The Plain Truth About Saving Faith
Just what is ‘saving faith,’ and how do we obtain it?

Millions today believe that in order to be “saved,” all we have to do is have faith in Jesus Christ—just believe in Him. It is true that we must have faith to be saved. But the kind of faith being taught today in so many religions is not “saving faith.” Just what is “saving faith,” and how do we obtain it?

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). Many have heard preachers repeatedly refer to scriptures like the one above. “All you have to do is believe,” they say. And that is absolutely true—as long as you know what kind of belief is necessary. That is where so many misunderstand.

The common assumption is that all we need for salvation is belief in Jesus. But if that is the only thing we need, then many Bible scriptures would be unexplainable—in fact, contradictory to the verse quoted above. Notice Matthew 7:21: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” In other words, not every one who be­lieves in Christ will enter into the Kingdom! What a contradiction this must be to those who repeatedly say, “All you have to do is believe.”

There are several other apparent contradictions in the Bible. Many religionists commonly refer to Romans 3:20, which says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight ….” Rarely, if ever, would they quote Romans 2:13, which says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Virtually the exact opposite it would seem!

How about Ephesians 2:8-9? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Many would argue, “See, we are saved by faith, not works.” Yet James 2:20 says, “faith without works is dead.”

Are there contradictions in these verses? For those who quote some scriptures in an effort to destroy God’s law, there is a contradiction! They cannot explain the other verses in­cluded here. But for those who truly understand what saving faith really is, there is no contradiction. The Bible does not contradict itself!

Isaiah 28:10 shows that truth on any subject is revealed in the Bible “here a little, and there a little.” It is a common practice in most churches today to only quote some scriptures on a particular subject or even part of a passage, while leaving out the other vital part that explains it. God’s Word does not contradict itself. We can prove that all of the above-mentioned verses are true.

Notice what Mr. Armstrong wrote in his booklet What kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?: “By putting all the scriptures on the subject of ‘saving faith’ together, we learn that there are two kinds of faith. And the kind so blindly trusted in by the majority of this day is nothing but a dead faith—and a dead faith never will save one soul!”

There isn’t a subject more vital to understanding salvation than that of saving faith.

What Is Salvation?

The subject of salvation has been greatly misunderstood by many reli­gions. Many assume salvation is just “going to heaven.” A simple diction­ary defini­tion of salvation is “preser­vation from destruction or failure.” Another says, “the saving of man from the spir­itual consequences of sin; ­especially deliv­erance from sin and eternal damna­tion.” The Bible proves these defini­tions to be accurate.

In Romans 3:23, Paul writes, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Everyone has sinned, this verse says. And what is sin? “Whosoever committeth sin trans­gresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).

And what is the law? We quoted the first part of Romans 3:20 earlier. Notice the last half of that verse: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” God’s law is a set of rules that define what sin is. The Apostle James describes God’s spiri­tual law as being like a mirror (James 1:22-25). We look into that “mirror” to see where we are falling short—where we are living contrary to God’s law.

Now what is the penalty for breaking God’s law, or transgressing against God’s law? What is the penalty for sin? “For the wages [or payment ] of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

That brings us back to the defini­tion of salvation. If “all have sinned,” and the “wages of sin is death,” then we need to be “saved” from death! And in order to be saved from death, we need a Savior—someone to actu­ally die for us!

Those “wages of sin” were paid for us by Jesus Christ, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [or payment] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteous­ness for the remission of sins that are past …” (Romans 3:25). Jesus Christ became that payment. He paid the death penalty that our sins brought upon us. That is all He did in our stead—He died for us. He did not keep the law for us. He did not do away with God’s law.

Those who teach a “no law” doc­trine again must be confronted with scriptural contradiction. Paul wrote, “for where no law is, there is no transgression [or sin]” (Romans 4:15). And if there was no sin, there would be no penalty for sin. And if that scenario were true, we would not need a Savior! This proves the law must still be in full force today.

Christ died so that we might be saved from death. We do have to believe on Him, or accept His blood in our stead, or we will never be saved. But that is only the beginning. Yet there are many today who look at Christ’s death as an ending.

In Romans 5:9-10, Paul says, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood [forgiven for sins that are past], we shall be [yet future] saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” It is not the death of Christ that saves us, contrary to popular belief today. Christ’s death paid the penalty for sins that are past (Romans 3:25). It is His death that reconciles us, or gives us contact with God. After that, it is His life that saves us! Because it is His life that gives us ­saving faith.

The Conversion Process

Few understand that the beginning for any Christian’s life starts with God actually calling us. Notice John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” God must draw us to Him before we can truly come to know Him and Jesus Christ.

During Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, when the New Testament Church began, the people asked him, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter answered them in verse 38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit].” Peter ad­monished them to repent, be baptized and then they would receive a gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repentance and baptism are the two prerequisites to receiving the Holy Spirit.

Prior to baptism, God leads us to repent of the way we have been ­living—a life contrary to the law of God. We repent not just for what we have done, but for what we are. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[Repentance] is a total change of mind and heart and direction of life. It is a change to a new way of life. It is a turning from the self-centered way of vanity, selfishness, greed, hostility to authority, envy, jealousy and unconcern for the good and welfare of others to the God-centered way of obedience, submis­sion to authority, love toward God more than love of self and of love and concern for other humans equal to self-concern” (Just What Do You Mean … Conversion?).

Many misinterpret repentance to mean “sorrow.” Repentance actually means change. Notice Webster’s definition of repent: “to turn from sin.” Turning from sin—changing your former way of life—means turning to obeying God’s law.

In addition to repentance, we must know and accept that Jesus Christ died for us. This belief, or faith in Jesus Christ’s shed blood, is outwardly ­manifested by the actual baptism. Notice Romans 5:8: “But God com­mendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We must have faith in that blood and the fact that He paid the penalty for “sins that are past” (Romans 3:25).

At this point, we do not yet have God’s Spirit dwelling in us. That comes after baptism. But His Spirit works with us even prior to baptism because God is calling us (see John 14:17). And it is the Spirit that leads one to repent and believe, or accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior.

During the baptismal ceremony, one of God’s ministers will ask the potential member of God’s Family the follow­ing question: “Have you re­pented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” After the individual responds posi­tively, he or she is baptized.

After baptism, the minister will lay hands on the individual and pray over him. It is through that prayer the baptized individual receives the gift of the Holy Spirit—or the power of God! That is what finally makes us a Chris­tian—the Holy Spirit. Notice Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Then in verse 14 it says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

But why does God give us the Holy Spirit at this point? If all we have to do to receive salvation is “accept Jesus Christ,” what is the purpose for the Spirit? It is by that power—the Holy Spirit of God—that we actually develop saving faith! Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace “through faith.” People want to believe we are simply saved by our faith in Christ’s blood. As Mr. Armstrong said, that “is nothing but a dead faith—and a dead faith never will save one soul!”

A little further in the booklet What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation? Mr. Armstrong said, “The law has a penalty—death. It claims the life of the one who transgresses it. The law has power to take the life of the transgressor. It therefore is more powerful than the sinner—and is over the sinner, holding a claim on his life. It is the sinner who is under the law. But when the sinner repents of his transgression, and accepts the sacrifice of Christ as payment of the penalty of the law, then he is pardonedunder grace—the law no longer stands over him, claiming his life. It is those who are sinning who are under the law! And those who, through repentance, obedience and faith, have turned from disobedience and are, through faith, keeping the law, are the only ones who are under grace!”

Our Burial at Baptism

So many people misinterpret Paul’s writings to say the law was done away. Paul knew that all men were sinners (Romans 3:23). He knew there was nothing we could do to erase that penalty of death by ourselves. No amount of law keeping could erase that penalty. We all need a Savior. It is by God’s grace, after we repent, that the penalty for sinning against God’s law no longer hangs over us. But after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, Paul was very clear about our need to live in accordance with God’s law. But that requires a miracle, as we shall soon see.

In Romans 6, after explaining about grace and the sacri­fice of Jesus Christ in chapter 5, Paul then says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (verses 1-2). Is the law done away because of grace? Paul answers with an emphatic NO!

He then goes on to explain the inspiring symbolism revolving around the baptismal ceremony. A clear understanding of this symbolism is vital for us to comprehend why we need the Holy Spirit and why Christ must be living in us today.

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (verse 3). Paul says we were baptized into the death of Christ. As we have already read, Paul pointed out in the preceding chapter that we are justified by Christ’s death and we are saved by His life (Romans 5:9-10)

At baptism, we are fully plunged under water which is a symbolic ­burial. The old, carnal man dies with Jesus Christ. Paul explains further: “There­fore we are buried with him by bap­tism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Now we are beginning to see the importance of the Holy Spirit and why it is Christ’s life and His faith that saves us! Just as Christ was resur­rected, or raised from the dead, we are raised up out of that watery grave and proceed to walk in newness of life by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Our sins have been forgiven.

When baptized, we agree to bury the old self—or that old self has died. Paul continues to make this very plain in Romans 6: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (verse 5). In other words, at baptism we die as Jesus Christ did. And when we come up out of that watery grave, we live as He did—not by our own power—but by the power of God’s Holy Spirit!

