What is Saving Faith?
Ephesians Series #061
March 1, 2020
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Our Father, we are so thankful that we have Your revelation, that we can come to understand the truth as it is defined by Your thinking and Your revelation, and that we can know with certainty that which You have revealed to us.
“We may take time and it may take years to fully comprehend what You have revealed, but You have given this to us so that we can comprehend it under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us and illuminates our thinking.
“Father, we pray that as we continue our study today trying to understand what You have revealed about faith and what faith consists of and what faith means, Father, help us to think through these things clearly to see their implications for us and to be able to discern the error that surrounds us when people often talk about faith erroneously.
“We pray that You would help us to think clearly and concentrate today, in Christ’s name, amen.”
Previously I began to address, “What is faith?”
We are continuing that study focusing a little more on “What is saving faith?” for saving faith, as one writer puts it, is a species of faith. In other words, saving faith is a category of faith. We all exercise faith in many, many ways every single day, and faith that saves is the same kind of faith that we exercise every day. It is just a species of that particular faith.
Often we discover, in looking at the current explanations of the gospel—as we examine what the theologians and others write about faith—there seems to be a lot of confusion. There are those who interpret faith to mean to commit yourself to the Lord, to commit yourself to God or to commit yourself to Christ.
Others will read a verse, I don’t know how they do this, you can have them, and I’ve done this before, you say read Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “What does it mean?” “It means to invite Jesus into my life.”
I am amazed at how people can’t read. They can’t read the Constitution, they can’t read the Bible. It’s amazing that half the population isn’t jail for income tax fraud. You ask, “Read the Gospel of John. How do you get saved?” “Oh, you have to invite Jesus into your life, commit your life to Jesus, all these other things.” “Really? What Gospel of John have you been reading? What translation because that’s not it.” It is just amazing. And this isn’t just confusion among people who have a reformed theology background. It is also true even among people in the free grace camp.
Most in the free grace movement are pretty solid, but there are some that have written theological article articles on why faith is not volitional. It is not decisional. It is the result of being persuaded. It is sort of automatic and passive. It is not active.
We have to address these things because they’re part of our world. And we have to learn to think precisely about these things, so that when we are talking to people about the gospel and explaining it, we can help them under understand it. And that when we’re listening to someone we will be attuned to the variance of errors that occur in our world today.
A very popular phrase that often we have in evangelicalism is that there’s a difference between a head belief and a heart belief, and that is just abuse of the Scripture. It is taking “heart” as being emotion when the heart mostly in the Old Testament refers to the thinking, the intellectual activity of the soul.
Proverbs 23:7, “… for as a man thinketh in his heart …” you think in your heart. The heart is not a reference to the physical organ, it is a reference to the center of one’s soul, which is where we think, where we have intellectual activity.
That too is a problem in our culture today because we have people who have rejected reason as a means of getting to any kind of truth or any kind of value in life, and when you reject reason, you automatically become irrational—you reject the rational approach to understanding. Irrationalism goes hand-in-hand with emotion and mysticism, and this dominates our culture today.
This morning announced the AIPAC Policy Conference, which started this morning. I did not get to listen to it this morning because I had some other things on my mind, but my wife was listening to it on her phone. We were listening as we were driving to church. They were showing some clips from last year’s conference, which we had attended.
They showed this Israeli group coming out singing a song, a sort of musical that they were taking around the world. And the first line out of the mouth of the head of the group as he’s introducing them is, “We just need to set everything aside and just feel this.”
That’s our culture; we have to feel everything. It’s not about facts. It’s not about information. It’s not about truth. It is about feeling. We also have people who want to define faith as some sort of subjective impression or feeling. But what we need to do is we need to look at what Scripture says which I began last week.
The passage we’ve been studying is Ephesians 2:1–10, “… by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
There are a couple things I said, by way of reminder. First of all, that “through faith” demonstrates that there is a logical progression, a specific order of events in terms of being saved. That being saved in this verse goes back to Ephesians 2:4 and talks about what God has done in Ephesians 2:5 in making us alive together in Him.
