us a desire to live holy unto the Lord. When there is no desire for holiness, no discontent with sin, no striving to overcome manifestations of the old nature, this reveals the absence of true, saving faith.

6. True saving faith endures, presses on, perseveres.

Jesus said, But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Matt. 24:13). Endurance, perseverance, proves our faith is genuine, as Paul said to Timothy, If we endure, we will also reign with Him (2 Tim 2:12). 

Paul said, Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel that I proclaimed to you, which also you received, in which you also stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (I Cor. 15:1,2 BSB).

True saving faith endures, perseveres, presses on though it is the Lord who enables us to persevere. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phlpns 1:6)

Paul exhorts us, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phlp. 2:12,13).

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebr. 3:14). We are able to hold fast because it is the Lord who holds us fast. Jesus said, My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27,28).

The Psalmist said, My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me (Ps. 63:8). This is a portrait of perseverance — we cling to the Lord who upholds us.

True believers do not lose true, saving faith. Lack of perseverance reveals a faith that was never genuine. John said, They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (I Jn. 2:19).

The Lord has said, And My righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away. And the writer of Hebrews then responds, But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38,39).

7. True saving faith is revealed in self-abandonment, a willingness to give up control of our life in surrender to the Lordship of Jesus who said, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me (Mark 8:34).

8. True saving faith is evident in the gradual maturity of the saved. Paul said that the goal of ministry in the church is that we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children … but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 34:13-15).

9. True saving faith is evident in trials which prove the genuineness of our faith.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). The way we move through adversity not only demonstrates perseverance; adversity, trials produce perseverance, increase endurance. True, saving faith grows stronger in adversity. Abraham and Sarah journeyed for 25 years toward the fulfilling of the promise of a son and the Bible says, Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Rom. 4:19,20).

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone but if it is true, saving faith then there is also a joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit resulting in changed character and good works. Where there is hunger for the word of God, hunger to worship, a desire to submit one’s life to the Lordship of Christ, a desire for holiness, perseverance, then Jesus is Lord of that life and that is true saving faith.

Question: Can we receive the gift of saving faith without repenting of our sins or submitting to the Lordship of Jesus?

Answer: No, the gift of saving faith follows upon the enablement to turn from our sins.

Paul testified to the Ephesian elders, How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20,21). Repentance and faith go hand in hand. One follows the other.

Question: If God is sovereign in bringing us to repentance and gifting us with faith, is there any human response required in salvation?

Answer: Yes, there is a human element. Having been awakened to the reality of our separation from God because of our sins, we need to act on this awakening by willfully turning from our sins, forsaking them and willfully accepting the gift of faith, confessing Christ as Lord. And though repentance and saving faith are a gift, we must act on this gift, confessing Christ and surrendering to His Lordship. This is not merely a prayer that we pray — it is a reasoned, intelligent, willful surrender of our being to the Lordship of Christ resulting in a changed life. 

We are able to follow Christ, able to obey Him, because our old nature was put to death in Christ and we are new creations, filled with the Holy Spirit. If our faith is saving faith, produced by God, then we will be faithful, kept by God. Saving faith is faithful to the God who is faithful.

Peter reminds us, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected (guarded, kept) by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (I Peter 1:3-5).

It is God who caused us to be born again and who keeps, guards, protects the soul He has saved. But we must understand that there is such a thing as false faith. There are those who preach a false gospel and the result is false salvation. Those who preach a so-called gospel that requires no true repentance, no turning from sin, are not calling people to surrender to the Lordship of Christ. If Jesus is not their Lord, then He is not their Savior. Paul spoke of those who profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient (Titus 1:16).

Then there are some who hear the true word of salvation and in some way give intellectual agreement to the message but do not commit to Christ. In John 2:23,24 we read of those who believed in His name because of the miracles He was performing. But Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them. The words believed and entrusting are the same verb. They believed in the signs, may have believed He was the Messiah but Jesus did not believe their faith to be genuine, saving faith. Evidently they were not submitted to His Lordship. James tells us that the demons believe that God exists but they are surely not submitted to the Lordship of Christ (James 2:19).

Jesus told a parable about a sower who sowed good seed but some of the seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Matt. 13:20,21). Other seed fell among thorns, This is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful (13:22).

They heard the word, they may have been emotionally excited, may have responded in some way. They might say, “OK, I prayed the prayer so now I get all the stuff: forgiveness, everlasting life in heaven. But they fell away. This reveals that their faith was not genuine. They don’t get the stuff.

How do we know if salvation is real? There is obedience, there is hunger, there is fruit, there is ongoing repentance, there is an ongoing process of maturity, there is perseverance. Lifestyle is the proof. This is not to say there is no wrestling with the old nature. Yes we do strive to overcome the old sin nature, which, though buried with Christ, still manifests in response to temptation. But this is not about perfection. It is about direction, the orientation of our life, submitted to the Lordship of Christ, committed to follow.

True faith results in faithful living. True faith is evident in faithfulness.

Study Questions

1. How do we know that faith is true, saving faith?

2. What does a changed life look like?