Saving Faith by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Holy Spirit,” published as Second Edition in 2002 with the first Edition in 1997.
Having looked at the great biblical doctrine of repentance, we are now ready to look at the corresponding doctrine of faith. This particular subject is one of which we read right through the Bible. I suppose that there is more said about faith in the Bible than about anything else because faith is that by which all the blessings of salvation ultimately come to us. We are saved by faith, we are sanctified by faith, we walk by faith. ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’ (1 John 5:4), and so on.
All these blessings come to us through the medium of faith, so that clearly this is a matter about which we should be quite certain in our minds. Furthermore, as you read the history of the Church throughout the centuries you will find that there has been much disputation about faith and obviously so, because, since it is so central, the enemy, the devil, is more likely to attack here than in connection with any other article of the truth, and he has done so. Indeed, the great Protestant Reformation was, in a sense, nothing but a rediscovery and a redefinition of this great doctrine of faith.
However, it behoves us to touch only upon the great central principles in connection with this doctrine. We could spend a great deal of time on it, but we have much ground to cover and, therefore, we shall consider the most salient features. Faith is the instrument or the channel by which all salvation that is in Christ Jesus enters into us and is appropriated. It is the thing that links us to the fulness that dwells in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is faith in its essence.
Now as you read the Bible, you will find that the word ‘faith’ is used to cover a number of different terms and has several connotations. We are confining ourselves in this study to one only and that is saving faith, but I will pause very briefly to show you two other uses of the word ‘faith’.
In 1 Corinthians 12, you will find a list of the spiritual gifts — gifts of miracles, gifts of healing, and so on, and among them is the gift of faith. Now faith there obviously does not mean saving faith, because the Apostle’s whole argument in that chapter is that every Christian does not have every one of these gifts of the Spirit; some have one gift, some have another.
So then, it cannot be saving faith because every Christian has that. No, in 1 Corinthians 12 faith refers to the special ability which God, through the Holy Spirit, gives to certain people to live a life of entire dependence directly upon Him — the kind of gift that George Muller or Hudson Taylor had in order that they might exercise their particular ministries. George Muller, indeed, is often known as ‘the man who believed God’. In other words, he had, in an exceptional way, the spiritual gift of faith.
One other use of this word ‘faith’ is found in the list of the fruit of the Spirit given in Galatians 5:22—23. The Authorized Version has: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. . .‘ But that is not a good translation because faith there really means faithfulness. It cannot mean saving faith because that is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. You will generally find that the context will make the meaning quite plain, if you just pay attention to it.
So, to return to saving faith: What is faith? Now, first, we must answer that question generally, and here I would start with a negative. We must stress the fact that it is not something natural. People often put it like this to us. They say, ‘Faith is a natural faculty that every person has. You are always exercising faith in your life, you couldn’t live for a day without doing so.’ Then these are the illustrations they use. ‘You go by train from London to Brighton and immediately you’re exercising faith—in the engine, in the engine driver and in the rails, the sleepers, the bolts and nuts, and so on.’ Or they say, ‘A man goes into an aeroplane—well, he’s exercising faith.’
Now I entirely dissent from that argument and I think it is very important that we should disagree with it. To start with, I do not call that faith at all, because to sit in that train and go from London to Brighton is not an exercise of faith. We are just doing something based upon the law of mathematical probability. That is a vital distinction. What we are saying to ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, is this: the chances are that this train will go from here to Brighton without an accident. I know that there are occasional railway accidents but they do not happen every day. The law of mathematical probability tells me that probably this train will take me, without an accident, to Brighton. Now that is not faith at all.
Or, to put it another way: as we sit in the train, we are acting on the general experience of men and women who travel in trains. We see others doing the same thing and we know that they do it every day. Experience teaches us that on the whole it is safe to go on a journey in a train. You could say that we are acting upon an argument which is based upon general observation of certain facts.
But that, I say, is not at all faith in the biblical sense, and it is very important to realise this because sometimes the appeal is made like this: ‘As you trust the train and the engine driver, why don’t you trust the Lord Jesus Christ? You simply have to apply that faculty which you’re using every day to this matter of your salvation and you’ll be saved — why don’t you do it?’ Well, the answer is that you cannot do it, and that is why you see that there must be an essential difference between the two.
No, the faith described in the Bible is something unique. You see it to perfection in Abraham and the birth of Isaac. Charles Wesley echoes this story in his hymn. He says,
Faith in Thy power Thou seest I have
For Thou this faith hast wrought.
Faith is not a natural faculty that he has always possessed. It is God who has wrought it.
Dead souls Thou callest from their grave
And speakest worlds from nought.