“For by grace you have been saved …” That’s the first time that phrase appears, so that tells us that for Paul in this context being saved equals regeneration, which equals being made alive together in Him. That’s very important.
When we read, “For by grace you have been saved,” contextually Paul is saying, “For by grace you have been made alive together in Him.” “For by grace you have been regenerated through faith.”
That means that faith must precede salvation. That is not taught in “New Calvinism,” “Neo-Calvinism” or in traditional Calvinism. It is not taught by many people who think that faith comes after regeneration because a dead man can’t believe, so this is a major problem.
This phrase DIA PISTIS in the Greek means through faith, not because of faith. We are not saved because of faith. We’re saved because of God’s grace and because of what Christ did on the cross, and we appropriate it through faith.
I use this diagram of the faith pipe: the valve is our volition and volition is clearly involved in faith. I’ll explain that as we continue our study on what saving faith is.
That volition valve has to be turned on, then the water of life flows through faith to the individual, so that we are made alive together in Him.
“For by grace we have been saved through faith …”
The other problem is the next word in the next clause “and that.” By grace through faith salvation is how I’ve interpreted it. But what’s that word “that?”
In Calvinism people want the “that” to refer to “faith.” The problem: this is a neuter relative pronoun, which means it has to agree in gender. It can’t be gender-confused, it has to agree in gender with the noun to which it refers.
The problem is that the word “grace” and the word “faith” are feminine, so it can’t refer to grace and it can’t refer to faith. The participle “you have been saved” is masculine; it can’t refer to “that.” In Greek, when there is a clause, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a book, and you’re referring to the whole thing, then you use a neuter pronoun to refer to that total phrase. The phrase here that it’s describing is a phrase that goes back to Ephesians 2:4-5 “by grace through faith salvation.” It is not the faith that is the gift of God.
Here’s the point: If faith is a gift of God, then the faith that saves is not like any other faith. It is categorically different; it can’t be a subset of every day faith. Therefore, the same word is used for everyday faith as for saving faith. It is very confusing because it would be categorically different. It falls apart completely in logic as well as the grammar.
What does the Bible teach about saving faith?
1. Faith has two primary meanings in the Scripture.
A. Accepting something to be true. We believe it to be true. It is relying upon it. It’s an act of believing. Or as with the noun that is used here in this passage, the noun describes the act of believing.
In Acts 16:31 we have the phrase “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here it is a verb; the noun is in Ephesians 2:8, “we are saved through faith.” The verb is used 241 times in the New Testament and the noun is used 243 times in the New Testament, so you have to distinguish between these two meanings.
The first meaning is trusting in, relying upon something as true.
B. It’s the content of what we believe. It is used to describe the things that we believe. We can talk about a Christian faith, a Buddhist faith, a Muslim faith, a Roman Catholic faith, a Protestant faith, something of that order where it refers in that way,
- Galatians 1:23, talking about the Apostle Paul, that after his salvation he “now preaches the faith:” the body of truth, the body of doctrine that is in the Scripture.
- Ephesians 4:5 uses it that same way, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” It is one set body of beliefs that make up biblically Orthodox Christianity.
2. Faith is fundamental to all knowledge.
You’ll get a lot of disagreement on this from secular philosophers and especially secular scientists. We demonstrated this through our chart that I go through a lot: that faith is always the foundation of all knowledge. At some point, whether you are a rationalist, an empiricist, a mystic, or you believe in the revelation of Scripture, you are believing certain first principles.
You’re taking them by faith. Whether you believe in Darwinian evolution or whether you believe, in Christianity, a biblical, literal young earth; six literal 24-hour consecutive days’ creation, it is based on faith. You are believing something to be true and trusting in that.
In human viewpoint you will hear that faith is non-rational or goes beyond reason or empiricism and is thus non-verifiable. This is a completely irrational definition because it goes against the very foundation.
In the divine viewpoint of Scripture, faith is rational. We believe with the intellect; that makes it rational. We believe with the intellect, we understand with the mind. Faith is either the human ability to reason, to interpret sense data, or in intuitive insights of their own mind. That’s rationalism, empiricism and mysticism.