Does our baptism, or our faith in Jesus Christ, excuse sin in any way? Paul continues, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (verse 6).

In order to “walk in newness of life” so that we might “not serve sin,” God gives us the gift of His Holy Spirit immediately after repentance and baptism. The Holy Spirit is the very power of God. It is the mind of God. It is God’s free gift prom­ised to us after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Walking in “newness of life” means we are now living a life led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). The Holy Spirit actually gives us the very mind of God.

It should be clear why God gives us His Holy Spirit after baptism. Because it’s by that power that we begin to overcome and actu­ally take on the divine nature of God Himself! And it is by that power that the resurrected Jesus Christ is actually living in us today! It is by that power that we develop the active, living faith OF Jesus Christ!

Christ in Us

Let’s examine more of the Apostle Paul’s writings to understand further. In Galatians 2:16, Paul writes, “Know­ing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” People might argue, “See, the law has been done away with.” But notice Paul talks specifically about two kinds of faith—faith in Christ and the faith of Christ. It is only by the faith of Christ that we can be saved. That’s what ­saving faith is! (Note: Many modern translations render “the faith of Christ” inaccurately as “faith in Christ.” The King James version is the correct translation in these instances.)

But Paul ex­plains further, just in case the Galatians misinterpreted his statements to be anti-law. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (verse 17). In other words, after accepting the blood of Jesus Christ, if we then say the law is void and we are already saved, we are mak­ing Christ out to be a minister of sin! Why? Because after receiving the Holy Spirit, Christ is then living in us and Christ is not going to live His life contrary to God’s law! How plain these verses are! Now it should be clear why we are saved by Christ’s life and not His death.

Paul continues, “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor [or sinner ]” (verse 18). What was destroyed? Remember, the old man was buried or crucified with Christ. That old, carnal man, prone to sin, was destroyed. If we allow that old man to be built up again, we are found to be transgres­sors—or sinners!

Verse 20: “I am crucified with Christ [the old man dies]: nevertheless I live [in ‘newness of life’]; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, God leads us to repent and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Accepting Jesus Christ is outwardly manifested by the baptismal ceremony. It is true that we will not be saved without these two vital steps. But ­neither will we be saved without the faith of Christ which we can only receive after God gives us His Holy Spirit. It is through that power that we actually attain the faith of Christ. And it is by that faith that we will go on and receive salvation if we endure unto the end.

Christ Is Our Example

1 Peter 2:21 says, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” Some argue that we cannot possibly imitate Christ! But this verse means exactly what it says. Christ left us an example so we could follow that example!

But why? What does this have to do with Jesus Christ living in us?

In Hebrews 2:10, it says that Christ is the captain of our salvation. The word “captain” could be translated “pioneer.” Jesus Christ was first. He was the firstborn among many breth­ren (Romans 8:29).

In Hebrews 4:15, Paul said Jesus Christ “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He was tempted to sin—to break God’s law. But He didn’t. He kept God’s com­mandments perfectly (John 15:10).

Yet Christ did not do it Himself. In fact, He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). That’s right! Jesus Christ had absolutely no faith in Himself! But as we have seen, we are to have faith in Christ—faith in His shed blood (Romans 3:25). But after that, mere faith in Christ is not enough!

So how did Christ do it? He was the perfect sacrifice—the Lamb without spot or blemish (compare Exodus 12:5 with 1 Peter 1:19). God gave Christ the same Spirit that He gives new converts after baptism—with the exception that Christ was given God’s Holy Spirit from birth. It was by that Spirit—the power of God—that Christ had perfect faith and perfect obedience.

Let’s again ask, what does Christ’s perfect example have to do with Him living in us? If Christ left us a perfect example, and if He is to be living in us today, then we are to look to His example to see how we should be living! Jesus Christ had perfect faith in the power of God. He had no faith in Himself. He plainly said so. As Christians—true followers of Christ—we are to come to totally rely on our Father for literally everything. That is the example Jesus Christ left us.

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” If Christ is the same today as He was 2,000 years ago, and He is living in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, how could we possibly reason that this time around He wouldn’t be keeping God’s law? If we understand the ­perfect example Christ set for us and the fact that He is the same today, then it is easy to prove how He will be ­living in us today—the same way He did 2,000 years ago!

We Can Keep the Law

There is no place for abolishing God’s law in true Christianity. The Apostle John wrote, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). All the talk about Christ does not prove that you actually know Him. But keeping His commandments does!

Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words [or commands, as recorded in the Bible]: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). We cannot possibly love Jesus Christ without obeying His commands.

