“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, That I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, Even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” – Luther’s Explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed
What is a saving faith? There are short and long answers to this question. Both the Apostle Paul and Jesus provide short answers. Paul says that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). Jesus’ answer is even shorter. As a part of His “great Commission” to His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15), He says that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Martin Luther provides a long answer in his “Explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed” (see above). Taken as a whole, all three of these answers tell us what we are supposed to believe (“Jesus is Lord”; “God raised [Jesus] from the dead”; Jesus “redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil”; etc.) and how we are supposed to believe it (“with your heart”).
Is there a perfect example of a saving faith? Probably not. Why? Because sinful mankind is not perfect and, therefore, faith is not static. Faith is fluid. It goes up or down. There are times when our faith is high, low or non-existent. There are times when we don’t believe. The Bible is replete with imperfect examples of a saving faith by characters whose faith is sometimes high, low or non-existent. There are times when certain biblical characters don’t believe. Jesus’ own family are imperfect examples. There are times when His own family doesn’t believe. Perhaps temporarily. Perhaps forever. Mark’s Gospel tells us a story about Jesus’ own family trying “to seize him” and saying that “he is out of his mind” (3:21). Later, in this same story, Jesus is sitting inside a house surrounded by His followers. His family comes to the house and wants to see Him. Those inside the house say “your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you” (3:32). Jesus says “Who are my mother and my brothers” (3:33)? The story concludes: “And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (3:34-35). If image is everything in the Bible, then Jesus’ own family are unbelievers. Jesus is on the inside of the house and they are on the outside. But, don’t forget. Faith is fluid. If it can go down, then it can also go up, again. At least one of Jesus’ brothers will probably have a saving faith at a later time. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ brother James will become a leader of the Jerusalem Christian community (see Acts, chapter 15, and Galatians 1:19).
Another imperfect example of a saving faith by a biblical character whose faith is sometimes high, low or non-existent is the Apostle Peter. What is striking about this example is that it is considered by Protestant theologians to be the standard of saving faith. According to them, Peter-like faith admits into heaven. They can say this because of what Jesus says to Peter: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (see Matthew 16:18, below). In this same story from Matthew, chapter 16, Peter says that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (see verse 16, below). Yet, only ten chapters later, Peter denies Jesus three times (see Matthew 26:69-75). And this takes place only after Peter assures Jesus that he will never fall away: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will’ (Matthew 26:33). In fact, he says it twice within a period of three verses: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35). For us, the most important aspect of this imperfect example of a saving faith is not Peter’s fluid faith: high, low or non-existent. For us, the most important aspect of this imperfect example of a saving faith is that Jesus takes Peter back after he rejects Him (see John 21:15-25).
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
– Matthew 16:13-20