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What is Saving Faith?

May 26, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Various Messages

Topic: Salvation Scripture: James 2:19

Sermon Transcript:


On April 9th over 200 people were turned away from attending a concert at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle after being told the tickets they purchased were counterfeit. The fake tickets were purchased online and at first glance, they looked like authentic tickets, but when they were scanned they were found to be imitations and those trying to use them to enter were turned away.


As disappointing as it would be to look forward to attending a concert only to find out you did not have a seat, it would be nothing compared to hoping you will go to heaven, only to be turned away at the gate. Jesus promises that any who come to him with sincere faith will never be rejected, but he also warns that on judgment day many will say to him “lord, lord” and be cast out because he never knew them.


We have been working our way through the book of Judges and we have seen that repeatedly that just because people know about God does not mean they have put their faith in him. Today, we are going to take a short detour from Judges and examine what it means to have saving faith. The Bible warns us that not all faith is saving faith. James 2:19 says,

19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

As one preacher said, there is a dead faith and a living faith. There is the faith of devils and there is the faith of God’s elect. There is a faith that is vain and useless and a faith that justifies and saves. Even demons believe certain truths about God and yet they are enemies of God. What then separates the faith of demons from that of those who are saved? 


The scripture teaches us that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith we have must be living faith. It must be a true faith. It must be a faith that receives Jesus Christ as God offers him through the promise of the gospel. In other words


Saving faith means sincerely embracing the truths of the Gospel. It is agreeing with and accepting what God reveals through the  Gospel about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.


To say that living faith means we sincerely embrace the truth of the gospel seems simple and in one sense it is. All that is required to be saved is that we receive with faith God’s promises in Christ. It isn’t something we do, it is receiving something God has done. This means the vilest sinner can be saved. The weakest faith can still sincerely take hold of the perfect salvation offered in Jesus. This is offered to whosoever will accept it.


Yet, as simple as it is, it is not easy. In fact, it is impossible apart from a work of grace by the Spirit of God to overcome our pride and self-sufficiency so that we will humble ourselves and receive it as a gift of grace. The devil loves to confuse us and sell us on counterfeit faith, the kind of faith demons have. That is why the Bible often says to believers things like it says in 2 Corinthians 13:5,


5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. 


This morning I want to meditate on what saving faith is so that we may examine ourselves. I especially want to focus on two aspects of faith that the devil works hard to confuse. The first is that faith is embracing truth. It is rational and has intellectual content. Saving faith is more than assenting to certain propositions, but it is not less than that. No person will ever be saved by a lie. Jesus said “the truth will set you free:.


Many people today don’t like doctrine. They say their only creed is Christ and insist that we do not need rational propositions, we only need Jesus. As long as we believe sincerely we can each have a relationship with God our own way. Friends, this runs against the entire flow of the Bible. It is idolatry to create Gods of our own making from our own imaginations. This is the logic of the serpent in the garden.


God is holy and he is truth. Everything we think about God is either true or false and we cannot worship a true God with lies. To worship him or to proclaim him falsely is to lie about who he is and it is not God, but the devil who is the father of lies. It is possible to be sincerely and passionately wrong. In fact, I see the zeal of many who worship false Gods and wish our own assemblies were filled with people so passionate.


But passion is not enough. We need doctrine. Doctrine simply means “truth revealed by God in the Bible”. The apostle Paul says of the Jews in Romans 10:2–3 that they had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge and so they did not have righteousness before God. Truth is necessary for saving faith. Hebrews 11:6 says,


6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.


The Bible rejects the notion that we can accept a person without believing certain things about them. If we are to draw near to God we must accept certain propositions, certain claims, as true. Faith rests upon a doctrinal creed. To have faith in God requires us to accept certain facts with our mind. Faith is not opposed to knowledge, it is built upon it.


We cannot believe in a God or a gospel we do not know. Jesus says in John chapter 4 that true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. Listen to how the apostle Paul prays for believers in Ephesians 1:17. He prays,


17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him


Countless examples could be given. The point is that the modern attempt to divorce faith from knowledge is unbiblical. Saving faith is a sincere acceptance of the truth. Unlike much in modern evangelicalism, the Bible is not irrational or anti-intellectual. Christianity is the religion of revealed truth. It is a faith built on truth claims. Everything we do in this ministry is built on confidence in the authority and sufficiency of God’s word. We cannot grow in faith beyond our understanding of its teaching.


We cannot have saving faith without having knowledge; but it is also true that we cannot have saving faith if all we have is knowledge. This brings us to the second aspect of saving faith the devil likes to confuse. The gospel is not merely a claim regarding certain historical or theological facts about Christ, it is also a claim about the worthiness of Christ and our need for him.


