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"The Faith that Saves" by Garry Sutley
The message of the Bible is unmistakably clear- Salvation is by grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus. But sometimes in our effort to convey truth succinctly we resort to verbal shortcuts that can be confusing. For example it is not uncommon to hear someone say that all one needs do to be saved is to believe in Jesus. In a particular context this is true, but today most people hearing the statement would not be sufficiently informed about Bible truth to understand it. Not all "belief in Jesus" is saving faith. To accept the fact that a bearded man called Jesus once trod the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea is not saving faith. No to be saved by faith in Him we must embrace the entire body of truth revealed in the Bible concerning who He was and what He did. The biblical revelation discloses at least five key truths that must be known and accepted before one can truly accept Christ as Savior. These keys unlock successive doors on the pathway of faith until one finally comes to the full realization of justification by faith, the product of full trust in Jesus.
The Incarnate God
The first of these key concepts is that Jesus was and is no ordinary man. Before the incarnate Word ever breathed the atmosphere of Earth He existed from all eternity as the second person of the Godhead. One of the most sublime truths of scripture is that of the Incarnation, and without it none of the other key concepts would have any significance. Jesus was not just a man in robe and sandals who went about doing good things; He was the incarnate Son of God. That is what He said about Himself. Please give careful consideration to His words found in John, chapter 5 where Jesus claims to be in special relation to God the Father. "That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him." (John 5:23) This was a constant theme in Jesus’ message, and the continual source of conflict with the Jewish leaders who rightly understood His claim to be the Son of God as a claim to equality with God. The claim of Jesus, that He was not just a man, is affirmed by the testimony of the Apostles in the scriptures. In the prologue to his gospel John wrote, "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." And in his first epistle he said, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life." Even a Roman centurion, when evaluating the man he had just helped put to death, said, "truly this man was the Son of God." (Mark 15:39) The unanimous confession of Christian orthodoxy is that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity veiled in human flesh, and unless we embrace this first key concept, our faith in Jesus is not faith in the true Jesus and cannot save us.
A Sinless Man
The second key idea has to do with the life and character of the incarnate God as He lived as a true man on the earth. From the cradle to the cross our Lord Jesus never committed a single sin. Never did He waver in His allegiance to the Father; never did He demonstrate an attitude inconsistent with moral perfection. If He was angry, His anger was perfectly just, and flowed out of the purest of motives. If He rebuked any, His desire was not to hurt but to bring healing to a sin-scarred being in the same way a doctor must sometimes hurt to heal. Always His motive was directed by love, the same love that eventually caused Him to lay down His life. And to His own sinlessness Jesus gave witness, not with any sense of arrogance, but as testimony before those who unjustly accused Him. To the unbelieving Jews he said, "which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46) In this way He invited them to scrutinize His life and to produce evidence that he was a sinner, but they could produce nothing except violations of their man made laws. His obedience to the Law of God was, like that law, perfect. Over and over again the scriptures give witness to the moral perfection of Jesus. The writer of the book of Hebrews says of Him that He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26) Peter too, affirms the sinless nature of Jesus’ life when in 1 Peter 2:22 he declares that Jesus "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." So the second concept necessary to saving faith is the belief that Our Lord was sinless - that he lived for 33 years on earth as a true man without ever committing a single sin.
A Vicarious Sacrifice
The third essential to saving faith is that Jesus offered His sinless life as a vicarious sacrifice for sinful humanity. If Jesus had not been sinless, His death would have been nothing more than the just punishment for His own sin, but because He was sinless, His death is atonement for all that believe. None of us could offer a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of others because we are ourselves sinful, but the spotless Lamb of God has made a full and sufficient sacrifice for sins of the whole world. His sacrifice of Himself, once offered, is finished and requires neither repetition nor addition. To exercise saving faith demands that we accept the finished work of Christ as enough. Good works and religious rites have no role to play, salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ’s finished work alone.
A Powerful Resurrection
There is a sense in which the fourth key concept is the gathering up of all the others into a single majestic thought. To believe unto salvation demands that we openly confess our acceptance of the resurrection of Jesus from death. Jesus Foretold His own resurrection, when to the Jews He said, "destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19) Similarly, His offer of no sign except the sign of Jonah, was a prediction of His resurrection. Once again the witness of scripture to this great reality is enormous. Multiple witnesses stand forth to testify that they saw the risen Lord. From those who saw Him on the road to Emmaus, to Paul who had a special visitation on the way to Damascus, all who saw Him were changed forever. Warm hearted Christians, obedient to the Heavenly Vision, have gone forth to proclaim that the resurrection is the ultimate proof that Jesus was in fact who He claimed to be. Their Gospel has transformed lives around the world. Truly, He was "declared to be the Son of God with power...by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4) But there is a final key that at last unlocks the door of justification by faith. One cannot have biblical saving faith without embracing the four key concepts that have been heretofore expressed, but unless the final key turns in the lock, there is only intellectual assent, which is not saving faith. What then is that fifth key?
Personal Responsibility and Trust
To know saving faith we must be convinced that Jesus died for our sins, not in some general sense, but very specifically. We must recognize that it was our own sins that drove Him to the cross, and that He died there for the wrong we have done. Like John Newton, we must come to the place where we see the cross from this perspective:
I saw One hanging on a tree in agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me, as near His cross I stood.
Sure never 'till my latest breath can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death, though not a
word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt, and plunged me in despair.
I saw my sins His blood had spilt, and helped to nail Him there.
Alas I knew not what I did, but now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid, for I the Lord have slain.
This sense of personal guilt is the insertion of the fifth key into the lock, but is not the end of the process. Newton's majestic expression of the great truth goes on:
A second look He gave which said, "I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid; I died that you might live."
Thus while His death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace; it seals my pardon too!
Saving faith is that faith that accepts the finished sacrifice of Jesus the sinless God-man as a complete satisfaction of the debt of guilt and shame we bear for our many offences against the Holy God. It is not an emotion, though we may become emotional at the realization of it, rather it is the humble awareness that God, for Christ's sake, forgives sinners; even the worst of sinners. Yes, even me. Hallelujah!
Mr. Sutley was the Director of Ministries for many years at Central Pennsylvania Christian Institute, Inc. For more information about CPCI, click here.