Three Aspects of Faith
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (v. 14).- Romans 10:14–17
Faith, we have seen, is the instrumental cause of justification, the sole instrument through which we can lay hold of Christ’s perfect righteousness in order to receive the Father’s approval. The declaration of righteousness pronounced over those who trust in Jesus alone does not take our works into account at all, but that does not mean justified persons lack good works. After all, our good works are the inevitable and necessary result of justification, though they are not in any sense even part of the reason God declares a person just in His sight (James 2:14–26).
Roman Catholicism rejects the Protestant, biblical doctrine of justification for a view that says we are justified by our faith and our good works. Rome’s fear that justification by faith alone might lead people to sin with abandon has been one motivation for this rejection. Protestants are in good company here. Paul also confronted charges that justification by faith alone leads to immorality (Rom. 6:1–4).
Magisterial Reformers such as John Calvin answered Rome’s objection with a robust defense of good works as the necessary fruit of saving faith. But they also worked to address Rome’s misunderstanding of what Protestants believe about the nature of faith. During the Reformation, as in our day, people often characterized faith as a casual acceptance of the truth. The Reformers, on the other hand, recognized three essential components of saving faith: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.
Faith always has an object, namely, Jesus Christ. To believe in Jesus, we must first know something about Him. This content comprises the notitia of faith, and it is delivered to people through the church’s teaching ministry (Rom. 10:14–17).
Knowing a body of content, however, is not enough for saving faith. We must also affirm the truth of this content. Millions of people know something about Christianity but do not believe it is true. Saving faith requires assensus, the conviction that the content of the notitia is truth.
Finally, even knowing the facts and believing them to be true are not enough in themselves to make us Christians. Demons affirm the truth of what God has said, but they do not trust Him (James 2:19). Fiducia — the entrusting of ourselves into the hands of Christ, the Living Truth — must also be present for our justification.
Saving faith is not a cold, empty rationalism that simply gives intellectual assent to facts. At the same time, it is not a blind entrusting of ourselves into the hands of someone else. Instead, it is a warm, intellectually vital embrace of the Savior and His promises, believing that He can and will do all that He has pledged. It is the willingness to trust Him and His Word in any and all circumstances, and an eagerness to repent when we doubt Him.
Passages for Further Study