The demons believe certain things that are true about God and yet they are not saved. All people know some things that are true about God for they are plainly revealed in nature and in the architecture of their own minds and yet this knowledge is insufficient to save. False Christians, like demons, know who Jesus is and what he did, and yet they are not saved because their faith involves no acceptance of such facts as a gift to the soul. 


Saving faith includes not only the knowledge of facts, but a transformation of the affections leading to worship and repentance. This does not mean we contribute anything to our acceptance by God. Our salvation does not depend upon any high quality of our own. This is the very thing the New Testament is adamant to deny. 


This transformation is God’s work in changing the disposition of our mind from suppressing the truth to accepting it as we ought to accept it. To accept the truths of the gospel requires us to accept them the way God presents them and God does not reveal them as cold facts.


The sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for sin is an act which testifies to the greatness of God's law and holy character, the evil of sin, and the incomparable value of being reconciled to God and enjoying him forever. Unless we see the glory of these truths and their significance to ourselves and the world, we do not understand them rightly. If we accept the facts about who Jesus is and did without accepting the fact of their significance, it is not the revealed truth that we believe, only a shadow of it.


We can believe many true things about Jesus—like that he's God's son, he lived, died, and rose again, he's the savior, and he'll come again—without understanding them spiritually or seeing their significance. These are important truths, but they do not stand alone. The gospel claims not only that Jesus was or did certain things, but that he is excellent, wonderful, and glorious. That he alone is sufficient and that he alone can satisfy God’s righteousness for me as a sinner. 


These are facts, but they are not facts we can accept with indifference. If we claim to believe in Christ but don't see any glory in him, then it's not the Christ of the Bible we believe in, but one of our own creation. Saving faith therefore is always accompanied by a transformation of our heart. Romans 10:9–10 says,

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

The Bible says we must believe in our heart. In our culture we associate the heart with emotion but in the Bible it means much more than that. It is used to describe the core of our being and it includes the mind, will, and affections. The Bible doesn’t operate according to modern psychological categories that separate our thinking from our feelings. 


Emotions and thoughts come and go, but affections are deeply rooted. What we love or hate affects how we think, and how we think affects what we love or hate. We see this in our politics, our relationships, and even in sports. A guy who loves a woman who is no-good often cannot see the truth, no matter how many of his friends try to warn him. The penalty the referee called was either good or bad depending on who you root for.


We can be blinded by love and blinded by hate. That is why Jesus says people have eyes but do not see, and ears but do not hear. The Pharisees are clear examples of this. They knew Bible facts, but they did not know them rightly, because they had hard hearts. This connection between the state of our affections and the state of our faith is repeatedly highlighted in the Bible. 


In John 5, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their unbelief and says despite all their studying, they are lost.

38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Although they have God’s revelation, they refuse to believe and the reason isn’t an intellectual problem. In verse 42 he says,

42 …I know that you do not have the love of God within you.

They do not believe because they have no love. They do not have the love of God because their affections are set upon something else more valuable to them. Verse 44 says

44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

The Pharisees claimed to believe the Bible but they did not believe it as God revealed it. They knew certain facts about the Messiah, but they did not know the truth because they did not see those facts as valuable, glorious, and worthy of their devotion. Their faith was therefore not true fath. So, in verse 46 Jesus says,

46 …if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.

The gospel is not merely a message of forgiveness, but a message of forgiveness by the grace of God to the praise of his glory. Those who claim to be Christians because they know certain facts, but see no glory in them have no more saving faith than the Pharisees. Listen to how In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul talks about how the devil blinds those who do not believe,

4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Saving faith includes an acknowledgement of the glory of Christ. If the devil fails to keep people from the facts of the gospel, he will try to blind them to the truth by keeping them from seeing the glory of Christ in the facts they have. It is impossible to believe the gospel and be indifferent to it. This is not something added to faith, it is part of faith.


That saving faith is always accompanied by a sincere and cordial response to the truth is plain from the way the Bible consistently presents it. For example, Speaking of Abraham, who is called the father of the faithful, Romans 4:20–21 says,


20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 


Abraham believes in the fact of the promise and he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. Truth strengthened his affections and his affections strengthened his hold on the truth.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:10 & 12 we read of 

10 … those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. … who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


Saving faith is contrasted with a refusal to love the truth and having pleasure in unrighteousness. Ephesians 4:17–18 says,

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart

This ignorance is not due to any intellectual limitation, it is willful ignorance. It comes not only from a lack of awareness about certain facts, but also from a refusal to accept the significance of what they do know. The truth claims of the gospel are not neutral. They are an assertion by God of his own character, both his righteousness and his love. They are a testament to our helplessness to do anything to save ourselves. To reject those claims is not only an intellectual act, it is a moral act. It is an act of rebellion.