Ultimately, as in our chart, in each system, each perception of knowledge, whether it’s rationalism, empiricism, or mysticism, it’s always faith in human ability, faith in human ability, faith in human ability. Faith in the intellectual ability of the mind to perceive truth on its own without any information coming from God.
It’s always based on faith. Reason, empiricism, mysticism, ultimately are assuming certain things to be true which they believe to be true, so faith is the foundation for every system. As believers we believe in the revelation of Scripture from God and that we have, therefore, faith in the objective revelation of God,
Gordon Clark in his book “Faith and Saving Faith” says, “Unfortunately, at least in the present writer’s opinion, many Christians, motivated by an irrational pragmatism or by an even more extremely irrational mysticism, consider belief to be an emotion or feeling.”
Gordon Clark was a 5-point Calvinist, a reformed philosopher/apologetic. His book, Faith and Saving Faith, is quite insightful in its historical analysis of the terms of faith and how it’s developed historically. I don’t agree with some of his conclusions because he is still influenced by reformed theology.
But it’s interesting that he sees saving faith as a subset of faith. That goes against the typical 5-point Calvinist who wants to see saving faith as something that is given by God. But he is very clear. It was recommended to me to read by Zane Hodges’ book, who is considered sort of the Father of the modern free grace movement.
Here you have Zane Hodges, who would not agree with the Calvinism at all of Gordon Clark, recommending Gordon Clark’s book as one of the most insightful analyses of what faith is. It’s really important to understand that because Clark is dealing with the logic and the meaning of words, which is inescapable.
Some of his analysis of the philosophical discussions of faith would challenge a lot of you because you don’t have a background in philosophy. But his conclusion is that secular philosophers don’t have a clue what faith is; they’re all over the board. Some of them do recognize that it’s volitional; others recognize that it is assent to the truth, others have different views. But there is no agreement among secular philosophers as to what faith is. We have to go to the Scriptures to get certainty on that.
3. Perception by faith is always non-meritorious.
What do I mean by that?
In a Calvinistic explanation of faith, they say that faith is the gift of God. That makes saving faith a different category than all other faith. It is having the right kind of faith that saves you. Because if you read various Calvinist reformed theologians, they say that there are people who have a perception of what Christ did on the Cross, understand that He died for them. They even believe in Jesus, but it’s not a saving faith because it’s not the faith it’s given to them by God because they weren’t elect.
That is repeated by numerous reformed theologians since John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation. This is a problem: it puts faith itself as the merit—it’s the “right kind” of faith. The merit is in having the right kind of faith, saving faith, not in the object of faith.
What do I mean by the object of faith?
When you believe something, the “something” is the object of faith. For example, in James 2:17 or 18 James introduces an objector to what he is saying. The objector is someone who disagrees with James’ basic point in James 2. You have to recognize that where they have the quotation marks in your translation are wrong. Where the objector finishes is at the end of the sentence where he says the demons believe that God is one.
Believing that God is one—the object of faith—isn’t the saving proposition. You’re not saved by believing in monotheism. Jews are not saved, they believe in monotheism. Muslims believe in monotheism, but that’s not a saving proposition.
He says a demon believes God is one, but you have to recognize monotheism is not the salvific proposition. The salvific proposition—that which we believe—is that Christ died for me. That’s a different proposition than Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world.
There are a lot of people who believe in what I would call a historical faith. Christ lived; Jesus lived; He died on the cross. The Bible says He died on the cross for the sins of the world. The Bible says Christ died for me. I believe the Bible says Christ died for me. Will that get you saved? No. I believe Christ died for me.
You can say, “I believe that Darwin says I evolved from monkeys.” That doesn’t mean I believe I evolved from monkeys. Believing that the Bible says X, Y, or Z doesn’t mean that you believe X, Y, or Z. That’s a distinction. People have a historical faith that is not a biblical faith that Christ died for me.
I’ll never forget what I learned years ago. I was a counselor at Camp Peniel, and there was a young man there who came to me in high school camp. He had grown up in a Bible church here in Houston. He’d been coming to Camp Peniel since he was a kid. He could give you the gospel. He said, “I just realized listening to the message last night that I needed to believe that Christ died for me. I’d never really believed that before. I believe Christ died for me.
