Does (saving) faith imply belief?

Pastor Jeff Struecker

In our recent discussions about the Holy Spirit, we have emphasized the divine nature of the Spirit, who is equal to God the Father and God the Son. We have also explored how the Holy Spirit works during the conversion process to bring about a transformation in our hearts. Today, we will focus on the Holy Spirit’s role in saving faith, examining how James describes this concept. However, before we delve into James’ perspective, let me share a personal story related to the impact of COVID on church attendance. This narrative sheds light on the significance of genuine faith versus mere intellectual belief.

The Impact of COVID on Church Attendance

During the pandemic, many churches worldwide shifted to online services due to government restrictions or other circumstances. As restrictions lifted and in-person services resumed, numerous pastors noticed that some congregants did not return. Concerned about this trend, pastors expressed their heartbreak over losing a percentage of their church members—individuals who never came back after the resumption of in-person services. In my travels as a church speaker, I encountered several pastors who shared this sentiment. To their distress, they had lost 5%, 17%, or even 27% of their church due to COVID.

In response to their concerns, I posed a thought-provoking question to these pastors: “Perhaps you didn’t lose anyone. Could it be that those who didn’t return were not genuine Christians to begin with? Maybe COVID and the inability to attend church in person provided them with the excuse they were seeking to never come back, as their commitment to faith was never truly sincere.” This reflection draws parallels to James’ teachings regarding saving faith.

The Teaching of James on Saving Faith 

James, the pastor of the early church in Jerusalem and the half-brother of Jesus, provides insight into the distinction between genuine saving faith and a mere intellectual understanding of facts. Having grown up alongside Jesus and witnessing his ministry, James possessed a unique perspective on faith. Initially, like his family, James struggled to comprehend Jesus’ divine calling and even considered James to be “crazy.” However, following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, James experienced a transformation, becoming a true believer in Jesus as the Son of God and the only means of salvation.

James, deeply concerned for the souls of his congregants, sought to differentiate between intellectual belief and saving faith. To illustrate this contrast, James presents a striking comparison in James 2:19. Let us reflect on this verse together and commit it to memory: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe—and tremble” (James 2:19).

Memory Verse

Interpreting James’ Teaching 

From this verse, it is evident that James is not discouraging belief; rather, he acknowledges and commends those who claim to “believe.” However, he highlights the distinction between genuine saving faith and a mere acknowledgment of facts. James employs demons as an example, as they, too, possess knowledge about God’s oneness and Jesus’ divinity. During Jesus’ ministry, demons even confessed His identity as the Son of God—a truth that eluded many people at the time. Yet, James asserts that no one would consider demons to be reconciled with God or destined for heaven. Thus, James underscores the insufficiency of intellectual belief alone in establishing a genuine relationship with God.

In examining James’ teachings, we come to understand that saving faith transcends a mere intellectual understanding of facts. James emphasizes that accepting certain truths about God, while commendable, does not equate to a transformed heart or a genuine relationship with God. The distinction lies in the difference between mere belief and saving faith. 

Instead of a usual question, I will make a statement and ask for your input. This is important because this will determine whether you spend eternity with God in heaven or separated from Him in hell.

A Challenge

I urge you to discuss this question with your family, friends, or small groups and share your thoughts. James’s message is clear, and I challenge you to describe the difference between believing facts and having saving faith. Let this answer stay with you for a lifetime, and may you have true saving faith as described by James.