This blog is in response to a question I received from one of our members concerning the necessity of sanctification and the unpacking of saving faith…
As I have stated prior to this, I am generally not a fan of terminology that is not obviously Biblical. I prefer to simply teach the truth as it is and leave the terms on the shelf. Therefore, very rarely will you hear me – apart from jest – mention the words “Calvinism”, “Limited Atonement”, “Non-cessational”, or “Lordship Salvation.” I have witnessed again and again terms such as these spit out at the launch of a conversation, and thereby many believers are already pre-determined in their minds against any explanation that is to follow.
Therefore, as I approach this topic in response to your question, I do so, hopefully, equipped only with the Scripture and the historical stance of the church, and not with my opinions, upbringing, and terms. “Lordship” unfortunately has come to be associated with judgmentalism, comparison, and – at times – even a works based Christianity. This is not Lordship according to Scripture. Lordship has to do with Jesus Christ being King, and therefore, our Sovereign to who we owe our undying, unwavering allegiance and submission.
One of the greatest debates that has raged between Protestants and Catholics since the Reformation era is the subject of Sola Fide – Faith Alone. As I’m sure you know, in response to the corruption and watershed of heresy within the church of that day, the Reformers – having been ex-communicated from the church – rose up in opposition with Scripture in hand, endeavoring to return to the roots of true Christianity. From this revolution came the five battle cries known as the solas (Latin for only or alone): Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. These truths brazenly declare that the Bible is our final authority on all Divine truth, trumping all opinions of man and all decisions of a pope; and that this Bible states plainly that salvation comes through the grace of God alone (apart from any and all works of mankind), by saving faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, for God’s glory alone (or primarily). Stemming from this time and these declarations, the Catholic Church has been embattled with the Protestants for the past 700 years. Former protestants have gone the way of Roman Catholicism because “Sola Fide” does not mesh with passages such as James 2, Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12 and countless others. These portions of the Word indicate very clearly that the Faith Alone argument that many North American believers cling to is, undeniably, false.
Now, let me be extremely forthright. I wholeheartedly attest to and rest in the reality of Sola Fide. I believe that the means by which I am saved is only faith. This does not mean that faith saves me, but instead that Christ Jesus saves me through simple faith in Him. Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). Those who trust Jesus Christ (our only Merit and Mediator) for justification, by faith alone, receive a perfect righteousness that is imputed to them. Those who attempt to establish their own righteousness, or mix faith with works, only receive the horrific penalty that is due all who fall short of perfection. Even Israel’s apostasy was rooted in their abandonment of justification by faith alone: For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). Justification (the act by which our God declares us righteous) and sanctification (the process in which He progressively makes us righteous), though Divinely linked together, must never be fused as one. When this occurs faith is diluted with works and we begin preaching a gospel that is foreign to the New Testament. In summation, I hope to be so obvious that it is painful – I do not ascribe to the heresy propagated by religious people all over the world, including popes and priests, who claim that faith and works are intrinsically woven together so that both are necessary for our salvation. Christ Jesus accomplished it all. He has become our sin. He has carried our iniquity. He has paid the price required to set us free. He has stood in our place, endured Divine wrath, borne Divine rejection, gone to the grave, and conquered death through His resurrection. Through His knowledge, obedience, sacrifice, and exaltation He has guaranteed for us eternal redemption, reconciliation, and sonship. All that is required of you and I, and every other individual, is faith in this suffering Lamb and conquering Lion. So the whole of pure Christian doctrine stands or falls with this truth of Sola Fide.
However, (and I realize that after stating all that I have just shared, to say however will make many cringe) it is vitally important that we understand the nature of saving faith. Praise God that Christ has procured for us salvation, and that we are forever declared holy if we simply believe/have faith/trust in Him; but the obvious question now is: what does it mean to believe in or have faith in Jesus? The answer to this question, my friend, in much of modern evangelicalism, has, I believe, stripped the power of the Holy Spirit, perverted the message of the Gospel, and grieved the heart of God.
“How do I become a Christian?” a child, teen, or adult asks. The response from most evangelicals: “Just believe in Jesus.” I understand that this is the phrase the Apostle Paul delivered to the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:31, but we must assume (and the assumption is not far-fetched) that the jailor had either previously heard the message of Paul or that he had been subjected to the truth found in this Jesus through the trial, beating, and imprisonment of Paul and Silas. Otherwise, when Paul declares, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” the jailor would have to obviously wonder, who is Jesus and what does it mean to believe in Him?