Before, I knew who Jesus was and I knew all these other things about Jesus that I believed to be true, but I’d never really understood that Jesus died for me.” Two months later he was killed in an automobile accident, and we had the certainty of his salvation. It was very clear.
There are a lot of people who have this sort of secondary idea that they grow up in a church, they recite the creeds; they recite the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who died for my sins …” But they’re just reading the words. Reading the words doesn’t mean you believe it.
Recently I had a conversation with someone who is going through a class on the Nicene Creed and actually made the observation to me that I just made, that many people in the church where she attends just say those words, but they don’t really believe them. They just say them because that’s sort of a ritual thing.
That’s a not what biblical faith is. Biblical faith is trusting Christ died for my sins; that’s what we are believing.
Just to expand a little bit more on what I said at the beginning,
4. Faith means to trust, to rely on, have confidence in, believe, to accept something as true.
You say, “Well, I believe in Jesus.” That’s not any different from saying I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I believe in Jesus; I believe in the name of Jesus. I believe in the person and work of Christ—that’s language in the Gospel of John, believing in Jesus. But it means the same thing as believing “that” Jesus: I trust that when Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” that He was telling me the truth. I trust that to be a true statement. Faith means to trust and rely on the truth of statements.
Sometimes you’ll hear, “Well, we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” There’s not one person here who has a personal relationship with Jesus like Judas Iscariot did. Look at Matthew, look at John, look at James; look at the other disciples: they lived with Jesus, they ate with Jesus, they slept with Jesus.
They did everything with Jesus as they camped out along the roads and they heard Jesus. They had a great personal relationship with Jesus. Judas did too, but that didn’t save him.
Having a personal relationship with Jesus isn’t the gospel. The gospel is to believe that He died on the cross for your sins. Faith means to trust or rely on the truth of these statements, these propositions, in Scripture, to accept them to be true.
In order to break that down, we have to recognize that faith relies first on understanding. We have to understand what the Scripture is saying; you cannot believe something you don’t understand. (We will get to that more in a subsequent point.) We have to comprehend the meaning of the statement that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. We have to understand who Jesus Christ is.
We have to understand something about the cross and what it meant for Him to die on the cross for our sins, and why it was necessary for Him to die on our sins. Then we have to decide if we believe it or not. That is the volitional element of faith. Go back to the early church fathers: they all understood faith as voluntary. That’s the language they used for making a volitional decision and accepting that as true.
The object of faith, then, is what is important.
Look at Galatians 2:16, “… nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
In English it uses that preposition “in” Christ Jesus. In this verse it doesn’t use a preposition. It uses a different grammatical structure—an objective genitive—“that faith of Jesus,” literally, but it’s directed toward Jesus. There’s a big debate on that. I’m not going to get into right now, but it uses one grammatical construction.
Acts 16:31, where it says, “believe on the name of Jesus,” uses a preposition, EPI. In the Gospel of John, it usually uses the preposition EIS “believe in Jesus.” Sometimes that’s translated “believe that Jesus,” sometimes “in Jesus;” it’s all the same.
But all these different ways of expressing it in the Greek are saying the same thing—that we are believing something about who Jesus is. That’s expressed in the phrase “believing in the name of Jesus,” His character, Who Jesus is. That’s a Jewish idiom describing a particular person’s character, identifying him as an individual.
That is the key: faith is trusting in what the Scripture tells us about who that person is and what He did for us.
5. Faith does not mean to commit to, to invite, to feel, it means to trust that something is true.
Some people think this gets sort of separated from that personal relationship, but as I said earlier, we don’t have a direct personal relationship. I don’t think anybody here has ever seen Jesus, ever had a relationship like the apostles had where there was a physical presence of Christ in their life in that way.
We only know Jesus through the statements of Scripture. You only know Jesus because of what John wrote in his gospel, or what Paul wrote in his epistles, or what Matthew wrote in his gospel. We only know about Jesus from the statements of Scripture, so what we are believing is the truth of the statement of Scripture.
