Saving Faith versus Non-Saving Faith
Updated: Jan 22
Doctrine is practical. Clarity, accuracy, and thoroughness in sound doctrine while evangelizing is practical. We are justified by sound Biblical faith, not some kind of fraudulent faith. Someone may say that he believes in Jesus Christ, but the belief must be actual true belief. We know that some faith does not save (Jam 2). The parable of the sower (Matt 13) tells us that some might “receive” the Word and believe in a non-saving way, specifically the examples of the stony ground and the thorny soil. Out of the four soils, only one is actually saved. Simon the Sorcerer (Ac 8:9-24) provides an occasion of faith that falls short of conversion.
Getting into Heaven instead of Hell is as practical as it can get. Someone whose doctrine sends him to Hell will agree that it wasn’t very practical. On the other hand, someone in Heaven will thank God for the practicality of the position he was taught. A profession isn’t practical if it doesn’t save the person. It might make someone look good, and that might have a kind of practicality, but in the end it will mean practically nothing. A perfect church attendance record or a load of knowledge on the doctrine of the patristic fathers or even the Bible, or attendance at a church growth seminar won’t do anyone any good at the Great White Throne (Rev 20) if their name isn’t in the Book of Life.
Two most common errors concerning saving faith frequently committed in preaching are: One, Insufficient or inadequate description of what saving faith is, and Two, Proclaiming everyone or most as saved that believe. A whole lot of people today will say they believe in Jesus Christ, but it’s important we understand what it means to believe in Him, the faith that saves and produces the new birth.
What is saving faith?
1. First, we must believe in Jesus Christ. Jn 3:16, 18, 36; Phil 16:31 speak about that. Each of those say “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” They don’t say “accept Jesus as your Saviour” or “ask Jesus into your heart,” or "ask for the gift." The Jesus we believe in must be the Jesus of the Bible, He is Lord, King, Saviour, but is the belief the belief of the Bible? It is very clear that the only way of salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, by the grace of God (Eph 2:8-9), which occurs instantaneously at the very moment of repentant faith, “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2). True faith is faith that is repentant and obeys the gospel and not some kind of easy-believism type of "faith."
2. Secondly, what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? Just because people say they believe in Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean they do, in a saving way. Part of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ is found in Lk 13, which says in vv. 3 and 5, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” If someone does not repent, he will what? Perish. In Jn 3:16, the Lord says that if someone believes in Him, He will not what? Perish. If we believe, we won’t perish, but if we don’t repent, we will perish. Saving faith is only genuine if its exercised upon repentance, something Jesus addresses in Matt 21:28-32 in speaking to “the chief priests and the elders of the people”(v 23), saying, “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” True repentance, towards God, leads to saving faith. We can’t believe in Jesus Christ and in ourselves or hold onto sin or riches or the world or onto family or friendships. To repent means to turn from these things with godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). That’s part of the history of the word “repent,” as translated in the NT by four Greek words, and OT by three Hebrew words. The Great Physician “commandeth all men every where to repent” (Ac 17:30); He is calling “sick . . . sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32).
Unless we turn from our way, our wicked and sinful ways, relinquishing our will, and stop believing in anything else but Jesus Christ, we will perish. There are many passages that make this clear, consider a few: “how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Th 1:9). The word “turn” here is synonymous with “repent.” We can’t serve the world or ourselves and God. No man can serve two masters (Matt 6:24). We can’t put Jesus on the shelf with all our other gods, whether they be the god of self, or sin, or careers, or money, or riches, or people, or other idols. That’s not believing in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way (Jn 14:6), so we can’t go our way; we must turn from our way.
This is the message Jesus said repeatedly in the NT, also noted in scripture that is often twisted into sanctification: Matt 10:32-39; 16:24-26; Mk 8:34-38; 10:21; Jn 12:24-25. Also noted in the OT, here to the Israelites but equally applicable to Gentiles: “Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. . . . Therefore I will judge you, . . . every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die” (Ezk 14:6; 18:30-32).
