The Essence of Saving Faith

A Question of Supreme Importance

Can you think of a more important question? Since faith constitutes the condition for receiving eternal life, then knowing precisely the nature of saving faith is of supreme importance. Let me tell you what I believe constitutes the essence of saving faith, and then I will tell you the reasons for assigning faith this definition.

The Essence of Saving Faith

Saving faith includes two component: the cognitive and the volitional. That is, it entails a knowledge aspect and a commitment aspect.

The cognitive component must encompass at least some minimal knowledge regarding Jesus Christ such as that he is the Son of God and the Savior. Failure to recognize His deity would result in a total misrepresentation of who He is. Failure to recognize that He provided salvation through His death on the cross would eliminate our purpose for believing in Him.

In addition to that cognitive element, faith also includes a volitional element comprised of a submission to His authority, which encompasses the intent to turn from our self-directed life to live according to His Word.

Support for This Understanding of Faith

Most people would agree with my description of the cognitive component of faith described above, or at least something close to my definition. However, the controversy comes with the volitional component.

A substantial segment of the evangelical world would contend that what I have described represents works salvation. I plan to address the works argument in a future post. However, the more salient issue resides in whether or not the Bible teaches that submission to the authority of Christ is an element of saving faith. If the Bible in fact teaches this, then this teaching must be compatible with the biblical message of salvation by grace.

Many factors indicate that saving faith includes turning from self-rule to commit to the lordship of Christ.

The Nature of the Relationships of the Believer with Christ

One indicator consists of the nature of the various relationships that the believer has with Christ described in Scripture such as slave/Master, bride/Groom, and body/Head. All of these relationships suggest submission to authority.

In biblical times the slave/master relationship was one in which total authority was assigned to the master. The slave was on duty 24/7, and the master possessed the prerogative to assign the slave whatever task the master desired. This relationship is described graphically by Christ in Luke 17:7-10:

And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

At least in biblical times the husband was viewed as having authority over the wife, and from a biological sense the head controls the body.

Since saving faith entails the conditions for entering into these relationships, it would seem essential that saving faith included submission to the authority of Christ. In our last post we noted that every relationship is defined by a condition or conditions which provide its meaning and basis for functioning. Since our relationship with Christ entails the dimensions of slave, bride, and body, it seems that the condition for entering into these relationships must include recognition of the authority of Christ.

The Definition of the Term “Faith”

The second support for viewing saving faith as including submission to the authority of Christ is found in the meaning of the Greek term itself as explained in A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament:

Deissmann in Light From the Ancient East gives several convincing quotations from the papyri to prove that pisteuein eis auton [to believe into him] meant surrender or submission to. A slave was sold into the name of a temple; i.e. to be a temple servant. (Dana and Mantey, p. 105)

Therefore, the term faith not only refers to believing the facts about Jesus but also submission to His authority.

The Link between Saving Faith and the Christian Life

Regarding this servant/Master relationship between the believer and Jesus, a relationship clearly taught in Scripture, if this relationship is not an implicit aspect of saving faith, when and on what basis does it become established? Do we become Christians without submitting to the authority of Christ? Are some Christians not obligated as slaves of Jesus Christ? Are our obligations as Christ’s slave optional for believers? Since saving faith is the instrument by which our relationship with Jesus is established, this obligation of servitude must be included with it.

The Symbol of Baptism

Commitment to the lordship of Christ as a dimension of saving faith finds support in its graphic portrayal in baptism, which symbolizes death to the old self-directed life and being raised to a new life in the Kingdom of God with Jesus as King. Since baptism conveys our faith in Christ, faith must include this transfer of fealty.


For the above reasons and many more, saving faith must encompass placing oneself under the rule of Christ.

Does faith so defined entail a works salvation? That topic next.

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