This gets into a philosophical understanding of what faith is: faith is believing the truth of a proposition. In philosophy a proposition is a statement. In English we would call it a declarative sentence that can either be proved to be true or false.
A command, “Pray without ceasing.” Is that true or false? It’s neither. It’s a command. A command is not a proposition; it’s an imperative statement; it’s a command.
A question, “What day of the week is today?” Is that true or false? It’s question; it’s neither true nor false.
But a proposition: “Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” Is that true or false? If you say it’s true, then you believe that’s a true statement. That’s the only way you know the gospel is because the Scripture has articulated it as a sentence, and you believe it to be true. You are not directly in contact with Jesus. You’re in contact with the Word of God, which tells you Him, and you believe it’s true or you believe it’s not true.
The gospel is believing that the statements of Scripture about who Jesus is and what He did for us are true for us personally: not just historically, not just academically—that that’s what the Bible says. But that the Bible says Christ died for my sins, and I believe that is true; He died for my sins. When that happens you are saved.
6. Biblical faith is a response to what is taught, what is said, what is written in the Bible.
Romans 10:17 says that “… faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
It always goes to the Word of God. It always goes to listening to what God says in His Word.
I love what Elbert said a while back, “If you want to hear God speak, then pick up your Bible and read it out loud.” That’s where you get it. God speaks through His Word, and today that’s the only way He speaks is through His Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Let’s look at an example in the New Testament; turn to Luke 23. I believe this is one example that God has given us which really invalidates a lot of things that are said by a lot of people with strange ideas who introduce works either up front in the gospel or afterwards.
Luke 23:40. Jesus is on the cross, Jesus is being crucified. We are told that while He is on the cross—He has already been abused, He has been beaten mercilessly, He has been flagellated mercilessly, He has deep, profound open wounds from the scourging that took place—He looks down on those that have been responsible for this, and He says, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
The soldiers gamble for His clothes, and we’re told also here that there were two others who were being crucified alongside of Him. They were also to be put to death.
As they were mocking Him and all of this was going on, the two criminals, who were being executed along with Him, are watching this. They’re watching how He is being mocked and how the soldiers are saying, “If You’re the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” Then one of the criminals who was being crucified with Him blasted Him also saying the same thing, “Well, if you’re the Messiah, save Yourself and us.”
But the other thief on the cross answered and rebuked this other criminal, Luke 23:40–42, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation. And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds—so he admits the fact, we’re criminals and we deserve the death penalty we’re getting—but this man has done nothing wrong.”
He understands Who Jesus is by that statement. He understands that He is innocent, that He has not committed any crime, not committed any sin. Then he turns to Jesus and he says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
He’s heard the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, but he didn’t say, “Lord, I believe You’re my Savior.” What he said is the result of the fact that he had already believed that in his soul. Because he wouldn’t say, “Lord, remember me when You come in Your kingdom,” unless he recognized Jesus as the Messiah Who is going to bring in the kingdom. So he’s already believed that internally.
That’s why when I give the gospel, I don’t say you need to pray a prayer because the prayer is just a result of something that’s already happened. When we believe in our soul when we reach that “aha moment,” “Jesus died for me. I believe that.” That’s going on quietly; that’s in our soul. We just come to this realization, “Yes, that’s true. Jesus died for me.” We’re saved at that point. What we say after that is just the result of the fact that we have already trusted in Christ as our Savior.
That’s what’s happening her: he has already trusted Christ as his Savior. He realizes this in a flash, and says to the Lord, “… remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”
What does the Lord say? “Well, you didn’t say the right words!” Is that what He said? He said, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
That assures us that the thief on the cross trusted in Christ as Savior. He didn’t have any good works. He didn’t go through any ritual. He didn’t have time to have any post-salvation fruit or works or any of the other things that Lordship salvation people say are necessary in order to validate your faith because they are introducing works as an after-effect instead of at the beginning.
We have a clear understanding of what faith is—the internal belief in your soul that is not seen by anybody except God, that you trust that Jesus is Who He claimed to be and did what He claimed to do. That’s it. That is a tremendous example for us.