In hope against all human hope
Self desperate I believe.
You do not go into a train like that, do you? You are not hoping against hope that you will arrive in Brighton. Of course not! Quite the reverse. But when Abraham believed God, he was hoping against hope. He was not working on the law of mathematical probability. He was ninety-nine and Sarah was ninety. All human experience was against it. The law of mathematical probability was dead against it. Observations of life, reason, all were against it. Abraham hoped against hope, but he became the father of the faithful. Now that is the biblical faith. How wrong it is, therefore, to think of faith, and to describe it, and to ask people to exercise it, as if it were some kind of natural faculty which we all have. We do not have it. Charles Wesley puts it perfectly when he tells us that it is something that is ‘wrought by God’.
That brings me to my second point. What is the origin of faith? And the answer is: it is the gift of God. Again, you see the importance of taking doctrines in the right order. How important it is that we should have studied regeneration and so on before coming to faith. This again is the gift of God.
But here we come to a controversial point. Take the statement in Ephesians 2:8: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ Now the whole question is:
what does the ‘that’ mean? What does it refer to? There are those who would have us believe that it is a reference to the salvation. But surely it cannot be that. If it were, then Paul is just repeating himself. He has already said, ‘By grace are ye saved’, and he goes on to say that in the entire paragraph, so if he just repeats it again here, what is the purpose? No. By ‘that’ he is referring to faith, not salvation. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that’—the faith as well—‘not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’
Yes, faith is the gift of God, and this, of course, can be proved quite easily by the previous doctrines that we have already considered. Think again of 1 Corinthians 2 and all that we have seen about the natural man to whom the things of God are ‘foolishness’ (v. 14), and Romans 8 where the carnal mind is described as being ‘enmity against God’ (v. 7). Such a person cannot exercise faith, as we have seen. In other words, the seed of faith is placed in us in regeneration and will be called into activity by the effectual call.
Or, to prove the same point from a different angle, let us look at it like this: faith, ultimately, is governed by what we have called our disposition. It is our fundamental disposition that determines whether we have faith or not. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews talks about ‘an evil heart of unbelief’ (Heb. 3:12). That is it. Faith is not an intellectual matter only, as we shall see. It is our disposition. If we have an evil heart, then we will be unbelievers. Whether we have faith or not is determined by our fundamental disposition.
Or, again, the Lord Himself says, ‘How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?’ (John 5:44). ‘You people cannot believe,’ says our Lord in effect, ‘your whole disposition is wrong. You are seeking honour one from another, and while you do that you will never have faith and you will never believe. How can you believe?’ And then He repeats it, ‘Why do ye not believe me?’ (John 8:46). The same thing again: it was their disposition that was wrong. In other words, this is ultimately a moral question. It is something that concerns one’s whole moral being, so that we must cease to think of faith as a kind of natural faculty that can be turned in the direction of God. No, it is the gift of God.
So how, exactly, does it come into being? What brings it forth? Here is another very important point, and the answer is that it is brought forth by the Scripture, by the word of God. It is by the truth that it is brought into being. Now there are innumerable proofs of that. Take, for instance, the great commission that our Lord gave to His disciples after His resurrection, just as He was bidding them farewell: ‘Go ye therefore,’ He said, ‘and teach all nations’ (Mart. 28:19). Disciple them, if you like, it is the same thing. Give them the information, preach the word to them, hold the truth before them.
Take, too, the commission given to Paul on the road to Damascus. Our Lord told him that He had called him, He was going to send him to the people and to the Gentiles. What for? ‘To open their eyes’ (Acts 26:18). He was to teach them. He was to show them their bondage to Satan and the terrible fate that was awaiting them.
But perhaps the classic passage on this is Romans 10, verses 10— 17, where Paul writes of the preaching of the gospel and how it is that people believe. And here is the conclusion: ‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ That is the way in which faith comes into being and into operation. It is called forth by the word of God, by the truth, by the gospel, by the message preached. And so Paul exhorts Timothy, ‘Preach the word’ (2 Timothy 4:2). James 1:18 reminds us in the same way: ‘Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.’ And it is the same everywhere, right through the Scriptures, it is always by the word.
That, then, enables us now to go on to ask another very important question: ‘What are the elements in faith, or in what does it consist? We are now ceasing to look at faith in general and are beginning to analyse it in particular. The first thing, obviously, as these quotations have established, is that it includes belief. You cannot have faith without believing, the very word means that. It means an assent to truth, an assent to the word of God that is being put before us. Yes, but notice that in Hebrews 11 belief is not a vague, general, cursory assent. In verse 13 the word persuaded is used—a very important word because it brings out the point. These people, the writer tells us, ‘all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them.’ They were convinced of these things. So when we say that faith means belief, it does not only mean an awareness of or an assent to truth but a firm conviction, we are convinced, we are persuaded.
