7: The Essentials of Biblical Faith

  There are three crucial aspects of Biblical faith that must be understood.  That understanding not only produces the blessing of assurance of salvation but also is key to sanctification by faith.  Colossians 2:6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.  This is that little bit of help that will get you going a long, long way. 
This is a review of How Can I Be Right With God by R.C. Sproul with study questions added to turn them into lessons. These lessons are part of a wider study on Sanctification which has as its goal the fulfillment of Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  
I’ve set these studies up in a specific order so that all may easily build on the foundation of Christ with the finest materials - gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Cor 3:10-13). God has gifted the Church with amazing evangelists, pastors, and teachers to help us in this building project (Eph 4:11-16). Although I am not one of these gifts to the Church, I do seek to organize their material in such a way as to help you become all that God wants you to be. I invite you to study along with me. 

You can see an overview of the complete study on Sanctification here. To go to the start of this current series click here. 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

7: The Essentials of Biblical Faith

If justification is by faith, then we must come to an understanding of what kind of faith justifies. Remember that the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century taught that faith is necessary for justification. But it maintained that it is possible for a person to have true faith and still not be in a state of justification. The Reformers responded that authentic faith is all that is necessary to be linked to Christ and to be counted just in the sight of God. So then, a key question concerns the nature of the kind of faith that justifies.

In defense of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman theologians of the sixteenth century were terrified that some people would hear justification by faith alone and think that it means that all a person needs to be saved is a casual acceptance of the truth claims of Christianity, with no accompanying change in the person’s life. They were concerned that this formula would open a floodgate of iniquity. So it was imperative for the Reformers to define the character and nature of saving faith. The Reformed theologians discerned ten distinct dimensions to the concept of faith as it is found in the New Testament, which have been condensed to three major aspects of saving faith.[1]

Notitia

The first aspect of saving faith is notitia. It has to do simply with the content of faith, what you believe.[2] How many times have you heard someone say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.” Maybe you’ve even said it. What a ghastly thing, to imagine that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere! Such a notion is antithetical to the Christian faith. At its heart, Christianity is a body of doctrines that were proclaimed to the world, first by Christ and then His Apostles, that we are called to embrace and to believe. It matters what we believe, and it matters eternally.

Even apart from this idea’s incompatibility with the Christian faith, there is this question: What if you’re sincerely wrong? Suppose you believe that some inanimate object, like a chair, is the savior of the world. This might seem ridiculous, but it’s not that different from what multitudes of people have done throughout history, investing their trust in objects such as statues, totem poles, bushes, or crafted idols. These idols were made by the hands of those who worshiped them, but they actually had faith in their idols. They prayed to them, worshiped them, trusted them to redeem them from the calamities of this world—and they were sincere about it. One of the great tragedies of church history is that heretics tend to be people who are quite sincere in what they believe.[3] Pelagius really believed that Adam’s sin did not affect anyone but Adam. Arius really believed that Jesus was not divine. These heretics were sincere in their beliefs, but they were sincerely wrong—and the errors that they taught would doom the world if they were embraced by others.

The Reformers understood that saving faith does not require a perfect understanding of every point of doctrine or systematic theology. We’re not justified by knowledge or information alone, but we’re also not justified apart from knowledge or information. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” and Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31), that was a bare minimum of content, but there was content there. Paul didn’t say to the man, “Believe in the chair you’re sitting on,” or, “Believe in Baal.” He said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” The preaching of the New Testament sought to condense the essential content of saving faith as the Apostles preached to the world.[4] When they went out to the Gentile communities, they didn’t say, “We’re going to have a ten-year course on the history of redemption, beginning with the book of Genesis and working up through Malachi. Then we’ll ask you to become Christians.” No, they had what was called the kerygma or “preaching”: a summary of the essential claims of the Christian faith, the foundational message of the person and the work of Jesus, the sinfulness of humanity, and the work of reconciliation that had been accomplished by Christ on the cross. That was followed by a call to faith in and commitment to Jesus. As people responded in faith to the kerygma and were baptized into the church, they followed up with what was called didachē or “teaching,” where the whole scope of doctrine was explained in greater detail.[5]

The church in every age has to understand what those essential truths are that we have to grasp in order to be justified. When the Reformers said that one of the necessary ingredients of saving faith is notitia, they meant the bare minimum of content that is needed to understand the virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Assensus

That brings up the second essential element of saving faith, which the Reformers called assensus.[6] This has to do with agreement or intellectual assent. For Luther and the Reformers, to be justified by faith meant first that you must have the information—notitia—and second, you have to believe that the information is trueassensus.

Fiducia

Is having those two elements enough to justify you? James told us that it isn’t: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).[7] Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church once observed that, if you have only notitia and assensus, all that does is qualify you to be a demon. The demons were the first to recognize the true character of Jesus, but they weren’t justified. They didn’t have saving faith, because the critical element is called fiducia, which has to do with trust.[8] So this element of saving faith, so necessary for justification to take place, is one of personal trust and reliance.

In what are you trusting? Upon what are you relying for your reconciliation with God?[9] Many who would say, “Jesus is the Son of God, and did all these wonderful things,” when it gets right down to it, are relying on their own performance. “I’ve tried to live a good life”; “I gave money to those in need”; “I went to church.” The object of their faith is themselves, whereas the biblical object of faith is Christ and Him alone. We must put our trust in Him and rely on Him exclusively to be our Redeemer.

Satan and the demons know who Jesus is; they know the truth of the claims of Christ, but Satan would never put his trust in or reliance upon Christ. Why? Because he hates Christ, and because his fundamental sin is pride. He doesn’t want to rely on anyone but himself. In order for us to have true faith and trust, we have to see something that Satan doesn’t: the loveliness, the sweetness, and the excellence of Christ. We’re not going to put trust in someone we despise. But saving faith is quickened in the heart when it understands and embraces the truth of the gospel of Christ and moves from that dimension to personal trust, reliance, and affection for Christ.

Dr. Kennedy once tried to explain fiducia using an illustration of a chair. You might look at a chair and see that it doesn’t have any defects and so it could probably safely hold you, but you don’t truly believe that it can support you until you sit in it. That’s the difference between the intellectual aspect of faith and true reliance. Christ is like that chair, and we must risk everything to rest on Him and in Him, recognizing that He alone has the power and the strength to hold us up safely in the presence of God.

Questions & Notes

  1. The Reformed theologians discerned _________ distinct dimensions to the concept of faith as it is found in the New Testament
  2. _________ has to do simply with the content of faith, what you believe.
  3. One of the great tragedies of church history is that heretics tend to be people who are quite _________ in what they believe.
  4. The preaching of the New Testament sought to _________ the essential content of saving faith as the Apostles preached to the world.
  5. As people responded in faith to the kerygma and were baptized into the church, they followed up with what was called didachē or _________, where the whole scope of doctrine was explained in greater detail.
  6. The second essential element of saving faith is called _________ .
  7. Who told us that there has to be more than just notitia and assensus to be justified?
  8. Fiducia has to do with _________.
  9. Upon what are you relying for your reconciliation with God?
Click on the "How Can I Be Right with God” tag below to see all the posts in this series. To go to the start of this series click here

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