7. To believe something, or anything is true, you must first understand it.
There are a lot of people who struggle with this, but if I were to stand up here in the pulpit and say to you in Greek, “πίστευσον ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ σωθήσῃ σὺ,” could you believe that? You don’t understand it! If I got up here and said the same thing in Spanish, Ukrainian, Russian, Chinese or Japanese, you couldn’t believe it.
That is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Now you believe that! But if I said it to you in another language, you couldn’t believe it because you don’t understand it.
Well, if somebody says something in your own language and you don’t understand it, the same principle is true. You can’t believe something you don’t comprehend, you don’t understand. First of all, there is the comprehension or understanding of what a statement means. So when we explain to somebody, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” they have to have some understanding of who this Lord Jesus Christ is.
The only time some people in our culture ever hear the word “Jesus” is if it’s some sort of profanity. They have no idea who the Jesus of the Bible is. This is not anything new. It is much more exacerbated today. I think when many of us were growing up, there was at least a cultural understanding of who Jesus was.
I remember when I was in the seventh grade and the teacher made a comment, (it was around Christmas) that there was a kid in the class who had no idea who Jesus was. She was talking about Christmas and mentioned Jesus, and “Who’s Jesus?” This was a kid that had come, apparently, from some other country and had no idea who Jesus was.
We have to understand who Jesus is. You have to understand to some degree that you’re a sinner. You have to understand the point Paul makes in Ephesians 2:1 that we’re born dead in our trespasses and sins. We have to recognize that we are spiritually dead, and we need to be made spiritually alive.
We need to understand what the problem is, so we are willing to accept the solution. If you don’t understand the problem, you don’t know that you need salvation and what Christ is doing on the cross.
It doesn’t have to be an in-depth theological discussion, but there needs to be content, so that people understand Who Jesus the Christ, the Messiah is, what the problem is that He is solving on the cross, what He did on the cross, and that this is a free gift.
It’s an explanation that sometimes people need to hear, five, six, seven, eight times before they get it. I’ve read some surveys of Christian who say, “Well, I probably heard the gospel six or seven times before I believed it.”
We’ve all gone through that. The first time you hear something, you’re not sure you really understand it. We have to understand it first, and then we believe it.
8. Faith is a mental activity triggered by volition. As such, faith cannot be emotion because emotion can’t respond to a command.
There’s only one place in the Scripture where we have a command related to the gospel, Acts 16:31, but you only need something stated in Scripture once for it to be true. God doesn’t have to say it two times to make sure it’s true; three times—okay now we have more confidence it’s true because it’s said more than once.
Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas have been in jail in Philippi, and the angel causes their shackles to fall off, and the jailer comes in expecting them to have escaped, and they haven’t. He says, “Well, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
PISTEUO used here is the same verb that we’re talking about. It’s in the aorist active imperative. That means as an aorist imperative, it’s stressing the priority and the importance of doing this now. Whereas the present tense says make this a standard characteristic in your life, this is saying you need to do this now: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Any command calls for one of two options: to either obey it or to disobey it.
John 3:36, quoting Jesus, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey …”
Notice the contrast between “belief” and “obey,” because belief is a command. A command is addressed to volition; that means that you respond with volition. It involves other things, for example, it involves persuasion. But the argument that has come out of some people in the free grace camp is that faith is the result of being persuaded. It’s something that is just passive.
They cite Acts 28:24, and the error here is the claim that faith is passive. But when you have an active command, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and your response is active, you believe. It’s active voice: you are the one who performs the action or is doing the action. But they’re trying to say that it is passive: it’s the result of being persuaded.
The word for “persuaded” in the Greek is PEITHO. Here it is an imperfect middle, or it’s the same form and it could be an imperfect passive, they “were persuaded.” It’s possible that this is passive in the sense that somebody else is presenting the argument, and they are being persuaded.
What gets tricky here is that the ultimate etymological root for “persuasion” and “faith” is the same root related to the PEI in PEITHO. But this is an etymological error; this is considered a fallacy. When you go back and trace the root and say, “Oh see, it has a common root; and so therefore, they mean the same thing,” that’s just false.
