What is Saving Faith?

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:

  1. Saving faith receives Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel.
  2. 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)


Justification By Faith Alone (Belgic Confession Article 22)

with-heart-and-mouthThe Belgic Confession (1561) contains no less than two (2) articles dealing with the topic of justification. The first of these is Article 22 (“Our Justification Through Faith in Jesus Christ”), which is as follows:

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in
Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

“Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.”

First note the source of justifying faith – it is the work of the Holy Spirit who “kindles in our hearts an upright faith.” No doubt this is what Paul means in Ephesians 2:8 when he tells us that we have been saved by grace through faith, and then adds, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ESV). Even our very faith in Christ is the gift of God! Left to ourselves, none of us would ever believe in Christ for salvation.

Second, note the object (so to speak) of justifying faith – Jesus Christ with all His merits.” In other words, by faith we embrace or receive Christ Himself (His person) and all of His merits (i.e. His work – all that He has done for our salvation). In his exposition of the Belgic Confession (With Heart and Mouth), Daniel Hyde writes,

“By faith we look outside of our merit and ourselves. Like beggars, we receive only that which is given by another. What is given is the only One who has done anything good in the eyes of God, the only One who merited, that is, earned, and therefore was rewarded with righteousness to give to his people on the basis of his obedience to the law.” (p.294-295)

Notice thirdly the “instrument” of our justification – faith alone. We must be careful to understand that it is not faith of itself that justifies us, as if it were somehow inherently meritorious before God, but rather that faith itself is the only instrument by which we receive Christ and all of the benefits of redemption. Faith is “only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness.” Christ Himself is our righteousness. Christ Himself justifies us and saves us from our sins. 

Faith alone is the instrument of our justification, for it is through faith alone that we look outside of ourselves and “embrace Christ our righteousness,” and so are justified in Him!


A Mutilated Faith

calvin-commentaryWhat does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? What is faith? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines faith as follows:

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.

So saving faith is faith that ‘receives and rests upon’ Christ alone for salvation. And true saving faith receives and rests upon Christ “as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It must be said that much of what often passes as preaching of the gospel of Christ does not fit that description. For how is Christ offered to us in the gospel? Is Christ offered as the Savior from the penalty of sin only, or as the Savior from sin – from its penalty, power, and (in the life to come), even its very presence?

The Scriptures plainly tell us that Jesus came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), and that His gospel is sent forth to offer both forgiveness and sanctification (Acts 26:18). Clearly, then, Christ is offered to us in the gospel both for our justification as well as our sanctification, and He must be received as such.

Calvin (in commenting on Romans 8:13), puts it this way:

“It is, indeed, true, that we are justified in Christ by the mercy of God alone, but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord to live worthy of their vocation. Let believers, therefore, learn to embrace Him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as He has been given to us for both these purposes, that they may not rend him asunder by their own mutilated faith.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 10, p.167)

Those who would believe in Christ for justification alone (i.e. for forgiveness and acceptance before God as righteous as in His sight), but not also for sanctification, have a (to use Calvin’s phrase) “mutilated faith” that effectively seeks to ‘rend Christ asunder’ (or split Him in two). But a divided faith in a divided Christ saves no one. So let us learn, as Calvin says, to embrace Christ for sanctification as well as justification, for “he has been given to us for both these purposes.”

The Spark that Lit the Flame of the Reformation


What was the spark that lit the flame of the Protestant Reformation?  John Murray writes,

It may be safe to say that the greatest event for Christendom in the last 1500 years was the Protestant Reformation. What was the spark that lit the flame of evangelical passion? It was, by the grace of God, the discovery on the part of Luther, stricken with a sense of his estrangement from God and feeling in his inmost soul the stings of his wrath and the remorse of a terrified conscience, of the true and only way whereby a man can be just with God. To him the truth of justification by free grace through faith lifted him from the depths of the forebodings of hell to the ecstasy of peace with God and the hope of glory.” (Collected Writings of John Murray Vol.2, p.203)

In other words, it was the salvation of one sinner – a monk named Martin Luther.  Not only his new-found understanding and grasp of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ, but his personal belief in it  – that he himself was justified by faith alone in Christ alone – was the spark.

Martin Luther found true peace with God through faith in Christ.  And by the grace of God he would spend the rest of his days telling others how they too could know peace with God through the good news of Jesus Christ.

Are you (like Martin Luther before his conversion) stricken with a sense of estrangement from God because of your sins?  Are you suffering from a terrified conscienceYou too can have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  The truth of justification by the free grace of God through faith in Jesus can lift you from the depths of the forebodings of hell to the ecstasy of peace with God and the hope of glory.

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17)!