Discipleship or Grace: Must it be One or the Other? by Bill Kynes - Page 3

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The Proper Nature of Saving Faith

A second misconception that sometimes perplexes believers arises from an inadequate conception of the nature of saving faith. Some think of faith as a mere intellectual assent to a bare theological proposition: Jesus died for my sins. But this oversimplification removes faith from its personal and moral context, which is central to the gospel.

Yes, biblical faith involves specific content. This first aspect of faith is what the Reformers called in Latin notitia. It consists of the notions, the ideas, the conceptions that are to be believed. The early Christians sometimes called this “the faith”—the doctrines taught in the Bible about God and man and the revelation of God in a man, Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of the content of our faith in a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (cf. also, e.g., 1 Tim. 3:9; 4:6; Titus 1:13). In this sense faith involves knowledge; we must know who Christ is and what he has done before we can believe in him. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

And yes, we must affirm the truth of that biblical message. This second aspect of faith is what the Reformers called assensus. We must not only understand the message, we must assent to it. To believe, in a biblical sense, we must come to a conviction about the truth of the gospel. Is there truly a God who created the universe? Did he really enter into our world in Jesus Christ? Did Jesus actually die on a cross for our sins? And did he rise from the dead? Is it true? Biblical faith involves an understanding of certain content—a body of claims about reality; and it involves a conviction about the truth of those claims.

But these two dimensions of faith are not enough. Understanding the message is crucial, believing that it is true is essential, but without a third dimension that faith is still deficient. James can speak of such faith as merely the faith of demons (cf. James 2:19). Faith, to be real, must pass from understanding, and even conviction, to personal commitment. This third dimension of faith is what the Reformers called fiducia. Christian faith requires a personal element of trust, reliance and allegiance, for isn’t the gospel a means of restoring a broken relationship?

Consider the analogy of the most intimate of human relationships, that of marriage. A man and a woman may be attracted to each other and may get to know the content of each other’s character. They may become convinced that they would make good marriage partners. But marriage requires more than that. Their faith must be put on the line; they must make a commitment to one another—a very personal commitment. Real faith comes only when they forsake all others and say, “I do.” For that reason the marriage vow is called “a pledge of faith.” Our response to the call of Christ in discipleship is simply our “pledge of faith” to him. That response of faith is not our contribution to the saving work of God any more than accepting a marriage proposal earns the love of the one who proposes. It is simply the means of receiving God’s saving grace in Christ.

We believe that Christ died for us, but we also believe in him—that is, we entrust ourselves to his care and submit ourselves to his lordship. Saving faith does not mean that we will obey him perfectly, for we are still a part of the old, fallen world, but it does mean that as Lord he has the right to command our obedience.

So faith not only has a personal dimension, it also has moral significance. For this reason, an essential aspect of real saving faith is repentance. The gospel message has meaning only within a moral framework, for it assumes that we have rebelled against God’s rightful authority in our lives. We are now sinners in need of a Savior, and to believe the gospel one must agree with this basic truth. Faith in Christ implies that a person no longer wants to remain in this state of rebellion but desires rescue from sin and reconciliation with God. Christian conversion, as Paul describes it, involves “turning from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). Repentance is simply a description of that “change of mind” intrinsic to this turning toward God. It is a recognition of the moral order that God has established, and repentance is a desire to align oneself within that order. And this same call to repentance, this “turning,” is entailed in Jesus’ command to “come, follow me.” Thus, discipleship is inherent in true, repentant faith.

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