For my first post following a nearly two-month hiatus I am going to briefly visit an idea which was first brought to my attention several years ago when taking systematic theology classes online from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and of which I was reminded during a recent sermon. Assurance of salvation is sometime a touchy subject in churches and in discussions among Christians. Those who have never struggled in this area are sometimes perplexed by their brothers and sisters who do, and those who struggle with it (as I sometimes do, despite having first professed faith in Christ nearly thirty years ago) do not always understand those who have always seemed at ease regarding their standing in Christ. Whatever your individual struggles (or lack thereof) in this area, at the very least we should be able to agree that we must examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). While biblical exhortations in this area often direct us to look to our own works, thoughts, and manner of life as evidences of salvation, surely part of this self-examination involves simply understanding what saving faith is, what its elements are. In my studies and in the recent sermon to which I alluded mention was made of three elements: knowledge, assent, and trust, which I have somewhat humorously abbreviated as KAT. Let us examine each of these elements briefly.
1. Knowledge. Saving faith includes knowledge of its object, namely the Lord Jesus Christ, and his life, death, and resurrection. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Paul reminded the Corinthians that saving faith begins with knowledge of the facts of the Gospel, that this God-Man Jesus Christ came to earth, died for our sins, and was raised again, all in accordance with biblical prophecy. In an age which often holds up faith as a virtue without regard to the object in which that faith is placed, we will do well to remember that saving faith is impossible if we know nothing of the Christ in whom we must believe in order to be saved.
We must also remember that knowledge alone will not save. Plenty of folks have at least a passing knowledge of the gospel—some even have studied the scriptures for years—but do not go any further. Knowledge is necessary, but alone it is not sufficient, so let us continue.
2. Assent. Besides knowing the facts surrounding Jesus Christ and the contents of the gospel, in order to be saved we must assent to them; we must acknowledge them to be true. Continuing in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Paul developed his argument not by speaking of his feelings or emotions, or even of God’s great promises in Christ, but he builds a forensic case for the claims he has made regarding Christ. He says in effect, “You must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Here are the truths about him. These are events that actually happened, not some vague merely ‘religious belief’ with no connection to objective reality. Don’t believe me? There are 500 eyewitnesses out there. Ask them.” Paul wrote during the lifetimes of eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ who could have proved him wrong if he were lying. He tells his readers both then and now that the gospel is not just a “good story” about a “good man” who might or might not have lived but in any case is a good example. He really lived, really died, and really rose again, for us. Saving faith includes believing that this is actually so.
This also, though, is not sufficient. James wrote that even Satan and his demons know and believe the gospel, but this does not save them—they tremble at it! (James 2:19). There is one more element for us to consider.
3. Trust. We must not only know about Christ and believe the facts about him; we must also trust that the Christ so revealed to us is both able and willing to deliver the salvation he promises to all who repent and believe. I once heard the type of trust to which I am referring illustrated as follows:
There once was a man, I believe with Wycliffe Bible Translators, who was working on developing a new Bible translation for a people group who had not only not had the scriptures in their language previously but perhaps had not even had a written language at all before. These missionaries sometimes work for decades developing written languages for non-literate cultures before finally providing them with the written Word of God. As this gentleman was making progress on how to communicate biblical concepts to this people he was frustrated at not finding in their language an adequate word for “faith.” Then one day, he and his guide came to an old rope bridge which seemed hopelessly unstable, yet they had to cross it in order to reach their destination. After several unsuccessful attempts, the guide told the missionary to “lean to” the bridge. Sure enough, once the man trusted the bridge with his full weight the ropes tightened and he was able to cross. That word for “lean to” became the translator’s word for “faith” in this people’s new Bible.
Saving faith involves knowledge of the facts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, assent to the truth of these, and trust that the Christ therein will save. The sinner willing to “lean to” him will happily find him a willing, able, and sufficient Savior, for this life and for that which is to come.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)