What do people mean in English when they use the noun “faith” and the verb “to believe”? Do they use those words in the same way that the scriptures use them? When we tell them in a sermon that “Faith saves,” and when we urge them to “Just believe,” do they understand what we intended them?
The concepts to “believe” and saving “faith” is found in Epistle to the Romans. The Apostle Paul in his statement form 1:16‑17 that the message of the gospel is called “the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes.” And what is it that is believed?
The message which reveals a righteousness from God in connection with this Jesus Christ is not simply a information. Rather it is a powerful message which gives life to those who effectively hear it. Apostle Paul shows us that saving faith is intimately and inseparably connected to facts and truths of history. Faith is provoked by the hearing of the message; faith applies and appropriates the facts in such a way that the individual who heard the message responds with the affirmation: Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died and rose again.
Let’s take Abraham for example.
How did Abraham come to have saving faith? How was it that he believed and it was imputed to him for righteousness? He heard the promise of God that was contrary to all human doing and all human reasoning. Hearing it, he trusted the one who proclaimed it to him.
Thus “saving faith” is a receiving of righteousness from God, righteousness revealed and expressed in the message and this righteousness comes not at all from man’s actions. It is entirely the gift of God’s grace on account of the death and resurrection of Christ. The receiving is thus, trust in these truths, the certainty not only that the message is true, but that it is given freely by grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8‑9).
Mark 4:35-41, it is the story of Jesus’ stilling of the storm. The disciples are in fear of drowning and have awakened Jesus with the cry, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” After rebuking the winds and the waves, Jesus said to the disciples, “Have you still no faith?”
Exactly what is the nature of Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples? Is He accusing them of not knowing or trusting that He is the promised Messiah? That seems doubtful. For they have followed Him because they know the Old Testament promises and they trust that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ rebuke is rather that they do not see the connection between saving faith and faith in the particular situation in which they now find themselves. Faith is not just strong feeling or pious optimism. But it is always trust based on a promise. Jesus expects us to know that faith is based on a promise.
Consider for example Mark 9:23, the story of the healing of the boy possessed by demon. Jesus said: “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Notice that Jesus does not say that everything will happen, if we believe that it will happen. His words are perfectly consistent with the definition of faith as a trust in a specific promise. A prayer without trust in the promise of Jesus is without effect.
Again it is not saving faith as such that is here the focus of attention, but rather its application to a specific situation in life. Of such faith it may well be said that it is weak or strong. It is weak when knowledge of God’s promises is small or when a trust is lacking that the promise applies now in a specific circumstance. It is strong when the Christian understands the promise of God and trusts that he will do in the specific situation what is right, what is best.
To sum up the topic, faith in the scriptures and in the confessional writings is not merely a feeling, an opinion, some sort of pious optimism. Faith in the scriptures and in the confessional writings is knowledge of the history facts and promises of God in the scriptures, approved that these are true and real—not just myths or fables – and confidence that the particular truth or promise applies to the believer.
The message of the Gospel doesn’t become true because I believe it; I believe it because it is true. God himself works that conviction through the word alone and not apart from it. Faith is not a cause of salvation; it is the result of salvation.
“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”.( Romans 10:4)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5‑6)