Sun, Oct 06, 2002
79 - What is Saving Faith?
1 John 5:11-13 by Robert Dean
Series: 1st John (2000)

What is Saving Faith?; 1 John 5:11–13

1 John 5:11 NASB "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. [12] He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. [13] These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

This has raised the question as to what is the nature of saving faith. This is a crucial question which is at the core of the debate between what is called the Lordship gospel or the free grace gospel. It is unfortunate though often true that we reduce our understanding of these issues, or at least our definition of Lordship salvation, to simply that Lordship salvation means that you have to make Christ of your life, or somebody says you have to commit your life to Christ, as opposed to faith alone in Christ alone. Too often these phrases become almost slogans and that defines a position.

The question that can be asked in order to really clarify the issue—and this is the dividing mark—is to raise the question in a hypothetical situation that if you are a street evangelist and are witnessing to some person with zero knowledge of the Bible and has never been exposed to Christianity. You give the person the gospel and tell him there is nothing he can do for himself, that Jesus Christ paid the penalty on the cross for every sin that he will ever commit, and all he has to do is believe; all he has to do is accept it and he has eternal life. At that instant he believes it. Next morning he wakes up and says, Boy that guy really sold me a bill of goods yesterday. How in the world did I ever get sucked into all this religious nonsense? At that point he goes negative and he never again experiences or expresses any kind of interest in the truth, in the gospel, in Scripture. Two or three weeks later he is killed in a gang shooting. Is he going to end up in heaven?

If our answer to that question is yes, then we understand grace. If our answer to that is no, then we do not understand the gospel and we are in Lordship salvation. There are even people who believe in free grace who just have a tough time with that scenario because ultimately somewhere, hidden away, down deep, buried beneath the pile, is this idea that somehow there is something in "me" that is going to demonstrate this new life, that it has to. In other words, the reality of regeneration is dependent on good works, and that us just brining works in through the back door of the gospel. It also reveals an underlying problem and that is that they don't know what faith is.

This is a major battle. Some quotes in order to understand the kind of discussion that is going on, primarily from three individuals: John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Bible Church in California, popularly known as spokesperson for Lordship salvation; Zane Hodges, who was a Greek professor at Dallas Seminary; Dr Charles Ryrie.

John Mac Arthur: Regarding faith he says: "Forsaking one's self for Christ's sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion, it is sine qua non of saving faith." So what he says is that faith is forsaking one's self for Christ's sake; that that is what it means to believe. In another place he says: "Faith as Jesus Christ characterised it is nothing less than a complete exchange of all that we are to all that He is." That is how he defines faith. In yet another place he says: "The faith God begets ..." Notice the phrase; that is a clue right there. MacArthur's view is the view of most Lordship people. It is that the faith that saves is not the same faith you exercise when you go out in the morning and believe your car is going to start and it starts, or you wake up in the morning and you believe you still have a job that day, and you.

Our position is that faith is faith, what qualifies a certain faith to be saving is not the kind of faith but the object of faith which is Jesus Christ. But for the hyper-Calvinists, for Reformed people who believe in Reformed Theology, those who are into Lordship, what makes it saving faith is that it is a different kind of faith and that faith is given at salvation. In other words, when MacArthur says "The faith God begets," he is saying you don't believe, God gives you the faith. He says, "The faith God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will." In other words, God gives you the will, you don't exercise positive volition on your own. " … and the ability to comply with His will." In other words, faith encompasses obedience.

Our position on faith is understanding with the mind, and assent which brings in the volitional element. So in an intellectual element and a volitional element you agree that something is true. The important thing is, what is the something?

MacArthur goes on to say: "And so the faithful, i.e. the believing, are also faithful; they are obedient." He defines faithful as being obedient. "Fidelity, constancy, firmness, confidence, reliance, trust and belief are all indivisibly wrapped up in the idea of belief." But that is not true, it is importing a lot of ideas into the definition.

In contrast, Zane Hodges writes: "Faith is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true." That is assent. That and that alone is saving faith. Furthermore, Hodges claims that MacArthur seriously distorts a well-known theological definition of faith. "Furthermore, MacArthur says that false faith lacks the elements of true repentance and submission to God. In other words, if you are going to believe in the gospel you have to be truly repentant and submit to God. Thus, for MacArthur saving faith ought not to be defined in terms of trust alone but also in terms of commitment to the will of God. In the absence of this kind of submission one cannot describe his faith as biblical saving faith." After stating that Greek readers would have understood the Greek equivalents in the same way English readers would—in other words, when we hear somebody talk about believe, that is the same way Greek readers would understand the Greek word pistis [pistij]—Hodges makes the statement: "The reader would most certainly not understand this word to imply submission, surrender, repentance, or anything else of this sort. For those readers, as for us, to believe means to believe.

Charles Ryrie clarifies the issue: "Do these basic facts about the gospel require only a casual, academic or intellectual acceptance in order for one to be saved? Not if one defines faith as the Greek dictionary does: to be convinced of something, to give credence to something. Specifically to believe in the gospel is to put one's trust in the gospel. Being convinced of something or putting one's trust in the gospel could hardly be said to be a casual acceptance of something. When a person gives credence to the historical facts that Christ died and rose from the dead, and the doctrinal fact that this was for his sin, he is trusting his eternal destiny to the reliability of those truths."

