Christians are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. These are precious truths held dear by all true believers. But, what exactly is saving faith?
Saving faith is a gift of God (Philippians 1:29), whereby a person is united to Christ and receives a full pardon for sins and is justified in the sight of God having been imputed with the righteousness of Christ. John Stott wrote in his commentary on Romans “Faith’s only function is to receive what Grace offers.” This helpfully reminds us that faith is not our work, but it still might not fully clarify in our minds what is meant by “saving faith.” Do I just believe certain facts? Is it something more?
While faith is not a work, and while it is a gift of God’s sovereign grace, this does not mean a sinner is passive in his or her conversion. In this post, I am attempting to illustrate what it is to have saving faith in Christ.
Saving faith certainly entails a mental assent to the facts of the gospel. A person must understand and believe the truth of the work of Christ as a historical fact. But saving faith is more than just understanding what these facts are and believing them to be true. Saving faith and passing a seminary exam is not the same thing.
Saving faith also includes trusting Christ. Even Satan knows the facts of the gospel and knows that they are true. The Devil could get straight A’s in Christology courses as far as knowing the right answer goes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying the facts of the gospel are not important. They absolutely are! But saving faith also entails clinging to Christ as one’s only suitable and all-sufficient Savior.
In today’s post, I want to illustrate saving faith with an understanding that all analogies break down somewhere. My goal in this post is to help us understand the nature of saving faith in hopes of either encouraging you in your walk with the Lord or, if you’re an unbeliever, to exhort you to come to Christ in saving faith today.
Here are 4 illustrations to consider:
Consider a Bridge
You walk up to a bridge in the woods and you consider whether or not it will hold you up. You investigate the piers anchored to the ground. You look underneath it to see if you notice any damage. Finally, you are convinced the bridge will hold you up.
But saving faith isn’t just looking at the bridge and believing it will hold you up. Saving faith is crossing the bridge. The bridge is Christ. He alone is the object of saving faith. You must not merely study Christ and have a sound theology of who He is and what He has done.
You cannot depend on your ability to defend penal substitutionary atonement or ward off attempts at modalism. You must cross the bridge.
Consider a Bank
You walk into the bank. You know what the bank does. The teller tells you about the special account you can put your money in at a good interest rate. You believe this is a wonderful deal.
Then, you tell others about the account. You show them how much money they could earn by depositing with this specific bank in this specific account.
But saving faith isn’t just knowing about the account and understanding the return you’ll get from it. Saving faith is depositing the money.
Don’t be the person who knows about the account, who has read all the ins and outs of it, who is confident that this account is the real deal, who tells others to put money in the account, but fails to make a deposit yourself.
Consider a Surgery
You know you need the lifesaving surgery. You read up on it. And you realize that if you don’t have this surgery, you will not make it much longer.
You have come to understand that there is nothing you can do to fix your current situation. You simply cannot remedy the situation by your own efforts.
And so to have the surgery you must let go of your efforts. You must put trust in the doctors. You must lay down on the operating table relinquishing full control over yourself. You must let go of your efforts. You must see this as the only way.
Saving faith is letting go of your works and merits and trusting Christ alone as your only suitable and all-sufficient Savior.
Consider Two Parables
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
Now, I understand what we have in these parables is some of the fruits of faith as well, but consider this: Notice the singular focus in both instances. The focus is on the prize. The gaze is upon an object of such value that everything else fades into the background. Nothing else is important. Nothing else compares.
Oh, see how saving faith looks upon Christ! See how faith sees Christ alone as one’s only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. It is my hope that perhaps these illustrations have helped you understand the nature of saving faith.
But I want you to do more than simply have an understanding of saving faith. I want you to exercise it. Have you by grace through faith closed with Christ?
Cross the bridge. Deposit the money. Put yourself in Christ’s hands. See Him as inestimably valuable. Choose Jesus.
 To “close with Christ” is a phrase that some are unfamiliar with. It was readily used by the Puritans in describing how a person became a Christian, i.e. they needed to “close with Christ” in faith. William Guthrie (1620-1665) writes: “[God] has made open proclamation in the church, that whosoever will lay aside all thoughts of saving themselves by the covenant of works, or inherent righteousness, and will agree heartily to be saved by Christ Jesus, they shall be restored to a better condition than formerly man was in, and shall be saved. So then, to close with God’s device of saving sinners by Christ Jesus, is to quit and renounce all thoughts of help or salvation by our own righteousness, and to agree unto this way which God has found out: it is to value and highly esteem Christ Jesus as the treasure sufficient to enrich poor sinners; and with the heart to believe this record, that there is life enough in Him for men: it is to approve this plan and acquiesce in it, as the only way to true happiness: it is to point towards this mediator, as God holdeth Him out in the gospel, with a desire to lay the stress of our whole state on Him. This is that which is called faith or believing, the ‘receiving of Christ,’ or ‘believing on His name.’ (John 1: 12.) This is that ‘believing on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ commanded to the jailer for his safety. (Acts 16: 31.) This agreeth to all the descriptions of justifying faith in the Scripture. This answers to the type of looking to the ‘brazen serpent lifted up in the wilderness’ (John 3: 14, 15); and this is supposed in all those ordinary acting of faith to which promises are annexed in the Scripture; and will be found in all who have got the new heart from God, and it will be found in none else.” (source)