Yes, but faith does not stop at that, and this is a most important point because there are some people who would define faith as just giving an assent to the truth. Clearly all this is of the most vital importance in the whole matter of evangelism. When people go to an enquiry room they are sometimes given certain information and asked, ‘Do you believe that?’‘Yes,’ they reply and they are told, ‘All right, you’re saved.’ Assent to truth is regarded by some as being the whole of faith—but it is not. Faith also includes an element of confidence, a readiness to commit oneself to it. Look again at Hebrews 11:13: ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off and were persuaded of them’—then—‘and they embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’ In faith there is inevitably an element of trust and often problems arise in the spiritual life because people have stopped at the element of belief, and have not realised the vital importance of trust. But it is a part of faith.
Indeed we must go one step further. Faith also includes an element of commitment. You not only believe these things and trust them, you commit yourself—they ‘confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’ Or as Romans 10 puts it, they call upon God. They believe it so much, they trust it so much, that they call upon God: ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ (Rom. 10:13—14). Belief leads to the calling upon God, the trusting in God, the committing of oneself entirely to Him.
Now it is very important to draw this distinction because there is such a thing as intellectual assent only to truth. And that is not faith. It is sometimes also called historical faith. Alas, I have known people who have been in this position. To be quite honest, I am not sure that I myself have not once been in the position of mistaking historical faith for true faith. Historical faith means that, perhaps because you were brought up in a religious atmosphere and were always taught the Bible, when you were young you went to Sunday School or to some classes, perhaps because of all that, you accepted Christianity intellectually. Not only that, you may see that it all hangs together. You may see that it is the only reasonable explanation of life, and so on. And you accept it all intellectually, as a system of truth. But it is not faith if it stops at that, because it is possible for people to do all that and not trust themselves or commit themselves to it all. There have been men and women, alas, who have been experts on the Bible but whose lives have shown very clearly that they have never trusted in Christ. They have a ‘form of godliness’ while ‘denying the power thereof’ (2 Tim. 3:5). The history of the Church, alas, is strewn with illustrations of this very thing; people who have accepted it all intellectually, but whose hearts have never been engaged, who have never been moved. They have never committed themselves. So we must be very careful that what we call faith is not merely that kind of historical faith.
Now, there is an old illustration, and I repeat it because I do not know a better one. It is a story which is told to show the difference between intellectual assent to a proposition and faith, and it tells of a man who could walk back and forth across a whirlpool on a plank. Not only did he walk across himself, he then got a wheelbarrow and wheeled that back and forth also. Now there was a little boy standing by the side of the river and the man asked him, ‘Do you think I can go over and come back safely without falling in?’
‘Yes,’ said the little boy.
‘Well,’ replied the man, ‘jump inside.’
‘Oh no!’ said the boy.
Now that’s it! It is a simple story but it does illustrate the truth up to a point. In faith there is something beyond intellectual agreement. There is trust, commitment. Faith is not merely a matter of belief.
What, then, is it in me that comes into operation in my faith? This again is a most important question because of the problem of historical faith, and also because of what the Bible itself, as we have seen, describes as temporary faith. The seed drops down and it springs up at once but it soon dies because it has no roots. In the same way, there are people who hear the word and believe it with joy, but they have no root and they wither away later on. And there are also the people who are described in Hebrews 6—those with temporary faith. So it is very important to ask what it is in us that is involved in faith. And the answer, as I have been showing, is that it is the whole person, the mind, the heart and the will. So faith is not some sort of intellectual belief you carry with you in a bag, not something that you manipulate and bring in and put back when you like, but it is something that grips the whole of you.
There are two great texts on this. The first is again Romans 6:17: ‘Ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.’ The mind, therefore, comes first, and it must. If it is truth that calls forth faith, it must be addressed primarily to the mind. . . . .
Yes, but there was also a man called Sandeman who wrought great havoc in the Church towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. He still has some followers, but, sadly, there are many more unconscious Sandemanians. He taught that faith only touches a person’s intellect, nothing else at all, and he misused Romans 10:9. He said that all we have to say is, ‘Yes, I believe those things,’ and then all is well. Your mere statement saves you: ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus.
thou shalt be saved.’ That was his teaching, and he persuaded many people that it was right. But the result was that they did not worry about their feelings at all, or about their heart, or their will. It was merely a matter of intellect. And many were held and led into bondage by that teaching. So over against Sandeman we say, yes, faith is something that involves the mind and the intellect, but it does not stop at that. It must also involve the heart.