In fact, in the New International Dictionary of New Testament theology, the author on the article on PEITHO says that in this verse PEITHO has the meaning of “believe.” It is not that belief has the meaning of persuade, it is that that word translated “persuade” here means faith. “… some were persuaded …” that is, they believed. To be persuaded, you have to exercise your volition to let somebody persuade you of something, to be willing to have your mind changed, then you believe.
“And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.”
Persuasion comes before you believe, so it is not the same as belief. But the contrast here between “disbelief” and “persuasion” has caused some in the free grace camp to have totally confused this.
Historically, faith was divided into three components. This developed after the Reformation.
First component is the Latin word Notitia, which means understanding. First you have to understand what it is you’re believing.
The second is Assensus, which means you have to assent, which means to agree that it is true.
Some people say, “Oh, you’re just reducing faith to intellectual assent.” Well, belief is done with the mind, so it’s intellectual, and belief means to agree that something is true, so it’s assent. What’s wrong with that?
For some people it sounds cold and distant and whatever. You’re just being irrational and emotional at this point. You’re not thinking logically in terms of the word’s meaning. Faith means your intellectual assent that something is true.
The third component is Fiducia, which means trust.
Gordon Clark’s critique of this is right on target:
“The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fuducia (trust), is that fuducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). (Fuducia is a Latin word which comes from fides) The Latin fide is not a good synonym for the Greek PISTEUO. (Hence, this popular analysis—it’s very popular in Reformed Theology and Lordship salvation) reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith.”
I don’t know if you missed this in 7th or 8th grade English, but you never define a word with itself. You can’t say, “What is faith? Faith is faith.” You haven’t defined anything. That’s what you’re saying here. This third component of faith or trust is redundant. It’s defining faith by itself, so this is a poor concept.
What we end up with is that faith is understanding something to be true, and then assenting or agreeing that it is true. But you have to agree that the right proposition is true. The right proposition is not, “I believe the Bible says Jesus died for my sins.”
The right proposition to believe is “I believe Jesus died for my sins.” That’s the salvific proposition; that’s the gospel. That’s believing the gospel, not some historical statement that the Bible says that Christ died for my sins. A lot of people can say, “I believe the Bible says that, but I don’t believe it!”
9. As Clark explains, faith is understanding and assent. If we understand what assent means, and that saving faith is assent to the salvific proposition.
That’s what you have to understand: Christ died for your sins. When you believe it, you say, “I believe Christ died for my sins. I believe that by believing in Christ, I have everlasting life, and I’m saved.”
10. Therefore, you do not believe directly in a person.
A lot of people will say that, “Well, I believe in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe in Jesus.”
No. What you believe—break it down—is what the Bible tells you about Jesus. You believe that Jesus, as defined by the Bible, is the One who is the God-Man who died on the cross for your sins. You’re not directly believing in Him as a person because it’s mediated through the propositional truth of the Bible.
That may be a hard thing for people to handle. I remember when I started reading serious theology when I was in college—about the Bible and the authority of the Bible—I kept running into this phrase “propositional truth.” That was not a user-friendly phrase for me. What it boils down to, the Bible makes the statements that are either true or false—they’re propositions. So the Bible is propositional truth. It’s either true or it’s false. We do believe it or we don’t.
We believe in what the Scripture has told us; we believe with our minds. You don’t believe your emotions, you don’t believe with feelings, or you don’t believe just by volition. It is understanding. It is rational. It is not irrational.
11. Faith is an activity of the mentality of the soul, which is directed first and foremost toward a proposition: that Jesus is the God-Man who died on the Cross for our sins.
The proposition has to be the saving proposition. We have to understand exactly what the gospel is.
12. Faith is not something we do, but it is the channel. It is not a work, but it is the channel by which we appropriate what God has done for us.
We are saved by means of faith. We are trusting in what the Bible says, and it is through faith that we are saved. When we believe it and we assent that it is true, we rest in it.
