Why Faith Won’t Save You, And What Will

One of the things I hope to do on Average Us is help the average you grasp the rich hope that is yours in Christ. Thus, the tagline: “Real hope. From God. Through Christ. For us.” But, average Christians like me have been raised in average churches where biblical and theological instruction in this real, rich hope is offered rarely and poorly. And the result is that much of what we “know” about Christianity amounts to no more than a handful of Bible stories, misquoted verses, and misunderstood slogans.

…having the eyes of yourhearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…
—Ephesians 1:18

Take this slogan for example: saved by faith. If you grew up near any kind of evangelical people, you’ve heard this one. But, what does it mean? Slogans are good at capturing a key idea in a short, memorable phrase. But the problem with slogans is that as they are passed around from person to person and generation to generation, the key idea becomes distorted, misunderstood, or forgotten.

So, for many, saved by faith can become a kind of false gospel. Many people believe that the mere fact of having a general belief in God grants them salvation. Faith then becomes a kind of good deed which merits salvation. This is similar to the non-Christian who believes that being a good person merits entrance into heaven. But the apostle James taught us that even the demons have this kind of faith (James 2:19). And of course, it merits them nothing from God.

❯ Saved by the Savior

How much better it is to read in the Bible that “Christ Jesus came into the world to saves sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). So, faith does not save. Rather, Christ saves the sinner who believes in Him. It is the object of our faith—Jesus of Nazareth—that saves. Or, as the more instructive slogan has been handed down to us from the Reformation:

We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But, isn’t this just semantic hair-splitting?

Not at all. Believing that you are saved because you believe is vastly different from believing that a person (Jesus) can and will save you. It’s not that you believe that saves; it’s what you believe and who you believe in.

Christian faith believes:

  • The God of the Bible is the only true God (Deuteronomy 4:39)
  • That this God is both good and has given us His law (Psalm 19:7-8; 118:1)
  • That we have woefully broken His law by what we desire, think, say, and do, as well as what we fail to desire, think, say, and do (Psalm 14:1; Romans 3:11-12)
  • That as a result, we are liable to God’s judgment and wrath and are cast off and without hope (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:12)
  • But also, that God mercifully sent His Son into the world to be our Savior (John 3:16)
  • That this Savior saves us from God’s wrath by suffering the penalty we deserve on the cross (1 Peter 3:18)
  • That this Savior has risen from the dead to declare our penalty paid in full (Romans 4:25)
  • So that our hope for salvation rests unashamedly in this gospel: the good news that Jesus saves (Romans 1:16)

Faith in the Savior

I hope you see, reader, that Christian faith involves several elements beyond general faith in God’s existence.

First, that we hear the specific content proclaimed in the Bible: the law (what God demands of us) and the gospel (what God has done for us in Christ). Second, that we agree that God is true, His law for us is just and His mercy toward us great. And third, (that which fulfills and crowns the other two) that we wholeheartedly, actively trust in Christ alone for God’s mercy and cast all our hopes on Him. Or to put it another way, faith only becomes saving faith when Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior is its sole object.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.—1 Timothy 1:15

The Faith of The Christian Faith

The distinction between faith as a noun and faith as a verb may also help you understand the nature of Christian belief.

The Christian Faith (Faith as a proper noun) is a body of truth claims about God’s work in history (creation, fall, promise, providence, incarnation, and resurrection) which has ultimate meaning for all people. This Faith is the biblical content we hear and agree with that leads us to Christian faith (lowercase “f”). Christian faith is the in-the-moment trust we place in Jesus because of what He accomplished for us in the past, and what He promises us today and for eternity.

Is Jesus the object of your faith? Is He your only hope? Is He the Savior you actively trust for eternal life? If you’re not sure, you may want to read What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?

for further study…

❯ Westminster Catechism 86

Q: What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Read the Scripture proofs here.

Belgic Confession of Faith Article XXII

Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

Read the Scripture proofs here.

Westminster Confession of Faith Article XIV.2

By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

Read the Scripture proofs here.