Here I turn to the apostle Peter: ‘Unto you therefore which believe he is precious’ (1 Pet. 2:7). Notice the therefore. You cannot believe in Him without being moved by Him. There is no value in what you call belief unless it leads to love. If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, you have nothing but an intellectual assent, a proposition concerning Him. ‘It follows, as the night follows the day,’ says Peter in effect, ‘that if you really believe in Him, he is precious to you and you love Him.’ Your affections must be engaged.
You may be surprised that I say this. There are so many people who glory in the fact that there is not much emotion in their evangelism. But there should be emotion in evangelism. It should not only be emotion, but if there is no emotion, there is something wrong. Your heart should be moved and you should not come without tears of repentance and of joy. If you are not moved by your belief, it is not faith. We must always denounce emotionalism but God forbid that we should ever leave out emotion.
And, in turn, the will is engaged. Faith without works is dead. And there is no doubt about that. It is no use your saying that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ if you are still living a worldly life—that is what it comes to. I am not interested in what experiences people may give, if they are still worldly people, there is no point in their claiming to have faith and to have belief. ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also’ (Jas. 2:26). ‘Ye that love the Lord,’ says the psalmist, ‘hate evil’ (Ps. 97:10). You cannot love the Lord without hating evil. It is bound to happen. You leave it, you turn away from it. Look at David in Psalms 51 and 139. Look at it everywhere in the Bible.
Consider, too, these people in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. When Abraham heard God’s word to him, he believed and left his country though he did not know where he was going. Faith acts. The will is always involved. And if your will has not been involved, it is pointless to say, ‘Ah yes, I believe that, I have accepted it.’ In other words, the thing that needs to be emphasised today is that faith is not a sort of believism. That is a danger because in believism the heart is not involved and the will is not engaged. But in faith, I repeat, the whole person is engaged. Christ saves the whole man or woman and no part is left out. So you see that corresponding to the belief and the trust and the commitment is the intellect and the heart and the will.
That, then, is our essential definition of faith. But there are certain problems left, and we must deal with them because they are so often raised in discussions and people so frequently ask questions about them.
First, what is the relationship between faith and reason? The best answer I can give is that faith is not a matter of reason. Some people teach that it is. They say that if only men and women would use their minds, they would be bound to become Christians; they can reason themselves into Christianity. But that is thoroughly unscriptural. They cannot because the natural man or woman’s reason is also fallen. Not only that, there are supernatural and miraculous elements in faith to which reason cannot attain. So true faith is not entirely a matter of reason. Indeed, I would quote to you the statement of the great Blaise Pascal, perhaps the greatest mathematician that the world has ever known and who had an evangelical conversion. He said that the supreme achievement of reason is to teach us that there is an end to reason.
So what about faith and reason? Well, faith is not mere reason, but on the other hand, neither is it contrary to reason. It is not unreasonable; it is not irrational. That is the charge that is brought against us.
‘Ah,’ people say, ‘but what you’re teaching is a kind of irrationality. You say that faith isn’t a matter of reason. Well then, is it opposed to reason?’
No, it is not. It is not reason, neither is it contrary to reason. What is it then? It is supra-reason. It means that our reason brings us to the point when we realise that reason is not enough, and at that point we have nothing to do but submit ourselves to the revelation. And that is faith. Faith is accepting this revelation.
More and more I like to think of it like this. Faith means that I deliberately shut myself down to this book, the Bible. I refuse to philosophise. I refuse to ask certain questions. People are always asking them. They want to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. You cannot. You will never understand it. Your mind and reason cannot grasp it. It is too great. It is too divine. It is too eternal. So, you accept it; and you stop asking questions. One of the best signs of the real birth of faith in people is that they stop asking certain questions. Think of faith more like that, if it will help you. You come to the Bible as a little child and you accept it, and then you begin to find that it is most reasonable. Reason could not bring you into it, but once you are in it, you will find that it all hangs together; it is a great composite whole. There is the one message running right through. The parts are all there. They all fit together like a perfect mosaic. It is the most reasonable thing in the world, and yet reason will never bring you into it.
Faith brings you into the Bible and then you see the great reasonableness of it all. For Christ is not only the power of God, He is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and when you are in it, you see that this alone is wisdom and that everything else would be unfair and unreasonable. If faith were a matter of reason, then only people with great intellects could be Christians. On the other hand, faith is not unreasonable, because if that were so, no one with an intellect could be a Christian either. But because it is what it is, it puts us all on the same level. We accept this revelation, and then we proceed to understand. That is the relationship between faith and reason.