There is a difference between saying, "I believe that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world" and "I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins." There is a big difference. Some people never make it personal and so they are not believing the correct proposition, the correct statement about faith.

Ryrie says: "The direct object of saving faith is Jesus Christ Himself."

We have never met Jesus Christ and have never seen Him physically. We meet Him only through the words of Scripture. So I cannot believe Christ Himself. The words of Scripture are Christ's words, so in that sense, yes; but what we are reading is the testimony of eye-witnesses. These are eye-witness accounts of who Jesus Christ is, and what I am believing is those eye-witness accounts. That means as a result of salvation I then have a personal relationship with Christ. But I don't start by going first to Christ, I believe words, facts—the saving facts that the gospel writers the Gospel writers conveyed to us, i.e. that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for our sins and paid the penalty for our sins so that He is the only hope of salvation, and I need to trust Him and him alone for my salvation. Those are the saving facts, and yet MacArthur says we are not simply saved by believing facts. Well, what else is there? 

Furthermore, MacArthur says: "Salvation is a gift but it is appropriated only through a faith that goes beyond merely understanding and assenting to the truth." But he can't explain what that beyond is. Then he says: "Demons have that kind of faith." No, they don't. If we look at James 2:19 it says the demons believe that God is one. Monotheism is not part of the gospel presentation. The facts we have to believe is that Jesus died as a substitute for our sins, and of we don't believe that then we can believe all kinds of true facts about Jesus but they are not the saving facts about Jesus.

Another thing that often comes up is that people will say so and so only has a professing faith. What is a professing faith?

John 2:23 NASB "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing." What has just happened is that Jesus turned the water into wine in the fist twelve verses, then He is back in Jerusalem for the Passover and he cleanses the temple. We are told here that "many believed in His name." Then we have this phrase in the Greek: the verb pisteuo [pisteuw] and the preposition eis [e)ij]. Sometimes it is translated "believe that." Some times another preposition is used, hoti [o(ti], which is usually translated "that," or pisteuo eis which is translated "believe." Sometimes people want to make it different. If you want to believe that Jesus you are not saved but if you believe in Jesus you are saved. If we do an analysis of all the places in the Gospels where there is the phrase pisteuo eis in comparison with pisteuo hoti they are interchangeable. That means that semantically, in terms of the basic meaning of the phrase, believing in and believing that are the same thing. You can't draw a distinction between the two.

What John is saying here is that many believed in His name when they saw the signs that he did. But what happens when the Lordship crowd comes along and say, well see what Jesus response was in verse 24: "But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men." "Commit" is really a bad translation because we have the word pisteuo. Trust doesn't mean commit! Jesus did not trust Himself to them because he knew all men. What the Lordship crowd say is that if these were really saved Jesus would have trusted them. That is naïve because it effectively says that every believer can be trusted. Jesus didn't trust Himself to them because although they were saved they haven't had their thinking renovated by any teaching and they still think that Jesus is the Messiah and is going to bring in a political kingdom, and they are going to use Him in their own political agenda. That is why Jesus doesn't trust them. They might be saved but they are still stupid. This is the same phrase we have in passages like John 3:16, "whoever believes in Him…" and John 3:18, 36. Everywhere else where there is the phrase pisteuo eis in John it always means that the person is saved. So what the want to do is base salvation not on the principle of faith but on the principle of behaviour, and behaviour is not a clue to salvation.

There are people who believe they are Christians for all kinds of reasons and are not, but that is not a false faith, it is a false understanding of what makes a person a Christian. The concept of a false faith that some are using is that somebody could say and mean, "I believe in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation," and they are not saved because it is a false faith. Others say, well you don't have that special saving faith which is the gift of God. So how do we know whether we have the normal everyday run-of-the-mill faith which doesn't save versus the faith that does save? 

John 8:30 NASB "As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. [31] So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, {then} you are truly disciples of Mine.'" Notice they are already saved, they believe in Him, and then He says to them in addition, "If you continue in My word, {then} you are truly disciples of Mine." To be a disciple is something more in this passage than just being a believer. [32] "and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. [33] They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" He is speaking to a crowd. There are others in the crowd, like the Pharisees, who don't believe. They are the ones speaking in v. 33. But often what someone will try to do is argue that those who believe in Him in v.30, 31 are not believers by the time we get down to verse 42. That is not true. This is a large group and He speaks to a segment who believe and He addresses them with reference to discipleship, but the others are the ones who do not believe. 

Believe is not commitment, surrendering to Jesus, having a certain feeling or emotion. Belief is not necessarily indicated by a certain type of life style or fruit (fruit only comes from a mature plant). As in the parable of the sower the seed that falls on rocky soil does sprout, there is a sign of life. That is that is what comes from a germinated seed and is simply regeneration. It is a sign of life but it may not be perceptible to anyone but God; it is not fruit.

Believe is the key, as John articulates again in 1 John 5:13 NASB "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." They already have eternal life as a present possession but they needed to continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. That was the problem with the false teachers who were saying that Jesus isn't really the Son of God.

Assurance of salvation comes not from evidence in the life but from the promise of God in the Scriptures.