Wineskins Archive

December 18, 2013

What is Saving Faith? – Part 1 (July-Aug 2010)

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by Edward Fudge
July 18, 2010

A gracEmail subscriber asks, “What is saving faith? What does it look like? Why is it important?”

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Romans chapter four best illuminates the meaning of “trusting God” or “saving faith.” The principle has been the same in all ages of the world. Indeed the prototype and prime example of one justified by faith (trusting God) is the patriarch Abraham, who lived and died about 2,000 years before Jesus. We must begin by understanding that our relationship with God rests either on the principle of works (we get what we deserve) or on the principle of grace (we get what we do not deserve). It must be one or the other (Rom. 4:1-5). Paul tells us that “God justifies the ungodly” person, because “his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

David also confirms this in Psalm 32:1-2, which Paul now quotes (v. 6-8). God does not “take into account” the sin of the person to whom he “reckons righteousness apart from works.” That individual does not actually measure up, as judged by God’s law. Nevertheless, God forgives such people and “reckons” them “righteous” through their trust in God. This principle is not limited to Jews (with their ritual circumcision). We know this is true, because Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised, making him the spiritual ancestor of all who are justified by faith, whether Jews or Gentiles (v. 9-12).

If justification (God’s acquittal) depended on our keeping God’s commands well enough, no one would be justified (v. 13-15). God’s laws always result in wrath because no one keeps them perfectly (v. 15). God promised Abraham that he would be “heir of the world.” It is clear that this promise did not depend on the success of Abraham’s physical descendants at keeping God’s commandments. If that were the case, God’s promise would have failed, for Abraham’s descendants always broke God’s laws (v. 14). No, we can “trust” God for his blessing because it is his unilateral, gracious gift (v. 16). Since God’s favor depends entirely on God, his blessing is sure, for God is always faithful (v. 16).

But what does it mean that Abraham “trusted God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6)? Just this, that when God promised 100-year-old Abraham that he would become father of many nations, an event humanly impossible (vs. 18-19), Abraham did not calculate his own ability to bring it about. Instead, he relied on God’s faithfulness and ability to do what he had promised (v.20-21). Literally, Abraham “amen-ed” God (the Hebrew verb “to believe” eventually produces the word “amen” in Greek, Latin, English and many other languages). God gave a promise. With all his heart, Abraham said “Amen” to God’s promise. God said, “You are a righteous man.” Abraham’s faith was reckoned (put down in the books, so to speak) as righteousness (v. 22).

Copyright 2010 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby given to reproduce, reprint or forward this gracEmail without change and without financial profit.

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