By grace are you saved through faith… (Ephesians 2:8)
Faith is required for salvation. But it never presents faith as the foundation of our salvation. Faith is like a door we walk through, not like a foundation we stand upon. The foundation of our salvation is Christ and His work. Furthermore God works by His Spirit in our lives to endear Himself to us.
Some say they “believe” but then fall away. I think it is better to consider them like the seed that fell on the path, or among the thorns, or on the shallow soil in the Parable of The Soils (Luke 8). Whatever that “faith” experience they had was, it was not genuine enough for anyone to say that they were truly saved. Saving faith must be sincere and accompanied by a true spirit of repentance.
But where we emphasize the strength of our faith, the Bible’s emphasis is on God’s work in upholding us. Our endurance in our faith is not our achievement alone, nor even mostly. It is done by God more than by us. As Paul wrote: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Genuine faith opens the door for the Lord to do His work in us to secure our salvation. Faith is what gets us into the family of God, but it is the sealing of the Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes us never want to leave.
An illustration is the parable of the treasure hidden in the field.
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. (Matt. 13:44)
The person who trusts in Christ does not yet realize all the treasures that he will find in Christ. That faith must be sincere – he must really believe – but the entire treasure of Christ to our lives is unknown to us at the moment of our salvation.
Or think of marriage as an analogy – that a man may give his heart sincerely to the woman at the wedding, but he remains faithful not just because of his heart or his sincerity at the wedding, but because she is a good and faithful woman herself she continues to lead him to fall in love with her each day. Like every analogy it breaks down at some point, but it does point out that the man’s commitment to his wife cannot be understood independently of how good a wife she is to him. And likewise, our faithfulness to Christ cannot be understood apart from Christ’s work in our lives after salvation.
How much faith is needed?
A question someone might ask is how much faith does it take to be saved? And the only answer enough to trust. It must be sincere and genuine faith, and enough to take that first step sincerely. The Bible never qualifies the amount of faith more than that when it comes to salvation. Rather it emphasizes the work of God to secure our salvation. Every one who has faith also has some doubts. We all have our weaknesses also. The passages from Judas and Deuteronomy you mentioned I believe applies to those who do not truly believe, and never have. As Christ said to those who hoped to be saved, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (Matt 7:23).
So there is a mystery here for us, which leads me to my initial point. That we cannot be saved apart from the work of God in leading us to faith and securing our salvation Himself.
Here is how I understand the matter. Our salvation is planned, prepared, and offered to us by God. When the Bible speaks about our salvation it does not begin with our faith, but rather with the plans and calling of God. Ephesians 1:1-14 explains that God planned our salvation in the heavenly places, before the world was created, and He sent the Christ to die for our sins before we were born.
Jesus said, ” No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). He taught that the Spirit convicts our hearts when we hear the gospel: “And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). So the Bible’s focus is on the work of God in our conversion.
Now, unfortunately, we live in an era where there is a lot of teaching out there that we just have to “believe” and that is enough. The problem is that the belief they are talking about is not genuine faith. I like to use the phrase “mental assent” to describe this kind of thinking, and it is not not genuine faith as the Bible describes it. Many are deluded into thinking they are saved because they have had some experience that they do not understand. Maybe they cried, or got caught up in emotion, or felt something, but it was not genuine repentance and faith in Christ.
The Parable of the Soils
Here is the explanation that Christ gave of His parable.
Now this is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. The seeds along the path are those who hear, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The seeds on rocky ground are those who hear the word and receive it with joy, but they have no root. They believe for a season, but in the time of testing, they fall away. The seeds that fell among the thorns are those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life, and their fruit does not mature. But the seeds on good soil are those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, cling to it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:11-15)
The teaching here stresses the genuineness of faith.
James also taught on this point, for some associated with his church apparently claimed to have believed but did not live like they should. It is not, as some have said, that faith and good works together save us – that is NOT what James taught. In fact he said plainly, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of His creation” (James 1:18), and ” Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and every expression of evil, and humbly receive the word planted in you, which can save your souls” (James 1:21). The phrase “humbly receive the word planted in you” includes the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit to embed the truth deep in us that we might believe.
In chapter two James said:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:14-19)
James’ point is that faith saves (and faith in God is what is required for salvation) but that not everything that people may call “faith” is genuine faith.
The Mystery of Faith
Saving faith is sincere faith in God (Acts 16:34), but it is a mysterious thing as well, that is not possible apart from the work of God’s Spirit enabling and helping us to believe. In the Bible there are two types of ways that God reveals Himself to us: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is the witness of God to everyone through the creation itself. The Psalmist wrote:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1,4)
And in Romans we read:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. or his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
This is the revelation that everyone receives through creation, through logic, though contemplating the complexity of the universe.
But special revelation is necessary for conversion and salvation. General revelation is not enough by itself to bring someone to repentance and faith. Everyone who believed in the Bible had a personal encounter with God through His Word and Spirit. And this encounter retains a strong element of mystery for us. I cannot really explain to anyone my own salvation except to say that when I heard the gospel I believed and have entered into a relationship with God through Christ.
Those who truly believe do not believe for a while only but for good – that is the nature of genuine faith – but that does not mean that there will not be doubts or even sins committed after salvation. We will still be tempted by the sin in us, the world around us, and the devil. But somewhere in our hearts we are aware that God has a hold of our lives. Jude declares clearly that our salvation rests upon the faithfulness of God:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)