It is evident to every thinking person that not all faith saves because, "…the demons also believe, and tremble" (Jas. 2: 19, see addendum 1). W.E. Vine comments thus on belief (pistis) as it is used in a spiritual climate: "Its chief significance is a conviction respecting God and His word and the believers’ relationship to him." The best concise "definition" of faith found in the scriptures is Hebrews 11: 1, "Now faith is assurance of things hoped for," the writer declares, "a conviction of things not seen" (ASV). The value of saving faith cannot be over emphasized. The importance of faith is seen in Jesus' statement: "…for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8: 24). It is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11: 6). Not only must we believe that God exists, but we must believe he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him (Ibid.). The importance of faith or belief is seen in the fact that the saved were called "believers" (I Tim. 4: 12). The necessity of biblical faith is also observed in the accomplishments of faith. The scriptures teach that the saved are justified, purified, and sanctified by faith (Rom. 3: 28; Acts 15: 9; 26: 18). Paul succinctly stated that men become children of God by faith. Hear him: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3: 26, 27, see addendum 2). Hence, our time and energy are well justified in carefully examining the faith that saves.
How faith is produced. Many believe and teach that faith is supernaturally produced, independent of man. Not only is this false doctrine, but it convinces man that he has no part in the acquisition of faith. Hence, those so influenced do not acquire faith. "So then faith cometh by hearing," Paul wrote, "and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). This is one reason the word is called the "seed of the kingdom" (Luke 8: 11, Matt. 13: 19). Reading of Jesus' teaching and miracles produces faith in a good and honest heart (John 20: 30, 31).
Allow me to suggest that faith in the scriptures when viewed in the context and circumstance of salvation consists of four parts or elements. There is the essential element of "knowledge," "assent," "confidence," and "obedience" (see Addendum 3). The early church realized such a practical treatment of faith, but early on change began to occur. The apostate church (Roman Catholicism, I Tim. 4: 1-3, 2 Thes. 2: 1-12) perverted the meaning and practical concept of biblical faith as to strip faith of "knowledge," "trust," and "obedience." Even their teaching of "assent" had degenerated to agreement not with God and his word, but concurrence with the Catholic Religion. Reformers such as Martin Luther stressed "assent" agreement with God’s word and not Roman Catholicism. Such reformers also emphasized "trust" or "confidence" as a constituent of saving faith. It was in the context of Roman concept and teaching of faith (works which Catholicism defined and Roman indulgences) that Luther originally supplied "only" to Romans 3: 28 (fides sola, "faith only salvation"), the statement Paul made as to being "justified by faith" (fides sola, "faith only salvation").
Let us now examine "faith" as seen in the scriptures to determine if we are correct in submitting that saving faith consists of "knowledge," "assent," "confidence," and "obedience" and whether or not these elements are static or always present.
"Knowledge" viewed as a constituent part of faith. The basic nature of faith involved some degree of understanding. Hence, Paul wrote: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). Just prior to this statement of faith coming by hearing, Paul asked, "…and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" (Rom. 10: 14). Learning of God and his word are involved and necessary in order for faith to even exist (cp. Heb. 11: 6). Hence, we are correct in saying that "knowledge" is always present in the circumstance of faith that saves. It is important that we point out, though, that more than mere knowledge is required. Agrippa "…believed the prophets," but he was not saved (Acts 26: 27-29).
The matter of "assent" in the scenario of faith. God does not deny man of free moral agency or freedom of choice and thus force or coerce man to accept him. The language of the scriptures is, "…whosoever will" (John 3: 16). "Believed" and equivalent terms appear to be sometimes used to identify this stage of development that we call assent or initial mental agreement (cp. Acts 11: 21, 18: 8). The jailor who inquired as to, "…what must I do to be saved?" was told, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…" (Acts 16: 30, 31). Faith or belief is viewed as having been completed in the circumstance of the jailor or, put another way, faith is seen as used not as an initial act of concurrence, but comprehensively used to include all that was necessary in the situation (see Acts 16: 30-34, see especially verse 34 in this vain). Saving faith involving "assent" most certainly is seen in the scriptures as involving more than simple assent. As seen, even the demons believe or realize God is in the matter of assent (Jas. 2: 19).
Confidence or trust viewed as an element of faith. Early on, the false system of Gnosticism (Greek, to know) had exerted enough influence to take away in the minds of many "trust" in the case of faith. To them, it all became intellectual or "knowing." Faith necessarily involves implicit or child like trust. Paul declared, "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1: 12). Such trust, though, must stem out of a true understanding and experience of salvation and not simply "trust only."
