Is saving faith knowledge in a set of facts?


Knowledge Alone and Genuine Faith

While knowledge of the facts — that Jesus is the God-man was born of the Virgin Mary, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4) — is necessary for saving faith, this knowledge by itself will not save a person. Even demons believe these facts (Jas. 2:19). Jesus himself said:

Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."

As one can clearly observe above, the mere knowledge and even experience in some form (prophesy, casting out demons, mighty works) of the Lord's existence, power, and authority is not enough to be saved. Even many who confess the Apostles' Creed are presently lost. Knowledge of a few mere facts alone can't save.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is a gift of God. The Reformed faith teaches that the definition of genuine faith includes three essential elements. Biblically these are knowledge (notia), assent (assensus) and trust (fiducia).

Knowledge: The factual assertions of the gospel (the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; 1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Assent: Agreeing that the factual assertions in one (1) above are true and real. Note that even the demons know and believe this, yet are not saved (Jas. 2:19). Why? Because there is yet a third element.

Trust: The total reliance upon Christ alone and his mercy for one's righteousness before God. 

These elements together are the saving gift of faith given by the Holy Spirit at one's conversion. So, one must not only understand certain biblical facts concerning Christ, but also must know in their hearts that they are true and real, and they must totally rest in the finished work of Christ alone as their sole assurance of salvation. This is what Paul taught (Eph. 2:8-10), and specifically addresses "confessing" and "believing" in Romans 10:9-10:

  • A. confess with your mouth

 B. believe in your heart

    • B'. with the heart one believes

  • A'. with the mouth one confesses

Notice how the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21) purposely reverses the order of "confess ... believe" in Romans 10:9, as compared to "believes ... confesses" in Romans 10:10. This emphasizes not only a knowledge of certain facts — Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead, which implies he once lived — but a genuine God-given faith within the heart of the Spirit-born believer (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3). Thus, genuine faith (knowledge, assent and trust) confesses "Jesus is Lord." And since Jesus is Lord, he is God. And since he is God, he cannot lie (Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Therefore, Jesus was born of a virgin, literally lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of God (1 Cor. 15:1-4), etc.

More specifically, we observe in Paul's chiasm (a writing style that uses a unique repetition pattern for clarification and emphasis) focusing upon the heart's embrace of faith. Note that both Romans 10:9 and Romans 10:10 are joined together with the phrase "you will be saved."

  • A. confess (Rom 10:9)
    • B. with your mouth (Rom 10:9)
      • C. believe (Rom 10:9)
        • D. in your heart (Rom 10:9)
          • E. you will be saved (Rom 10:9, 10)
        • D'. with the heart (Rom 10:10)
      • C'. believes (Rom 10:10)
    • B'. with the mouth (Rom 10:10)
  • A'. confesses (Rom 10:10)

Essentially, Paul is saying if anyone genuinely believes (having knowledge, assent and trust) he will naturally confess Christ in word, heart and actions (Acts 2:36; 10:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; 16:22; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 2:11; Col. 2:6). Of course, one can't know Christ in their heart until they are first converted by his Spirit (John 3:1-8).

Is genuine faith alone truly alone?

While James is mostly recognized for writing about works (Jas. 2:14-26), he believes in salvation by faith alone as well. James says: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (Jas. 1:18). Note that James says that salvation is entirely by God's will alone (cf. John 1:13; Rom. 9:16). He says, as both Paul and Peter do, that saints are redeemed by "the word of truth" (Eph. 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).

Here is what Calvin and Luther have said about this:

It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light. [1]
Idle faith is not justifying faith. [2]

Genuine works always accompany saving faith! James continues to expound upon this great salvation in Christ alone by saying that faith without works are dead (Jas. 2:14-26). So, ultimately we shall know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:20; 12:33) and as "the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; cf. Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:14).

Of course, one can only genuinely confess Christ as Lord by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) who alone truly regenerates (John 3:1-8). Romans 10:9-10 are not some genie's "hocus-pocus" magical spell to get into heaven. Rather, it pictures a Spirit-converted heart that genuinely confesses Christ as Lord. Note that both confession and belief are "means" (plural) by which God saves and are not the "ground" (singular) on which he saves.


[1] Calvin, John. Antidote to the Council of Trent, Canon 11.
[2] Luther, Martin. Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. Gal. 5:6.

Related Topics:

Demons Believe in God
Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?
The Apostles' Creed

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).