In Matthew 19, a man approached Jesus Christ with a question concern­ing salvation: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (verses 16-17). What a contradiction this verse must be to many teachings in today’s religions!

Those who say “all you have to do is believe” can’t explain the many other verses saying that we must keep the commandments! As we have seen, we do have to believe in Jesus Christ and His shed blood. But belief requires that we not only believe on Him, but that we also believe Him! That means believing what He said and ­following in His steps. If acceptance of His blood was all that was necessary, God wouldn’t have given us the gift of His Holy Spirit—the power by which we live by the faith OF Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to Matthew 19. The young man questioning Jesus asked Him which commandments He was talking about. Jesus responded, “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as ­thyself” (verses 18-19). Is there any doubt as to which law Jesus was referring? The Ten Commandments of course.

The young man thought he was keeping the law, but Jesus quickly showed him where he was falling short by asking him to give up all that he had. The young man “went away ­sorrowful” (verse 22). Notice verse 25: “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” And some might ask the very same question today: “If we have to keep the law, how can anyone be saved?” Notice Christ’s answer: “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Jesus Christ must be ­living in us in order for us to keep God’s law! We must have the same faith Christ had. God gives us that faith by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Faith does not do away with the law. Paul never taught that. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). How does our faith establish the law? By keeping God’s law, our faith is made perfect! That is how we know if Jesus Christ is truly living in us.

With all of this in mind, it now becomes plain how we can keep God’s law. If Christ is living in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, it will not seem so difficult to obey God’s law. If we are studying our Bibles for correc­tion daily, and then going to God on our knees asking for His power to work in our lives, we will find we can love God more than ourselves; that we can love our neighbors as ourselves; that we can refrain from even the thought of hating, lusting or lying; that we can and will honor our parents. Without Christ living in us by the power of God’s Spirit, keeping God’s law is impossible. “But with God,” as Paul wrote, “all things are possible.” It takes faith in God’s power to be able to obey God’s law!

Mr. Armstrong wrote in What Kind of Faith Is Re­quired for Salva­tion? “But—here’s the blessed truth—with God, it is possible, even to keep His Com­mandments. Do you begin to see? It takes faith! Faith in the power of God! And, just as your own diligent effort coupled with faith makes faith perfect, so faith coupled with your effort makes perfect obedience! The two go hand in hand. And you cannot have the one without the other! A living faith—the only kind that will save—is an active faith—one that trusts God to make it possible to obey Him—to live the true Christian life—to keep His blessed command­ments!”

Belief IN Christ Is Not Enough

In the first century, there were multiple thousands of people that believed in Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus Christ was very well liked by many! He attracted great multitudes virtually everywhere He went. Yet after His death, we find that only 120 disciples remained faithful to what He taught (Acts 1:15). This amazing statistic—120 people—is proof alone that believ­ing in Jesus Christ is not enough! Multiple thousands in Christ’s day believed in Him. Even Nicodemus, speaking for many of the Jewish scholars, said, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God” (John 3:2).

Today, multiple millions believe in Jesus Christ while only a small fraction actually believe what He taught! Notice what Jesus said in Mark 7:7-9: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men …. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”

Jesus reveals that it is possible to actually worship Him while doing it all in vain. And notice that to be doing it in vain revolves around rejecting the commandments of God!

We quoted the Apostle James ­earlier. He wrote, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” (James 2:17-18). In other words, just believing is not enough.

James continues, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (verses 19-20). Even demons believe! But that belief must be coupled with works which will give you living, active faith. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in—the very power by which Jesus Christ is alive today in all truly begotten children of God! (Romans 8:14).

Mr. Armstrong wrote, “We are saved by faith! But faith wrought with our works and by works our faith is made perfect! That is living faith.”

Believe Christ

A mere faith in Christ alone will not save one soul. How could we ­possibly justify believing on the ­Messenger of the New Covenant with­out believing the message!

Man has said all we have to do is believe in Christ because He died for us. Christ inspired Paul to write that we are saved by His life, not just His death. Man has said the law was nailed to the cross. Christ said, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the command­ments.” Man has said all we need is faith—works aren’t necessary. Christ inspired James to reveal that “faith without works is dead.” Saving faith requires that we believe what Christ said—not men!

Let’s conclude with one last quote from Mr. Armstrong’s booklet, What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salva­tion? “God’s purpose in salvation is to rescue men from sin, and its result­ing unhappiness, misery, and death! To repent of sin is the first step! Then the blood of Christ, upon acceptance and faith, cleanses of all past sins. And by faith we are kept from sin in the future. Thus the resulting righteous­ness is of faith—the righteousness imparted from God.”

Philadelphia Trumpet, May 1994