In and of itself, faith isn’t necessarily a virtue. It all depends on what we have faith in. Today, Barry Cooper explains that the reason it is proper to put our faith in Christ is because Christ is perfectly good and perfectly trustworthy.
Whether or not we think of ourselves as religious, all of us live our lives by faith.
We have faith that the otherwise worthless pieces of green paper in our wallet will be treated by store owners as if they were actually worth something. We have faith that the metal tube we climb into will not only take off but cruise suavely at an altitude of thirty-five thousand feet and then land gently somewhere else. We have faith that our employers will pay us in future for the work we’re presently doing. Everywhere we turn, we choose to trust, to believe, to have faith.
If we didn’t have faith—if we refused to put our trust in other people and other things—life would be impossible. It would be stillborn.
And yet, faith in itself isn’t necessarily a virtue. It depends what we have faith in. There is, after all, such a thing as misplaced faith. Naive faith. Blind faith. We may have faith in a doctor who disastrously misdiagnoses us. We may have faith in a politician who, once elected, forgets his campaign promises. We may have faith in a spouse, shortly before we discover secretive texts on their iPhone.
The reason that it is proper to put our faith in Christ is because Christ is perfectly good and perfectly trustworthy. As we look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we see someone who at every point is completely and utterly worthy of our faith in Him. And we know that faith in Christ, though it may certainly be ridiculed today, will definitely be vindicated tomorrow.
Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
The Reformers spoke in the sixteenth century about being justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Some heard that as an invitation to sin. They reasoned that if you tell people that all they need is faith in Christ in order to be saved, then why bother doing good works? The Reformers responded: there’s no such thing as genuine faith that doesn’t result in good works. If someone has faith, then they will certainly do good works.
That’s James’ point when he writes: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The implied answer is “No, because his lack of good works proves that he has no faith.” Faith leads to action.
The Reformers made this clear when they spoke of faith as having three dimensions: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.
Notitia refers to the things that we know about Christ. In order to have faith in Christ, we must know something about Him. That’s notitia.
But that’s not enough in itself. So the second dimension we need is assensus. That’s the conviction that these things we know about Christ are true.
But even these two things together aren’t enough. As it says in James chapter 2, even demons know about Jesus and know that these things are true.
So we need the third dimension of faith: fiducia. Fiducia refers to trust and reliance. The kind of faith that saves a person is the faith that trusts Jesus. And the faith that trusts Jesus demonstrates itself when those who trust Jesus obey Him.
If I say I have faith in a doctor but ignore his advice and never act on it, it shows I don’t really have faith in him at all. If I say, I have faith that this airplane can get me to London, but then I kick and scream and refuse to get on it, it shows that in reality, I don’t really have any faith in the airplane at all. We reveal our faith in Christ—or our lack of it—by our trust in Him, a trust that is revealed by our actions. That’s fiducia.
When you have this “three-dimensional” faith—you know about Jesus, you believe these things about Jesus are true, and you actually trust Jesus—then you have the faith commended by Jesus in the Gospels.
And that’s the only kind of faith that can save you.