Language is a funny thing. For instance, the Greek language has multiple words for “love”, each with its own subtleties. English has only one. We can love our children and love a pizza. On the flip side, Greek seems to make the word “faith” cover a lot of territory. Sometimes the word “faith” is it type of “trust”. For instance, Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith (trust) is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That seems like a definition in a dictionary, but it doesn’t always work. For instance, 1 Timothy 4:1, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith…” Trust doesn’t quite work here. This time “faith” is more like “religion”.
So what does it mean here?
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
If faith is seen as trusting in Jesus here, then what is to be said about people who do not have the intellectual capacity to understand the promise of Jesus and put their trust in it? Trust also can be seen as something that can be stronger or weaker. What if we don’t trust enough? Are we saved through certainty?
The overall context of Ephesians 2 would suggest yet a third use of “faith”. Here “faith” describes a God-created connection between Jesus and us. This living, dynamic relationship produces “faith” as in trust, if you are intellectually capable of it, and it believes the “faith” as in Christian religion, but it is more fundamental and less tangible than the other two “faiths”.
Is somebody “saved”? That depends on whether “faith”, the connection to Jesus, exists. While there should be and often is evidence of this, this faith cannot be observed directly by us. Only God can see this. So we are commanded to suspend judgment.
God creates this saving faith and He works to maintain it. This connection would accomplish nothing if Jesus would not have given Himself for us on the cross. God builds this faith through His Word, appealing to our intellect, but in the end it is not an intellectual function. He forms this bond through other means like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This connection can lead to end of doubt, but can be there even in the presence of doubts. This faith is not of ourselves, not the product of soul searching, enculturation, inescapable logic, heredity or decision; it is the gift of God.