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The Reformation and Saving Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus – Romans 3:21-24

On this the 505th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation I am reflecting on that great doctrine recovered in the Reformation of our Justification by Faith. That is the truth that we are Justified, or made right before God, by Grace through Faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  Faith. It is Faith that receives the Grace of God unto salvation. Martin Luther taught that Faith receives Grace like the Grace receives the rain. The grass does nothing to get wet, it simply receives the rain. A person with Faith does nothing to get Grace. She just receives it! Faith receives Grace.

Opponents of this doctrine argued that simply telling people that “all they have to do to be saved is believe in Jesus” would create a lawless and sinful Christianity.  That charge is still leveled against Christians today. I’ve heard more than once that same charge today.  Friends and family have said to me, “But George, if what you’re saying is true, then a person can live however they wanted to and it wouldn’t matter because they would go to heaven just by believing in Jesus.”

The Reformers countered that saving Faith is not simple assent to the fact that Jesus is God. James writes “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”  James’ point is that a conception of faith that is mere assent to a fact is not saving faith.   Demons who encountered Jesus Christ recognized that Jesus was Lord, they believed that fact. Their fate, however, is not eternal life but rather they are set apart for the Lake of Fire.

So, the Reformers such as John Calvin further explained that Faith must be more than agreement with a fact and they deduced three aspects of faith garnered from the testimony of Scripture. Saving Faith, they taught, is made up of notitia (knowledge), assensus (agreement), and fiducia (trusting one’s life to Christ).

Here’s a non-Christian example. Let’s say that you were in deep financial trouble and needed money to fix the problem.  And so I tell you that there is a suitcase in the closet with a million dollars in it and it is mine to give away legally and there is no strings attached.  Let’s say you understand what I’m saying (notitia), and you agree I am telling the truth about both the money and the fact that there are no strings attached (assensus).  Now let’s say you don’t take the money.  What would you make of that? The only thing you could conclude by not taking the money is that the person really didn’t “believe” it was true or the person really didn’t “believe” they needed the money. Saying something is true is different from trusting your life to the information. (Admittedly, this is a flawed example)

In the case of Christianity, Saving Faith in Jesus Christ includes:

  • notitia – The Person must know that Christianity teaches that God in Jesus Christ paid the price for His people’s sins and grants them eternal life if they believe in his work on their behalf.
  • assensus – The Person must agree with those facts. They must believe that to be a true statement.
  • fiducia – That belief or faith is real if the third aspect of faith is present, namely the person entrusts their life to Christ.

Faith is born from a change of heart that reorients one’s life toward giving one’s life to the information that the life says they believe.

Now, Faith is not works. Faith is not faithfulness. But when a person truly has faith, they can’t help but live out of that conviction.  This is why James goes on to say that “Faith without works is dead.”  The writer of Hebrews wrote a whole Chapter on this Faith-Works Connection, writing “by faith” so-and-so did this and “by faith” so-and-so did that.  Saving Faith produces a desire to “live by Faith” even while we war against the old-Adam in us that wants to “live by the flesh”  (Romans 7).

Paul too makes this Faith-Works connection when he writes “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Paul writes this immediately after saying “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Saving Faith therefore produces fruit.  Salvation producing something in the life of the believer.  Their heart of stone is removed and replaced with a heart of flesh that has God’s law written on it. (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:36). It becomes a part of the Christian’s DNA.  You see, Faith is not a mere assent to the facts of the gospel. It is the expression of a heart that is changed by the Gospel!  And that is indeed Good News!

On this 505th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation let us with Apostle Paul proclaim and with Reformer Martin Luther revel in the great gospel truth of Romans 1:16 & 17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



George Sayour
George Sayour

George is Senior Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian
Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC. When he's not pastoring or writing, he's fishing, kayaking and spending time with his family.

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