Scriptural faith is summarized succinctly in Pr 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Saving faith recognizes and submits to the reality that Jesus is the Christ – the King Who is Lord of all, and who will return on the clouds of Heaven to rule over all. Saving faith accompanies true repentance in dying to self and self's delusions of its own sufficiency (Mk 8:34-38). True faith believes on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Lk 14:26-27), finding rest in Christ's one perfect sacrifice and shedding of blood for the sins of the world (Heb 10:10-14; Mt 11:28-30). Saving faith does not trust in one's own works, but trusts in Christ alone (Rom 11:6).
Repentant saving faith is wrapped up in the great paradoxes of God’s Word. Faith requires believing that losing everything is gaining everything. Paul saw losing as a necessity for the ultimate and supreme gain—salvation: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8). It is winning through losing. Lose you, win Christ. And Paul was only saying something that Jesus had already stated (Mk 8:35-37; Lk 9:24-25; Jn 12:24-25, using the same verb ("zemioo" — found 10 times in NT). Read here for more on Repentance and its Role in Salvation.
Fitting right into this Scriptural understanding of “believing in Jesus Christ” is Rom 10:9-10, confessing Him as Lord. If Jesus is Lord, then we are not. He rose from the dead. How? He is God. He is the Messiah. Confessing Him as Lord is confessing that we are not Lord but we want Him to be the Lord of us, of our lives, to rule over us. We get off the throne and give it to Jesus. He is King, we His servants. Saving faith has as its Author and Finisher – its beginning and end – Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ (Ac 2:36), perfectly God and perfectly Man (Heb 12:2). Only through Jesus Christ can we obtain righteousness, forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and eternal life (Rom 5:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jn 5:24). There is No Salvation without Lordship.
3. Thirdly, what does the word “believe” (or synonyms) actually entail? It involves the idea of committal or entrustment in the common NT verb "to believe in/on Him,” the verb found in texts such as Jn 3:16, is evident, and is translated in a form including the word “commit” in Lk 16:11; Jn 2:24; Rom 3:2; 1 Cor 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1 Tim 1:11 and Ti 1:3. When John the Baptist said in Jn 3:36, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” the words "believeth not,” translated from the Greek word “apitheho,” literally means, "obeys not" or “disobedient” or “wilfully and perversely disbelieves,” all of which speak of a refusal to submit with the will, which is one of three parts of the faculty of man involved in repentance (the mind, the will, and the emotions). The fact of committal or entrustment in “faith” is clearly exemplified in Lk 16:11 (committing or entrusting true riches to a person); Jn 2:24 (Christ not committing Himself to the unregenerate); Rom 3:2 (God’s Word being entrusted or committed to Israel); 1 Cor 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1 Tim 1:11; Ti 1:3 (an administration of the gospel being committed or entrusted to Paul, or, 1 Th 2:4, to Paul and his associates). Committal or entrustment is noted in losing ones life.
One place the Lord Jesus used an oft repeated truth was Matt 16:25-26:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The word “life” here is psuche, which is also found in v. 26, but translated “soul.” A believer must offer His soul to God for saving. This is the idea in Is 55:1, where the call of God to the thirsty soul is to come and buy without money and without price, but with your life (Is 55:2-7). And here: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.” (Ps 23:3; 19:7a).
Our soul is cleansed of sin when we give it to God, that is, it is restored or converted. We can’t hang on to our soul, that is keep our life for ourselves and expect to be in heaven. We must relinquish our life to the Lord. This is part of what it means to believe. I think Paul knew he was using the same kind of talk, the exact word too, that Jesus used. You need to lose in order to win. If you lose your soul or life or self, you gain eternal life (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). You lose everything for the pearl of great price. Only the truly repentant one, will do this, believing in Jesus Christ, which is to “count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
This is what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. When I present this to people, I have found that when I am done, they understand what it means to believe. They are under conviction. They know that if they hang on to their life, they are rebelling against the Lord. They know what He has done for them. They know He deserves their allegiance. Working against this within them is their desire to control their own life. They love the world. They love their sin and darkness. They’re tempted to procrastinate. They see the goodness of God, His love for them, but they understand how their life will change. When I see this, I believe I have succeeded at explaining what belief in Jesus Christ is.
