RPM, Volume 18, Number 28, July 3 to July 9, 2016

Saving Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9

By D. Marion Clark


Faith is a popular expression today. People like the idea of faith. Have faith in yourself, that you can do whatever you believe you can do. Have faith in the power of love to overcome hate. Or have faith in the ultimate good of life, that things will work out in the end. Faith is good.

But faith is not a popular idea when it comes to salvation. Indeed, for the world it is a scandalous means of salvation. Some say it is foolish. Believing that we are saved by faith places wishfulness or feeling over knowledge. Others say the idea is unjust. It places profession over heart or action. Why should right belief excuse wrong behavior?

Shouldn't one be judged by the heart rather than the intellect?
Shouldn't one be judged by action rather than profession?

And still others say that salvation by faith is harsh, for it condemns honest doubt or other honest belief in other viewpoints. Why should one be condemned for not believing a set of propositions? Why condemn honest doubt? Faith by definition concedes lack of conclusive proof; why then condemn the doubter? Why condemn other "faiths"?

The Biblical Case

Why then teach faith as the means of salvation? It's biblical. Consider but a small example from the scriptures.

"The time has come," Jesus said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Mark 1:15

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..." Acts 16:30,31

We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:15,16

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8,9

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Romans 3:21,22

But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:8,9

…from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. Hebrews 10:39

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4

Defining Saving Faith

What is saving faith? It has three components: believing, obeying, and trusting.

It is believing.

Believe what? That's the first question people want to know. What world-view or belief system do we have to hold? What ideas or events do we have to accept as true? Well, there are teachings that you have to accept as true.

You must, as Paul and Silas told the jailer, Believe in the Lord Jesus... (Acts 16:30,31). What does that mean? Believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior, that he has done the work that saves us from our sins. Paul summed it up this way in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…

What you believe matters and it is this insistence that you believe rightly that causes offense to others. Again, the objection is basing salvation on beliefs and not on right living or good hearts. How can you link a saving relationship with God to a belief system? Because the belief system is revealed by God and is about God himself. And this is why believing is so important to God. Let's look at this further.

Believing is about whom you believe. To believe the gospel is to believe God. To reject gospel is to reject God. The unbeliever says, "I'm not rejecting God; I just need more evidence that what the Bible claims about God is true." But the Bible teaches otherwise. It claims that people do not believe because they refuse to. Jesus exasperated his skeptics with the same attitude. The famous verse John 3:16 is part of this fuller discourse:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light… (John 3:16-19).

Though many would protest that is not the case with them, we all acknowledge that our beliefs are influenced by our own interests and desires. Let me ask a question. Should President Clinton have been removed from office? Whatever your answer, your political party affiliation influenced you. Should O.J. Simpson have been convicted of murder? Again, your race influenced you. Somebody is right; somebody is wrong; everybody is influenced, maybe even governed by their background.

This isn't hard to understand. Scientists have difficulty keeping objective in scientific studies. That is the reason for elaborate regulations in how they conduct their experiments and the need to have others confirm their work. Jurors are disqualified if they are personally related to a case because of natural bias. How much more difficult is it to form an objective opinion about a matter that will upset everything in your life, which is what the gospel does?

And this is God's point. The truth of the matter is we don't want to believe in him. We really don't, at least not what he wants us to believe. It is too costly and too humbling, whatever we may say otherwise. As much as we may argue that God should not take our unbelief or misbelief personally, he does. And, if we think about it, if God really is God knowing all things, he knows our subconscious better than ourselves. We are told that when judgment day comes that every thought will be revealed. I shutter at the conscious thoughts. What will my unconscious ones reveal?

Believing also includes what we believe about that person, i.e. God. These ideas of the gospel are, after all, about God — who he is, what he says about us, what he has done for us, and what he requires of us. To reject them is to reject him. Again, he takes it personally, just as we would.

A man, wooing a woman, says, "It's not important for me to know you as you are or even as you want to be known; I have a particular image of you and that is what's important to me. As long as I show you love that should be enough for you." Will the woman be enraptured? No, she will be insulted that the man is merely using her to satisfy his own fantasy. He can do all the good works for her — give her gifts, be romantic - but the bottom line is that those things are meaningless if he is not interested in who she really is.

A man takes his fiancée to see a beautiful piece of property and says to her, "I am going to build for you here your dream home." He pulls out the drawings, shows how he has financed it and the schedule for the work." She replies, "Dear, you are just dreaming, but I love you anyhow." Will he be happy that she expressed her love? No, he will be offended that she did not believe him, or rather, believe in him.

That is what we say to God when we do not believe. "God, your evidence is not enough. The Bible is not enough. You are not doing a good enough job to satisfy me. I would like to believe, but you've got to do a better job."

Let's look at obeying.

It is one thing to say we believe; it is another to act on belief. A person shows what he believes by how he lives. The objection — I should be judged by my actions not my beliefs — presupposes that the two can be separated. Profession of beliefs and actions can be separated, but not true belief and actions.

In Isaiah 29:13, God complains These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

We understand God's position here. His people profess one faith in him, but their actions prove otherwise. The financial advisor will say that if you want to know what a person's real priorities are, look at his checkbook. The marriage counselor will say that if you want to know how much a husband loves his wife, observe how much time he spends with her. If you want to know… whatever… look at actions.