18th century pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller summarized it well when he said,


Unbelief is not a mere error of the understanding, but a positive and practical rejection of the gospel. It is actually treating God as a liar, and all the blessings of the gospel with contempt. But faith is the opposite of unbelief; therefore it is not a mere assent of the understanding, but a practical reception of the gospel, actually treating God as the God of truth. Saving faith is therefore receiving Christ, which stands opposed to rejecting him.


This is what I meant when I said saving faith means sincerely embracing the truths of the Gospel and it is agreeing with and accepting what God reveals through the  Gospel about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.


To be saved, we must accept the facts of the gospel and that knowledge must include not only the historical and biographical facts about Christ, but an acknowledgement of the glory of those truths and our need for them. That brings us to a fundamental reality about faith that necessarily results in the praise and glory of God.


We are all born sinners and are utterly lacking the affections that we have seen are a necessary part of saving faith. This is why the Bible says we were dead in sin. Romans 3:10–12 says,

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

We cannot produce faith in our own heart because our hearts are the problem. We do not accept the truth because we are born enemies of the truth. Apart from grace, we are so blinded by selfishness and sin that we are morally incapable of submitting to God. Romans 8:7–8 says,


7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


The only way for us to truly understand the gospel and to receive it is for God to open our eyes through an act of grace. The natural mind may understand the facts, but it requires a spiritual mind to grasp their significance. That is why 1 Corinthians 2:14 says,


14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.


This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and philosophy. The gospel isn’t about trying harder and it isn’t about God helping us along. It is about grace. It is about relying on Jesus to do what was impossible for us to do. It is about us receiving what God has done by faith. That is why Jesus says in order to see the kingdom of God, we must be born again. 


Salvation isn’t just renovating our old lives, it is about our dying with Christ and being raised to new life as a new creation. It is about God removing our heart of stone and giving us a heart that receives Christ with joy.


Listen to the way the apostle Paul explains this glorious truth in Ephesians 2:1–5,

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Faith is the response of one who has been made alive by the grace of God. You see, it isn’t actually the faith that saves us. It is Jesus Christ that saves us and faith is simply the means through which we receive Jesus. False faith cannot save, because it doesn’t receive the true Christ. Just like a pipe is only useful if connected to a source of water, our faith is only useful if connected to Jesus, the source of living water. True faith is the result of God giving us a new heart that receives Christ and is satisfied in him.


Every one of us has sinned. There isn’t anyone here who would want our every thought, word, or deed displayed up here for everyone to see. We have failed to live up to our own standards, let alone the perfect standard of a holy God. If we are to be judged by our own lives, every one of us would be sent to hell, because that is what we rightfully deserve. But God sent his son Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin.


Jesus was without sin and yet he suffered and even died upon a cross as a substitute for everyone who would humble themselves and put their faith in him. He paid the price and three days later, rose again proving God was satisfied. These are not cold facts, these are glorious truths. To receive them is to receive the righteousness of Jesus and be saved and we cannot receive this indifferently.


This morning we will celebrate Katina’s testimony that God has revealed these truths to her. Through her baptism she is proclaiming that by faith she has died, having been crucified with Jesus, and has been raised to new life with Jesus. 


The water itself does not have any power, it is an illustration of what Katina says has happened to her spiritually. She has been washed clean, raised anew, and born again with a new heart. She is proclaiming that God has saved her, not because of anything she has done, but because the life she now lives, she lives in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Titus 3:5–6 says,


5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior


Katina, today is not a celebration of anything you have accomplished, but of what God has done. Just as this new life began as a work of grace received by faith, you must continue to walk by faith. Stand firm knowing you are accepted and loved not because you are good enough, but because Jesus is, and he is the one that speaks for you. 


When the devil accuses you and lays your sins before you, remind him that the penalty for sin is death, and you have already died with Christ. When he tries to discourage you, consider that God showed his love for you in sending his son to die in your place. When he attacks your faith, remember that even a weak faith can take hold of a strong Christ.


You will not love him perfectly as he deserves. You will not love him with all your strength and mind as you ought to. But if you sincerely love him at all, you have believed the truth and he will raise you up on the last day. This is the promise for all who come to him in faith.


As we finish, I would like us to consider the words of 1 John 4:13–16. The apostle summarizes here what we have been considering. We know we have faith because we have been born again, we receive and confess true doctrine, and hold this truth with affection.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

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