The tragic error within Christianity is that many preach saving faith as merely a mental assent to the truth. There are three components of saving faith that must be understood. In the Latin these three components are: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia is knowledge – the actual content of the gospel and an intellectual (at least to a certain extent) grasp of God, sin, separation, and salvation. Assensus, is the act by which the intellect acknowledges the truth of notitia, apart from any personal trust or saving appropriation of that knowledge. This, my friend, is where doctrine and evangelism reaches its climax for many Christians. The goal is not surrender of life to Jesus as Sovereign and Savior, but rather the mental, and thereby verbal, acknowledgment of the truth. This is not saving faith for it is incomplete, irreverant, unbiblical, and insulting to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Fiducia is the final component of saving faith as clearly stated in Scripture. Fiducia is trust which appropriates savingly, by an act of the will, through the work of regeneration, the true knowledge of the promises of God in Christ.
Let me explain a little more simply. If a building is burning and you are trapped inside, and I come running in to herald the news that the torched structure is about to collapse and we must escape, followed by the command to follow me to safety, you are left with a decision. You either trust my proclamation or you don’t. If you don’t trust me then you will remain where you are; if you do trust, you will no doubt follow me to safety. The idiocy comes in when you look back at me and declare that you do trust me, and believe that the building will collapse, and yet you refuse to follow me. Sitting idly by, you smile and assent to the truth, all the while denying through your actions what you claim to believe with your mouth. If this scenario actually presented itself I must be left to assume one of three things: (1) you are crazy and don’t understand the seriousness of the problem, (2) you’re a masochist and want to die, or (3) you don’t actually believe my message, for if you actually believed and wanted to live you would follow me.
Our current situation in evangelicalism is dire. We have millions of professing Christians still sitting in their spiritually burning buildings, smiling as they claim to believe that Jesus is the only way, yet refusing to actually follow Him. This is not Biblical, saving faith. Saving faith is not simply understanding (notitia) sin, punishment, and salvation, and attesting (assensus) to this truth, but actually trusting (fiducia) the One who calls us to follow Him.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that the whole process of salvation (grace and faith) is a free gift of God, not a work in ourselves. Therefore, the faith that we exercise in Christ Jesus, is not our own faith (else it would be a work) but rather is saving faith given to us by the mercy of God. Philippians 1:29 is another text which makes this perfectly obvious: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Our believing in Christ was not found in ourselves, but was given to us as a gift of grace. This is how there is no reason for boasting.
With this understanding in mind, Ephesians 2:10 begins to make much more sense: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. You see, the sanctification that follows justification is not one with justification, but two separate realities, Divinely linked together that will be true of every single believer in Jesus. Before the foundation of the world was laid, the Father ordained for all His children to actually walk in His way becoming conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29).
Earlier I stated that to believe in the notitia and assensus components of saving faith, and yet disregard the fiducia element was to, at least in theory, strip the Holy Spirit of His power and insult Him in His role. The reason for this is that, while many professing Christians forget the reality and result of the Holy Spirit within our lives, the Holy Spirit is – within every true child of God – slowly making them more like Jesus (Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11). Our striving to be more Christ-like is only possible through the power of the Spirit of God within us. Therefore, to say that a person can trust in Jesus for justification, but be transformed none at all through sanctification (or in essence, that sanctification for a believer is optional and not a by-product of justification) is to grossly twist the truth of Scripture and grieve the Holy Spirit by minimizing (or nullifying) His work.
I do believe and preach that if someone has been born again by the Spirit, and justified by the Son, then they will produce, in varying degrees, evidence of becoming more like the Savior they love and trust. This evidence does not make them a Christian but rather honors their King and lends credence to their profession. It is not my calling to judge anyone, but rather to use godly discernment foremost on myself to examine myself to see if I am indeed in the faith.
To hold to the Biblical definition of saving faith – notitia, assensus, and fiducia – sheds Divine light on “difficult” passages like James 2, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, almost all of 1 John 3 and countless others. To pluck out and abandon any of these components not only leads into serious error within our own soteriological stance, but renders us incapable of actually intellectually addressing the issues of Spirit induced sanctification, surrender, and the perseverance of the saints.