The Bible makes this clear.

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. 1 John 4:20

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? James 3:14

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21

I want to be careful here. It's after a message like this that believers come up to me and say, "I must not be a Christian. I keep doing…" Stumbling in faith does not disqualify us. The underlying meaning of faith is that God saves us precisely because we are unable to live perfect lives. We live by faith in the atoning work of Christ, because if we lived by our own righteousness, we would fail.

But again, we all understand the point. We know when words are mere words even from a person who has deluded himself.

1. And there is trusting.

Trusting is believing, but it brings out an aspect of belief that speaks to a relationship, specifically about feeling. To believe that God is God our Creator is to trust him to do what he promises. To believe that God has sent his Son to save us from our sins is to trust him to save us. To believe God is to trust him to know truth that we cannot know; to know reality that we cannot see, and then to act upon that trust with confidence he will carry out his will.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5,6).

Do you think religion should be a matter of the heart? Belief is a matter of the heart. Your heart will take you where it places its trust.

There is the well-known story of the tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls. Calling to his admiring audience, he asked, "Who believes I can push this wheelbarrow filled with stones across the falls?" They all replied they believed, and he proceeded to perform the feat. He then asked, "Who believes I can push this wheelbarrow with a person in it?" They are replied they believed. He then asked, "Who will hop in?" Belief stopped, though the evidence was clear the man could perform the feat. In this case the heart would not follow the head.

Conversely, consider the scene at a fire. A young child is in a second story window with fire shooting up from the first floor. A fireman is on the ground coaxing the child to jump out of the window, over the flames, into his arms. It goes against his reason. He is safe now where there are no flames and he is being asked to jump into danger. But something in the fireman's voice and perhaps his looks, gives him enough confidence to trust this man, and he jumps against the evidence. In this case the heart overcomes the head.

To believe God, to obey him, to trust him — that is what saving faith is about. It is a personal matter that reveals the heart and produces action.

Why Faith?

Why is faith essential? Because it glorifies and honors God fully. Faith gives all the credit to God as he should have. Faith says, "You the God. You've done it all. You do the saving; you do it for yourself, the way you want to." Skeptics ask, What does it matter to God if he gets the credit or not. If God is satisfied in himself, what does he care what we think, or why should he hold against us what we are too small or dysfunctional to believe properly?

We disapprove of the man in power or is famous, who insists on being shown honor or raved over. Someone who is really great in something doesn't need to have his ego stroked or stoked. God, who is truly the greatest should not need to insist on adoration or acknowledgment, and he certainly should not condemn people for failure to give such praise. How big of a deal can it be?

Well, it's what we were made for. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever," as the first answer in the Westminster catechism explains, or as John Piper rephrases the sentence — "to glorify God by enjoying him forever."

The first chapter in Ephesians harps on this theme:

5,6 God predestined us in love to be his sons…to the praise of the glory of his grace!"

We…have been predestined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory"

12 …the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

Glorifying God is what life is about; it is the highest good and the highest joy. Consider the following from John Piper's book, Desiring God:

Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, he must be for himself if he is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from himself as the Source of infinite joy, he would cease to be God.

He would deny the infinite worth of his own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside himself. He would commit idolatry.

This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous? Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable? Where shall we turn with our adoration when God himself has forsaken the claims of infinite worth and beauty?

No, we do not turn God's self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God. Instead we must come to see that God is love precisely because he relentlessly pursues the praises of his name in the hearts of his people (47-8).

To believe God about God is the truly righteous and loving act, because to believe is the highest form of praise.

Faith also best demonstrates the riches of God's grace. Let's read again our text, Ephesians 2:8,9 in its fuller context.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast (1-9).

How should we respond to such an act of God? "Thanks, God. That's really great. Let me pay you for this. Can I do you a favor sometime? I ought to be able to do something for you." No! The great God of the universe has given us a gift, and not just any gift — the sacrifice of his only Son to remove the guilt of our condemning sins. We have offended the holy God and he has not merely spared us, he has lifted us up with Christ. We are seated with him now by faith in glory, and someday we shall dwell in glory. And all by his grace to show his incomparable riches to us. How could we even consider making an offer. For shame! We would be like Peter who beholds Christ transfigured in his glory and offers to build a tent for him.

There will be works from us, to be sure. As Paul goes on to say: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (10). Our works, though, will not be payment for, but rather testimony to the riches of God. Nothing but faith can be the appropriate response that glorifies God.

Exercising Faith

You may ask how to exercise faith, especially when doubts remain. That is the trouble for many. We are too many Hamlets wavering between action and inaction. It makes for good drama, but too often ends in tragedy. What you need to do is act.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).

But I'm not sure. I don't know if the gospel is true.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

But how do I know; how can I be sure?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25).


But know this. Today is the day of salvation. What is more important? What is of greater significance than to act upon what has eternal consequence? If doubt spurs you on to seek truth with all your heart, fine; but if it stymies you, which it does most people, then it will leave you condemned. Can you say in all honesty that you have studied seriously the scriptures, which purport to reveal the truth? Can you really claim to have explored fully the so-called objections to the gospel?

Is it really lack of credible evidence that holds you back or inward wrestling about the changes that would take place if you believed? See, faith, criticized for being so simple, too easy, is the hardest act to take. But you will find, that once taken, no other acts leads to greater peace and joy.

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