What about the relationship between faith and knowledge? Yes, again, that is a most important point. Let me put it like this. There must be an element of knowledge in faith because faith comes into being as the result of the operation of truth. If the first element in faith is belief, and if it is belief of the truth, we must know what we believe. So Peter exhorts the Christians in this way: ‘Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear’ (1 Pet. 3:15).
But there is a great difference between apprehending and comprehending. Comprehending means that you can span a thing, that your mind can fully understand, while apprehending means being aware with the mind. Now the element of knowledge in faith is not the element of comprehension but it must of necessity be apprehension. When people come to me and I ask them if they are Christians, if they reply, ‘Well, I believe, I have faith,’ then I have the right to ask them, ‘What do you believe?’ You always have the right to ask Christians, or those who claim to be Christians, what they believe, and the Christian should be able to answer the question. As Romans 10:14 puts it, ‘How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?’ And Paul goes on to work out how faith comes by ‘hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (v. 17). So there is this element of knowledge and of understanding in faith—it is apprehension rather than comprehension.
And that is why all the epistles go on to appeal to us to grow in knowledge. All the writers’ efforts were directed at making the people understand more and more, not simply feel more and be entertained more, but grow in an understanding of the truth so that they should know more today than they did a year ago. They are
not still living in that old experience, but have more understanding.
‘Well then,’ someone may ask, ‘what is it that we are to understand? What is it that we are to know? Are you telling us that we are not Christians unless we understand the entire gamut of the Christian faith and unless we are experts in every single detail and every doctrine? Are you saying that a person who can’t really give a comprehensive account of the whole of Christian theology is not a Christian?’ No, as we have just seen, I am not! But I am saying that there are certain truths which are absolutely essential and vital to the integrity of the gospel, to the very being of faith. Then there are other truths which, though not essential to the integrity of the gospel, are essential to its symmetry and perfection.
Let me explain what that means. There is a certain irreducible minimum and we must contend for that. But there are other doctrines and other aspects of the faith which are not absolutely essential to salvation but are essential to a complete, fully orbed, symmetrical conception of salvation, to a balanced, organised faith and the expression of it. In other words, there are certain doctrines that we must believe and there are others about which we are doubtful and about which there may be legitimate disagreement.
What, then, are these things that are essential? Well, we must believe in God. We must believe about the character of God. If we do not believe that God is holy, we are not Christians. If we do not believe that God is just and righteous, we are not Christians. In addition to believing in the love of God, we must believe in the other attributes that we considered in an earlier lecture.1 The biblical revelation about this holy, righteous God who is the Judge of the universe—that is essential.
It is equally essential that we should believe in our sinful and lost condition. I am not prepared to argue about that—that is absolute. If we do not know what a sinner is, that we are sinners and have repented, we are not Christians, we cannot be, and there is no value in our saying that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. For what is it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unless it is to see that He is the Saviour and the Redeemer and the only one. But what do I need to be saved from? It is the guilt of my sin in the presence of this holy God. So I must be clear about the doctrine of sin and my lost estate and my helplessness, and then about the person and the work of Christ.
Paul himself gives these essentials in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15: ‘For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received’—What?—‘how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (v. 3). That is the first thing—the person and what He has done; the priestly work, the mediatorial work, the atonement. I do not argue about this. I know I am described as narrow, but if people do not see that they are saved only by the blood of Christ, well then, think what you like of me, I cannot see that such people can be Christians. It is essential. ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ says Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cot 2:2). Paul ‘placarded’ His death to the Galatians. It was always at the centre. This is not a matter to be argued about. This does not belong to the symmetry of faith but to the integrity of faith, as do also some aspects of this great doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit that we are engaged upon at the present time. If you do not believe in regeneration, if you do not see its utter absolute necessity, then I do not see that you have any right to regard yourself as a Christian. If you do not see that you are so lost that nothing but receiving new life from God can reconcile you and take you to heaven, then you are lacking at a vital point, a point that is integral and belongs to the very integrity of faith.
Those, then, are absolute necessities. And I would say that you have a right to insist upon the presence of those doctrines before you are prepared to tell a person, ‘Yes, you have got faith.’ Faith is not a vague feeling; it is not a vague desire to have certain blessings from Christ. Faith is a belief of this gospel, this word of God, this message, this truth that the apostles were preaching, the truth they write about. It is an acceptance, and an assent to that. It is a persuasion which moves me and makes me do something— that is faith. And I must know what I believe and whom I believe and what I believe concerning Him. Those are the irreducible minimums, the bare essentials, the things that belong to the very integrity of faith. (142-154)
1. See Volume 1, God the Father, God the Son