In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge says the following about the importance of faith:
“As so much prominence is assigned to faith in the Scriptures, as all the promises of God are addressed to believers, and as all the conscious exercises of spiritual life involve the exercise of faith, without which they are impossible, the importance of this grace cannot be overestimated.” (Vol. III, p.41)
That being said, the importance of having a right understanding of what faith is probably cannot be overestimated either. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines saving faith in the following way:
Q. 86.What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
The first thing that the Shorter Catechism does is specify the source of saving faith. That such faith is said to be a “saving grace” makes this clear. To speak of it as a “saving grace” means that such faith not only saves, but is also a work of God’s sovereign grace. In other words, such faith comes from God alone. As the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)
Saving faith (not just salvation in general) is not of ourselves, but rather is (like all of salvation) the “gift of God.”
The second thing that the Shorter Catechism does here is to define or describe saving faith by what it (so to speak) does. And what does saving faith do? Basically two things:
- Saving faith receives Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel.
- Saving faith rests upon Christ alone as He is offered to us in the gospel.
To receive Christ means to accept Him as a gift, freely offered to and bestowed upon us by God. This, by definition, precludes works. (See Ephesians 2:9 above.) And notice that we don’t just receive some particular benefit(s) as considered in abstraction from Christ, but rather we receive Christ Himself by faith, and all of the benefits that are ours in Him alone.
To rest in Christ alone is to depend wholly upon Him, and Him alone, for salvation. Not Christ plus something else. Not Christ plus our good works, not Christ plus our obedience, not Christ plus anything else! Another way of putting this would be to say that our entire confidence for our salvation from sin is to be in Christ alone, and nothing else.
Lastly, this saving faith, this receiving and resting upon Christ alone for our salvation from sin, must be “as he is offered to us in the gospel.” In other words, true, saving faith must be in accordance with the Word of God. We are not saved by faith in a Jesus of our own imagination, but only by faith in the Christ of Scripture. It is often said that faith is only as good as its object. Well, the object of our faith must be the Lord Jesus Christ, as He Himself is offered to us in the gospel!
Have you received Christ? Are you resting upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to you in the gospel? As John 1:13-13 says,
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (ESV)