The Error that Everyone that Believes is Saved.
When James in Ac 21:20 says that there were many Jews that believed while zealously embracing the mosaic law and circumcision, were they true believers? No, they were mixing grace and works (Rom 11:6; Gal 5). Many places in scripture tell us the saved are freed from the law as far as eternal judgment. We’re “dead to the law” (Gal 2:19-21), that is, we’re no long under the penalty for breaking the law, which is death. We already died with Christ; we don’t have to face the penalty of the law, so we’re dead to it. We are not “under the law” (Rom 6:14, 15; Gal 3:23; 5:1) but establish the law (Rom 3:31; Mt 5:17-20) and fulfil it by righteousness (Rom 8:4) and obeying the will of God (Matt 7:21).
Scripture gives us many examples of “believers” with feigned faith. Simon not only had a kind of belief, but he also assumed the mark of a disciple by getting baptized (Ac 8:13). Immersion is the outward mark of a disciple (Mt 28:18-20), that is, of a believer (Mk 16:15-16), yet Simons faith was spurious and set on ulterior motives, not being mixed with repentance. He was still “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” and was going to “perish” eternally unless he would “repent” and was “forgiven” (Ac 8:20-23). Judas Iscariot is another example of a false believer (Mt 10:1,4; Jn 12:4), as was the “disciple” who desired to first bury his father before following Christ (Mt 8:21-22).
The reality of professing believers who are still lost is presented throughout the Bible and there are many. There is Lot’s wife (Gen 19:26; Lk 17:26-33); King Joash (2 Ki 12; 2 Ch 24); Balaam (Num 23 and 24; Ju 1:11); Esau (Gen 25; 27; Heb 12:15-17); Judas (Matt 27; Jn 13); Simon (Ac 8); Hebrews in the Wilderness (Ps 78; 106; Heb 3:6–4:11; 1 Cor 10:1-10; 2 Cor 3:7–4:4; etc); Pharisees, Scribes, Lawyers and Chief Rulers (Matt 23; Lk 11:37–12:1; Jn 12:42-48); False spies (Lk 20:20); False believers until they were truly saved (Ac 19:1-7); False Jewish believers (Jn 2:23-25); etc. See also Matt 7:15, 21-23; Lk 13:23-30; Jn 6:60-66; 8:30-59; 1 Cor 15:34; 2 Cor 13:5; Ti 1:16; Heb 12:15; 2 Pet 2:1-3; Ju 1:4-16; Rev 3:14-18.
There is a large difference between saving faith and non-saving faith, and the difference is not necessarily found in the words that man utters, for false believers do the same, but in an immediate and permanent dramatically changed life from the moment of conversion through repentant faith and thus being a new creature in Christ, one that continues to serve Christ and fulfil God’s will, persevering in the faith. The guarantee of God that saved people grow, mature, serve Him, etc, are plenty and crystal clear.
The faith that many preach is no faith at all. The sinner is left wallowing and drowning in their sin, unrescued, and unsaved.
And many times even when the true faith is preached, people reject it. They have that prerogative but they don't get to choose where they go when they die. Years ago a Baptist missionary who labours in Mexico with whom I am acquainted, became a friend of the actor John Wayne, purely by the providence of God. Sometime later back in America he sat down with him for upwards to three hours preaching the gospel thoroughly to him, with great boldness. Wayne was under deep conviction, like Felix in Acts 27, but finally stated to the effect, "I have too much to lose. Look what I would have to turn from. I can’t. Not today." He understood the truth and understood what salvation required but what a terribly sad response, and as far as known, he never repented before his death, though he did take on dead religion in the form of Catholicism. There, like your non-saving faith, you have nothing to lose on this side of the grave.
But everything to lose on the other side of the grave.
Jesus asks the rhetorical question in Mk 8:36-37,
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If you want true saving faith, obey what Jesus said in the verses preceding the above:
“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.” (Mk 8:34-35).
Please consider these things and be wise.