Easter Five Day devotional

Day Three – What is Saving Faith?

How does someone become a Christian? The simple answer is faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can be saved.” In Acts 16:31 the Philippian jailer is told, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” John 3:16 famously says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In the New Testament, the words “faith” and “belief” are interchangeable. They are both translated from the same Greek word. To have faith is to believe.

But we need some help in understanding this because we all know that the call to faith must mean something more than just believing in the existence of God or of Jesus. After all, even the Bible says in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

What then does it mean to have what has been called saving faith?

More Than Intellectual Assent

While saving faith is more than just an intellectual belief in God or in the facts of the gospel, it certainly includes belief in these facts. We certainly can’t exercise faith in Jesus without believing that (1) he existed, (2) he is the Son of God, (3) he dies for our sins, and (4) he was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” A belief in these basic truths about Jesus is not enough to save someone, but this belief is necessary for anyone who wants to exercise saving faith.

Belief in certain facts surrounding the gospel has often been called “intellectual assent.” This simply means that we affirm with our minds that we think these things are true. A person might affirm these facts in the same way that a person would affirm that Abraham Lincoln was the president during the U.S. Civil War, or that Michael Jordan won 6 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.

But believing these facts does not change a person. It has little to do with the decisions that we make and with where our priorities lay. Whatever saving faith is, it must be more than this.

Belief and Trust

In English, many of us would make a distinction between the idea of belief and the idea of trust. In the biblical words used for “faith,” however, there is no real distinction between the two ideas. They are intimately connected. To believe in Jesus is to trust God. And the implication is that if we don’t trust God, then we can’t really say that we believe in him. We may believe intellectually that he exists, but our faith is empty because it is not impacting our behavior.

This points us to the idea that the Christian call to faith is less about believing a set of ideas and more about believing a person. While he was suffering in prison, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day.” Paul does not say that he knows what he has believed; he says that he knows whom he has believed. In other words, he knows who he is trusting. And he believes that, despite his temporary suffering, Jesus is able to bring him final reward and vindication.

Imagine a young girl who doesn’t know how to swim standing at the edge of the pool. The girl’s father is standing in the pool, inviting her to jump in. “I’ll catch you and make sure that you’ll be fine,” the father says. The child stands there pondering the decision. The question is not the existence or the identity of her father. The question is one of trust. Will she trust that (1) her father is capable of keeping her safe and (2) that her father is telling the truth and will follow through on his promise?

When we are invited to believe in Jesus, the main question is not his existence or even his identity (although those questions do matter). The main question is whether or not we will trust him. Do we believe (1) that he is capable of saving us from sin and hell, from despair and hopelessness, and (2) that he is trustworthy to follow through on this promise to do so?

Faith and Evidence

Sometimes people who pit the idea of faith against the idea of evidence. We hear about “people of faith” and “people of science.” This kind of talk could lead us to think that faith means believing in something for which there is no evidence. But this is not the biblical idea of faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This means that we exercise faith when we choose to act with certainty about things that we can’t be certain. Not being certain about something is very different than having no evidence for something. Faith is not when we believe something in the absence of evidence; faith is when we believe something in the absence of certainty.

The truth is that we all exercise faith constantly. When we fly in an airplane, we have no proof that the pilot has been trained properly, and yet we behave as if we are certain of it. When we watch news coverage of a senate hearing, we have no proof that it wasn’t filmed in a studio with actors, and yet we behave as if we’re sure it is real. When we do this, we are exercising faith. Even as you’re reading this right now you are exercising faith that your eyes are working correctly and that your mind is processing the words as they were intended to be read.

In the end, we are all people of faith. The question is not whether or not we’ll exercise faith; the question is where we will put our faith. And the specific question about Christian faith is whether or not we’ve seen enough evidence to trust that Jesus is truly the Son of God and that he truly was raised from the dead. If we’ve seen enough, then we make the choice to believe, not despite the evident, but because of the evidence.

Believing in Jesus

For nearly 2,000 years billions of people have placed their faith in Jesus. They have found hope in him. They have had their lives transformed by them. And many have been willing to suffer and even to die for their faith in him. We live in a world where many have counted him to be worthy of their faith. Now each of us faces the question of whether or not we are willing to put our faith in him.


  1. What evidence have you seen/experienced that makes it easier for you to believe in Jesus?
  2. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, in what specific ways is he calling you to trust him during this season right now?

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