Let me give you an example; it’s time sensitive. Before I left to go to Kiev, I had to deal with my income taxes. Very early for me, but I knew with the conference coming after getting back from Kiev and everything else, I needed to get everything together, and I needed to get everything in order for my accountant and fill in all the blanks and give him all the information and do a few math computations.
I leave it up to him to make sure everything’s right. Then I check and recheck, make sure I have all the forms and everything. Once I reach a point where I believe that I have it all together, then do I keep working at it? No. I rest. I stop. I put in the envelope, seal the envelope, and take it to him.
That’s what faith is: once we understand what Jesus has done for us, and we agree that it is true, then we stop. We rest in it. We relax because it is true and Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins.
1. No biblical distinction exists between head and heart belief. Heart in the Bible always refers to the mentality of the soul.
You can’t miss salvation by 12 inches, as some have said. A head belief is a heart belief; a heart belief is a head belief. The Bible always uses “heart” to refer to the mentality of the soul. It is not a word for emotion; we believe. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We believe intellectually: we believe with our mind that Christ died for me.
You can believe intellectually that Christ died on the cross: that the Bible says that Christ died for me. That’s not the same as believing that Christ died for you.
2. Saving faith is not a different kind of faith, but is a faith with a saving object: the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross.
It is Christ who saves. It is not faith that saves. We’re not saved because of faith. According to the grammar of Ephesians 2:8, we are saved through faith, and the object of faith is that Christ died for me. He paid the penalty for my sins, and when I trust in Him and Him alone, I have eternal salvation.
There is a hymn that many of us have sung over the years, “I Know Whom I have Believed.” I think it was one of the first hymns I ever learned how to play on the piano. Verse 2 states, “I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart.” That’s why we don’t sing this hymn. That treats saving faith as something that God gives you. That’s not what the Bible says. That makes it another kind of faith. We stick to what the Scripture says.
3. Salvation is not based on a personal relationship with Christ.
That’s the result of believing that Christ died on the cross for your sins. You don’t believe in the result, you believe in what Christ did for you. The result is then that we can have fellowship with the Lord, we can develop a personal relationship with Christ. That’s post-salvation; that is our spiritual life, our spiritual growth.
Judas had a great relationship with Jesus, but he wasn’t saved. James and Jude, who authored the Epistle of Jude and the Epistle of James in the New Testament, were His brothers. They grew up with Him. They had a great relationship with Jesus, but they didn’t get saved until after the resurrection. Having a relationship with Jesus isn’t the same as believing Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
4. Faith is something anyone can do.
That’s why we have the metaphors of eating and drinking—anyone can eat or drink. That’s a picture of accepting something into your life. “Trusting in Jesus.” These are just synonyms and different ways to express this idea in the Scriptures of faith. Saving faith is saving because it is trusting in the Correct Object: the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John 11:25–26 Jesus said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me …” It doesn’t say he who believes in Me and has the right kind of works afterwards or he who believes in Me and perseveres. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Very simple.
John 20:31, “… but these—things that are written in the Gospel of John—are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing—it’s a participle of means—by believing you may have life in His name.”
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study “through faith,” what it means, to get past some of the confusion, the distortions, the misrepresentations; that it is very simple. It is just trusting in what the Bible says is true, that we are born spiritually dead. We can do nothing to save ourselves. We can only be saved by the work of Christ on the Cross.
“That Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, promised and prophesied in the Old Testament, and that His character was demonstrated in His life, that He was qualified to go to the Cross as the Lamb of God to die as our substitute, to pay the penalty for our sin. That by believing in Him and His death for me, His death for us, that we have everlasting life. Jesus alone by faith alone; that is the gospel.
“Father, thank You that we can understand it, there’s such clarity. We need to make sure that we all understand that there are distortions, there is false teaching, there is error. We need to have clarity and base our understanding on the truth of Scripture, understand the words that are used, because that’s how we communicate.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge each of us to be better communicators of the gospel, having clarity and expressing the simplicity of the gospel, to trust in Christ for Who He is and what He did, that we can lead others to a saving knowledge of our Lord and to understand clearly the gospel.
“We pray that we might be challenged to in every area of our life, to understand more fully what Jesus has done for us.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”