Not every attempt to share the gospel ends with an invitation to believe in Jesus, but that should at least be the end goal. We want unbelievers to turn from their sin and put their faith in Jesus. However, before we call people to put their faith in Christ, we better know what biblical faith is.
On one hand, it’s possible to so lower the bar for what it means to have “faith” that the word becomes meaningless. Just about every drunk person I’ve ever met on the street believes in Jesus. Scores of people around the world say they believe in Jesus, but their hearts and their lives are far from him. Even demons in hell believe (James 2:19).
We dilute what it means to believe in Jesus when we assume that someone is a Christian simply because he or she agrees intellectually to certain truths or says certain words. This error is common in our day, but it isn’t new. Jesus said that many people will stand before Him on the last day and call him “Lord,” and they will even claim to have done great things in His name. Yet, tragically, He will tell them, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21–23). This kind of diluted faith is deadly—eternally deadly.
In an attempt to guard against the error of diluting faith, some well-meaning Christians swing completely to the other end of the spectrum. They so complicate faith that it becomes difficult to know if someone actually has it. For example, if faith in Christ involves commitment to Christ, then how can I know if I’m committed enough? Or if faith involves surrender to Christ, then how can I know if I’m surrendered enough?
In the process of trying to take faith seriously and push back against the low cost of discipleship in contemporary Christianity, we can unintentionally over-complicate faith. The result is that followers of Christ stay endlessly frustrated or anxious. We desperately need the Bible to give us the right perspective on faith.
We will not understand true, biblical faith until we get two things straight: (1) the goal of faith and (2) the role of faith. These two aspects of faith are captured in this simple (yet profound) summary statement: We can be restored to God only through faith in Jesus. We’ll begin by unpacking the first part of the statement—we can be restored to God—in order to identify the right motivation for believing.
The Goal of Faith
It may surprise you to learn that the goal of believing the gospel is not happiness or joy or peace or satisfaction. It’s not even heaven. These things are not bad, of course, but they are not the goal of the gospel. The goal of the gospel is God. Being restored to Him is why we come to Christ in the first place. Of course, there are many blessings that flow from being restored to God, not least of which is that our sin problem is dealt with.
You may recall from Thread 2, the sinfulness of man, that sin has plunged man into guilt, shame, and fear. All that changes when we are restored to God. As a just Judge, He cancels our guilt (Colossians 2:14); as a good Father, He removes our shame by adopting us into His family; as a conquering King, He overcomes our fear by conquering death itself. God does all of this based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Thread 3), which brings us to the second half of the statement we’re unpacking. Our restoration to God comes only through faith in Jesus.
The Role of Faith
Many people in our culture claim to have faith, but we need to ask the question, Faith in what? Faith in ourselves? Faith in some vague notion of a God who is watching over us? Faith in . . . our own faith? None of these answers captures the biblical idea of faith, the kind of faith that restores us to God. To understand the proper role of faith, let’s consider faith in relation to three different aspects of our salvation: the basis of our salvation, the means of our salvation, and the evidence of our salvation.
The Basis of Faith
We will completely miss the gospel if we do not see that Jesus is the basis of our salvation. We could never stand before God and claim to be righteous on our own, for there is nothing we can do—no matter how committed or radical we might be—to cover up the fact that we have rebelled against God. We do not rely on ourselves, or even our own faith, to make us right with God. The only way anyone can be declared innocent before God is based on someone else’s innocence, namely, Christ’s. We are restored to God based solely on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The Means of Faith
If Jesus is the basis of our salvation, then what role does faith play? Faith is the means by which the salvation of Christ is applied to our lives. If we think of salvation as a gift, then faith is the hand that receives the gift. But why is faith the only means of salvation? Why not love or humility or joy or wisdom? Because faith is the anti-work.
Faith is the acknowledgement that there is nothing you can do except trust in what God in Christ has done for you. Faith is the one attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. Faith says to God, “I give up! I can never make myself right before You, so I trust You and depend on You completely to do what I cannot do myself.” This kind of faith is altogether incompatible with the idea that our good works can somehow give us a right standing before a perfectly holy God. However, as we’ll see below, that doesn’t mean our good works and obedience are irrelevant to following Christ.
The Evidence of Faith
If Christ is the basis of our salvation, and faith is the only means for receiving salvation, then how do our works fit into the equation? Instead of seeing our works as earning salvation, as other world religions teach, the Bible teaches that good works are the evidence of salvation. Biblical faith necessarily leads to good works. In other words, faith works. That’s what the book of James tells us repeatedly: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). The implied answer is no, which is why James calls the kind of faith that doesn’t produce works “dead” (James 2:17).
When your soul is resting upon the grace of Christ, when your life revolves around trust in Christ, then you begin to love as Christ loves, to walk as Christ walks, and to lay down your life for others just as Christ has laid down His life for you. And these are not works that are done in some vain attempt to earn the favor of God. You are justified before God based solely upon faith in Jesus; your works are the fruit, or the overflow, of that faith.