Whole-Souled Saving Faith
Every once in a while I run across someone who sings the praises of faith. After all, I am told, we are justified by faith alone. And indeed we are. The Reformers noted that faith is the instrument by which we are justified. Or more accurately faith is the instrument by which we are united to Christ and by being united to our Lord we are justified (as well as sanctified, adopted, and in an anticipatory way, glorified). Faith is utterly essential to our salvation in Christ. But what exactly is faith? Saving faith, I would like to suggest, is a grace-enabled, whole-souled response to the proclamation of the gospel. Saving faith is that response which joins us to Jesus. Faith is, as Jonathan Edwards put it, the vinculum or chain that ties us to our dying, risen, and reigning Lord.
Saving faith does not and cannot occur in a vacuum. With all due respect for the sorrowful Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard, faith is not simply a leap in the dark. Faith must act or respond to something. If you would trust in Christ for redemption you must know something about him. That is why theologians have traditionally understood faith to possess the element of knowledge. That faith involves at least some knowledge is suggested by the apostle Paul in Romans 10:14-17, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV). Since faith involves knowledge it inexorably follows that the power of the intellect is involved. However if we limited faith to knowledge we would end up with what is called “historical faith” which falls far short of saving faith.
Historical faith also involves the second element of faith and that is assent or agreement with the knowledge you possess. You may know that Jesus is Lord and that he is the God-man who came to live and die and live again for the sins of his people. You may even agree with this piece of information which is objectively true. Hebrews 11:6 informs us about the necessity of assenting to truth: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (ESV). To exercise saving faith we must not only know about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must also assent to it. We must exercise our will power or power of choice.
Saving faith must involve knowledge, assent, and finally, trust. It is not sufficient to know that Jesus came to save his people from their sins. As wonderful as that knowledge is you might actually hate the fact. Or it may cause you to yawn (perish the thought!). This was my condition before I was drawn to Christ. I grew up in a Christian home the son of a pastor. I knew about Jesus and even thought it true. True, but irrelevant. Gradually I came to see that I had to trust in Jesus Christ for his life and death and resurrected life to benefit me. The apostle Paul in Romans 4:20-21 highlights the fiducial element of Abraham’s saving faith: “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (ESV). The trust element is present negatively with the words “no unbelief” and positively with “fully convinced.” Trust is either the emotional power of the soul or a combination of the will and emotion (if we distinguish them).
Saving faith is a whole-souled response to the proclamation of the gospel. It involves knowledge, assent, and trust and these in turn involve the intellect, will, and emotions. Truth be told, saving faith is like a multi-faceted diamond and so each of these elements really involve the others.
Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum. Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.
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