The presence of obedience in the case of faith that saves. Many, alas, do not realize that humble obedience to God’s commands is simply faith in action. This is precisely the truth James is presenting in James 2: 19-26. "Obedience" is the element of faith that always renders faith active and operative. In one sense, "obedience" and "faith" are tantamount or the same. Consider Jesus’ statement: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3: 36, KJV). Two matters are set forth as antithetical or opposites, "believeth" and "believeth not." In the case of "believeth not," the Greek word is apisthon. Many translate apisthon, "obeyeth not" (see American Standard Version). Hence, Jesus is teaching that belief and obedience are equal terms, if you will, and disbelief and disobedience as equivalent. The writer of Hebrews does precisely the same. "And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief" (Heb. 3: 18, 19, ASV). Notice how "disobedient" and "unbelief" are synonymous. Hence, it would follow that "obedience" and "belief" are equal. It is understood, however, that more is involved in faith that saves than simply mechanical conformity (cp. Rom. 6: 18, 18).
An examination of all pertinent verses relative to teaching about faith and the recorded examples in Acts of people having saving faith harmoniously teach and exhibit faith as being necessarily and always consisting of knowledge, assent, confidence, and obedience. There is nothing in addition observed and we cannot remove any one or combination of these elements without seriously changing the kind of faith that saves to another kind of faith. Put it to the test: How can one have faith without knowledge because faith implies knowledge relative to the One and matter to which one looks? How can one have faith without assenting or agreeing regarding certain things to be believed? How can one have faith without trust and confidence in the One believed? Last of all, how can one have faith without obedience? I ask this in view of obedience showing that the matter is believed and action is thus taken (John 12: 42, 43, cp. Matt. 10: 32, 33)?
The first case of men in the New Testament accessing the salvation offered through Christ is observed in Acts 2: 14-47. Notice how there was preaching in order to produce faith (Ibid.). They were required to "know assuredly" (Acts 2: 36, knowledge). When they "heard this," they said unto Peter and the other apostles, "…what shall we do?" (indicative of assent and confidence, Acts 2: 38). A number of them "received his word" and "were baptized" (Acts 2: 41, obedience). They "continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine…" (Acts 2: 42, obedience as Christians). Paul wrote of "obedience of faith" as being chief and primary (Rom. 1: 5, 16: 26).
While allegedly acknowledging knowledge, assent, and confidence, most of the religious world reject water baptism for the remission of sins, claiming that baptism would result in a "works salvation" (cp. Acts 2: 38). When Paul came to Ephesus, he found certain disciples and asked them: "Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?" (Acts 19: 2.) This "belief" involved baptism. We know this because we continue to read, "Unto what then were ye baptized?" (Acts 19: 3). This probative question to determine their spiritual status as to faith shows that baptism was considered part of the kind of faith that saves (cp. I Pet. 3: 21).
"Oh, but Paul denied that the kind of faith that saves has anything to do with works," some object, referencing Romans 4: 1-7. Some claim there is a contradiction between Paul (Rom. 4: 1-7) and James (Jas. 2: 19-26). The context of both texts must be considered. Paul is showing in Romans 4 that man is not saved by any meritorious works, such as works of the Law of Moses. James is showing that man is not saved by "faith only" or a dead faith (Jas. 2: 24-26). It was in this context of dead faith (assent only) that James mentioned that demons also believe, but demons are obviously not saved (Jas. 2: 19). When James said, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," he is simply saying that man is saved by biblical faith, the kind of faith that necessarily involves knowledge, assent, confidence, and obedience. "Faith only" or faith that does not involve obedience is not biblical, saving faith.
Saving faith, it should also be noted, is ongoing and assiduous. For instance, "believeth" in such verses as John 3: 16 is present tense. Meaning that the considered "believeth" is not an isolated point in time event, but rather a way of life. Such will not "perish," but will have everlasting life.
In closing, we read: "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Heb. 10: 39). Hence, "to live by faith" is the opposite of "draw back." This is what the Bible teaches about saving faith. Salvation by "faith only" may be a comforting doctrine, but it is not biblical and keeps people from enjoying and practicing the saving faith seen in the scriptures. (For additional study, you might want to read, "An Exchange on Saving Faith".)
Addendum 1: Some attempt to separate "belief" and "faith" by saying that "belief" is simple mental assent while "faith" is belief that results in trust, hence, "faith" is more of a life style or "belief" put into action. However, such a clear and static simple distinction between "belief" and "faith" is not always possible. As always, the specific use of the word, its syntax, and context determine what the writer had in mind.
Addendum 2: The expression "by faith in Christ Jesus" (dia tns pisteos en christo) in Galatians 3: 26 probably emphasizes location. Consider this quote: "It probably suits the connection best to take the apostle as at once affirming that it is in Christ Jesus that we are God's sons through faith, rather than as leaving this to be inferred from the fact of our being sons through faith in Christ" (Pulpit Commentary on Galatians 3: 26).
Addendum 3: I am indebted to material by Gareth Reese for some of the wording of my comments relative to saving faith. I highly recommend the following work: Special Study 16 of Gareth L. Reese’ New Testament History: ACTS, A Commentary, Scripture Exposition Books, 520 Meadowbrook Dr, Moberly, MO 65270).