Commentary: What is saving faith?


“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” (John 3:16–18, CSB)

You can believe the good news about the kingdom of God. You can trust in the King of this newly opened-to-us kingdom and therefore trust what He has said and done. Certainly the belief I’m writing about is more than acknowledging propositions. It is what I call a saving faith. It is an active trust in the person and work of Jesus for your salvation, both now and forever. This is saving faith, this is believing the Gospel. 

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, CSB)

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by this our ancestors were approved.” (Hebrews 11:1–2, CSB)

In the New Testament Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, there is an impressive list of biblical characters who accomplished great things because of their faith. They range from Abel to Noah to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses to Daniel, and beyond. All these believed in the promises of God, so much so that they staked their very lives and eternity on it. In Jesus we have the fulfillment of these promises. We who believe the Gospel are included in that long line of believers. 

“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” (Hebrews 11:39–40, CSB)

As we think about “Believing the Gospel” I want to describe what this kind of belief or faith is and how it works. Yes, this faith does work. 

First, biblical faith is real and objective. 

Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the reality of what is hoped for...proof of what is not seen. They are real things. They are real and they are proof. They are not ideas in our heads. They are outside of us. There is an objective reality. God acts in our world. What Jesus Christ has done, He did in real time and space.  Biblical faith is not a philosophical proposition, but based on real objective events, many of these were promised by God thousands of years ahead of time. 

Second, biblical faith is a future expectation based on present evidence.

Faith has a future quality. It is the reality of what is hoped for. The word for “reality,” or “substance” as many Bible translations have it, is used five times in the New Testament. Two by the Apostle Paul and it is translated as "confidence" in 2 Corinthians chapter 9:4 and 11:17. The other three times it is found in the Book of Hebrews chapter 1 and 11. 

In Hebrews "reality" is more of a 'demonstration' than a confidence or an assurance. It is active, anticipatory, energetic and seeking. So to “believe the Gospel” has a future orientation based on the past and present record of what has been promised and kept.

Third, biblical faith is believing what is real but not seen. 

"The proof of what is not seen." As Hamlet said to Horatio, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Actually, this is even true on just the physical level. Our eyes can only see so much. Yet there are universes full of things and living organisms that we cannot see with the eye. There are light waves that our eyes cannot comprehend. The human visible spectrum is much smaller than the full light spectrum. For example, infrared light is just outside of our spectrum. Just because you can't see it does not mean that it's not real. In many ways, seeing is not believing and still in many ways seeing is believing. 

Fourth, biblical faith is what connects people to God and saves them. This connection of faith brings even physical healing, reception of the promises God made to Abraham, entrance into the Messiah’s kingdom, and God’s forgiveness and power both now and later. See the Scriptures below.

“By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Jesus has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.” (Acts 3:16, CSB)

"The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14, CSB)

“...for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, CSB)

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—” (Ephesians 2:8, CSB)

“You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5, CSB)

Fifth, biblical faith has four dimensions to it.

First I want to start with an intellectual dimension. This is basic knowledge concerning Jesus Christ: Who He is, what He has done, but also who are we, and what are we then supposed to do. They are the basic facts concerning Christianity. Knowing and acknowledging facts do not count as saving faith.  “You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder.” (James 2:19, CSB) Yet, there are certain facts that need to be known.

The second is a relational dimension. Biblical faith is not a system of doctrines but a relationship with a person. How you are related to that person will determine the effectiveness of your faith. Relationships begin. Relationships grow and they become stronger as time is spent and experiences made. In other words, biblical faith is not static but dynamic. We should all remember this. Family is still family, but because of time, love, service and experience with someone, you will be closer to them and they to you. Your faith will grow and flourish or languish in relation to the amount of time you purposely spend with Jesus. 

The third is an emotional dimension. This can be more of a thermometer of where you are with God. Questions to ask: Do you desire Him? What about love? Love has an emotional element. So does faith. Genuine belief makes you have a stake in what happens and it will affect your mood. Certainly faith is in the head, but it is also in the heart and in the gut.

The last dimension to consider for biblical faith is the volitional dimension. This dimension engages a person’s will. Faith is certainly a gift from God (see Ephesians 2:8) but it is also a choice. You can choose to have faith. When you choose to believe the Gospel, you are not choosing against reason or reality, you are choosing for it. You must make a decision one way or another. There is not a third option. You don’t have a choice to not make a choice. Not making a choice is choosing not to believe. In one sense believing the Gospel is moving from believing in God to believing God, to faith in God. 

I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God. I was taught from an infant the stories of the Bible. I knew them. Yet I did not believe it. I thought I believed, but I didn’t have all the dimensions of saving faith. I believed in my head but not in my heart. I didn’t have these until I was confronted with Jesus and my need to surrender my life to Him and make Him my Savior and Lord. I still remember that day. It was a Wednesday morning on a hot August 17th day. Everything changed because I was changed. This is what it means to believe the Gospel. Believe it now. 


Jimmy Kinnaird has been the associational mission strategist for the Fairburn Baptist Association since August 2021. He's served as a pastor for 21 years and in various denominational and consulting roles for 14 years.