A Question on Saving Faith
June 27, 2023, 11:32 AM

Question: I have two questions. The first is not meant as a debate point against limited atonement, but as a genuine soteriological question. First question! If you can, I ask you to read an Arminian article I'll link to in this paragraph. After reading the article, I ask, what does Scripture say is the content of saving faith in Christ? Here's the article: https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/limited-atonement-and-the-divine-command-to-believe-falsehood/ 

Second question. During times I'm not meditating on Christ, it feels like either I've stopped believing in Him or that it's not clear whether I trust Him or not. So, I want to know how I can employ God's Word, the sole discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12), to reliably assure me in times when I'm not meditating on Christ that my trust is indeed in Him ONLY, and therefore God has placed me in Him, since He is the One who granted the faith to me?

Answer: Greetings and thank you for your questions. Regarding your first question, I am trying to understand the link between your question and the article you linked. Your first question asks, "What is the content of saving faith?" The article seeks to make the point that if Limited Atonement (LA) is true, then unbelievers are commanded to believe a lie (the lie being that Christ can save them, when, in fact, He can't). You preface your question by saying the intent is not to debate LA, and that's fine, but there is so much that is wrong in that article that I'm finding it difficult to restrain myself from responding to it. But let's tackle your first question. What is the content of saving faith? A short and succinct answer is Jesus Christ, His person and His work. I point to two very important Scriptures that support this.

In John's Gospel, he writes at the end that the purpose of his Gospel is that people will believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, have life in His name. "But these [the Gospel of John] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31 NKJV). John, in writing his Gospel, wants you (the reader) to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Eternal and Incarnate Word. He presents a specific picture of Jesus that must be believed. It's not merely an acknowledgment that a man named Jesus lived in Palestine during the 1st century AD and performed many miracles and taught with great compassion and clarity. It is the belief that Jesus came to do the work the Father sent Him to do, namely, to lay His life down for His sheep, the sheep the Father gave to Him (by the way, I would love to hear an Arminian explain John 10 to me). Jesus came to die for His people. He came to lay His life down for His people. He came to atone for the sins of His people. That is the content of saving faith.

The second passage comes from the Apostle Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul writes, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." What are the matters of first importance? That Christ died for our sins that He was buried and that He rose again. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the content of saving faith; it is the gospel. It is the acknowledgment that I have nothing of my own to bring before God. My works, my "righteous" deeds are filthy garments. I cannot present my works to God for salvation. God demands perfect obedience, and I fall far, far short (this is the message of Romans 1:18-3:20). Ever since the fall recorded in Genesis 3, mankind has been, as Paul says, "dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Even when we think we obey the law of God, the Bible exposes our obedience as a mere outward facade. That's the point behind Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. In particular, Matthew 5:20-48 in which Jesus continually says, "You have heard it said..., but I say unto you..." He is exposing the hypocrisy of self-righteousness in the superficial law-keeping of the scribes and Pharisees. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But God, in Christ, does for us what we ourselves could not do. He was, in the fullness of time, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those (us) who were under the law, so that we may be adopted into God's family (Galatians 4:4-5). Christ kept the law of God perfectly and that perfect righteousness is imputed (granted, applied) to us by faith alone

That is the content of a faith that saves. It is not faith in faith. It is not faith in my obedience. It is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. Now, one of the problems in the article to which you linked, was that the author kept saying we have to obey the gospel "command" to believe. While I appreciate our Arminian brothers and sisters for their zeal and conviction, this is such a category error regarding the gospel that it makes me (metaphorically) want to pull out my hair. The gospel is not a command. The law commands. The gospel is an announcement, it is good news. It is the declaration that God, in Christ, has done for us what we ourselves could not do. The author of the article says this near the end as he is wrapping up: "God’s command for the non-elect to believe the gospel requires that they must believe that Christ can save them." No, no, no! God's command for everyone is obey the law. We have the law written on our hearts and on tablets of stone. All of the passages in the Bible that speak of judgment state that the basis for our judgment before God is works. Consider this from Romans 2:

[6] [God] "will render to each one according to his deeds": [7] eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; [8] but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, [9] tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; [10] but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 2:6-10 NKJV)

Judgment is always based on works. So, when we appear before God's judgment seat, we are either going to present Him our works, or the works of Jesus that have been imputed to us through faith. The problem with the Arminian position is that it turns faith into a saving work. That has always been the problem with the Arminian position. We are not saved through works, except the work of faith, is their position. Well, aren't we commanded to believe? Yes, grammatically speaking, the appeals to believe the gospel are given in the imperative voice, but believing is not a work. According to the theologians of the Reformation, saving faith had three aspects to it. In Latin, they are notitia, assensus, fiducia. We would call them knowledge, assent, trust. You have to know the facts of the gospel (knowledge). You have to assent to the truth of those facts (I believe that Christ actually died and rose again). Finally, you have to trust in them alone for your salvation. You have to appropriate those true facts into your life. You have live in light of them. You have to trust and rest in them alone as your basis for salvation. Thus, in the typical hypothetical scenario people give, when you appear before God's judgment seat and He asks you, "Why should I let you into My heaven?" Our answer, if we believe and trust in the gospel, is, "You shouldn't let me into your heaven. I am a filthy and wretched sinner. But I believe You sent Your Son into the world to live and die for me, and I am trusting in His righteousness to save me." That's saving faith.

I apologize for going so long on your first question, but the heart of that question is getting the gospel right. While I appreciate the intentions of my Arminian brothers and sisters, by turning faith into a saving work, they (at best) confuse the gospel, and (at worst) get the gospel completely wrong. God commands the law. God declares the gospel. The law says DO and the gospel says DONE.

Okay, now to your second question. You want to know how you can use God's word to "reliably assure [you] in times when [you're] not meditating on Christ." If I may, this is another problem with gospel confusion. Some Bible teachers and preachers (unintentionally, I hope) sow doubt and confusion in their people by saying things like, "If you're not focusing on Christ, meditating on Christ, reading your Bible daily, praying 3, 5, 10 times a day, you're not a Christian." It creates a performance mentality in Christians in which they are looking at themselves and not to Christ for their assurance. Look at your question again, you are looking to yourself for your assurance, your performance. How often you meditate on Christ. How often you read your Bible. Prayer, meditation, Bible reading are all good things, and I would encourage all Christians to do these things. But they are not the grounds of your assurance. 

Paul, in Colossians 3:1-4, has this to say:

[1] If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. [2] Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. [3] For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 NKJV)

Before he gives a single exhortation to holy and righteous living, Paul grounds the Christian's assurance in their union with Christ. Christ is the object of our faith, not our performance. We are raised with Christ, we are hidden with Christ, and we will be glorified in Christ. The basis for our salvation is always outside of the Christian. Our obedience is an outflow of that union with Christ. As Jesus says in John 15, the branch that abides in Him will bear much fruit. The fruit (good works, obedience, the fruit of the Spirit) is the result of being united to the life-giving Vine, Jesus. So, yes, read your Bible. Meditate on Christ and His word. Pray to our Heavenly Father. These are all good things but do them because you are thankful for all God has done for you in Christ. 

I truly hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl