On Saving Faith
Faith - Saving faith, the means by which Christ's righteousness
is imputed to us and thus the means by which we are reconciled to
God, has been described by theologians as being composed of three
dynamic elements; Notitia (knowledge), Assensus
(theoretical assent), and Fiducia (trust or practical
By Notitia we refer to our knowledge of our faith. In
order for us to have true saving faith, the content of that faith,
must also be true. If we are merely sincere in our faith, but that
which we believe in is false, then our faith is also false. This
principle can be clearly seen in the fact that the world is
literally filled with people who strongly and sincerely believe in
certain things. They have a faith, for instance, in what Islam or
Mormonism teaches. But if (as I believe) the intellectual content of
these religions is false, so too the faith of their believers is
also counterfeit. To make the example all the more clear (and I hope
here that I am not bursting any personal bubbles) I can have a
sincere faith in the Easter Bunny, but my faith is ultimately false
because the content of my faith is untrue. As R.C. Sproul puts it:
"Notitia then refers to the content of faith. To be
saved one must believe certain basic information. It may be a bare
minimum, but it is something. For example, to be justified by
faith one must believe that there is a God by who and before whom
we are justified. To be saved we may not require an exhaustive or
comprehensive knowledge, for none of us possess such comprehensive
knowledge, but we must have some knowledge and we must have some
right knowledge about God. If we believe God is an impersonal,
cosmic force, that wrong knowledge about God will not justify us.
Indeed it will convict us of idolatry." [R.C. Sproul, "Faith
Christianity is not a religion of ignorance or superstition, it
stands or falls on the validity of it's truth claims. The process of
spreading the gospel involves more than merely the transmission of
it's intellectual content, but it does not involve less.
By Assensus we mean the believer's intellectual assent to
the truth of the content of the Gospel. This principle can be
illustrated by the statement "I believe that Neil Armstrong was the
first man to walk on the moon." In this statement I am displaying a
cognitive belief in the validity of the content. Assensus
involves more than an academic imparting of information as in the
statement "History teaches that Neil Armstrong was the first person
to walk on the moon." Assensus means that the speaker
theoretically agrees with the statement. When we speak about the
role of Assensus in saving faith, we are speaking of an
agreement with a statement of truth. It is no virtue for a speaker
to believe an untrue statement as is the case with "I believe Jesus
is a symbol of universal forgiveness, and not really a man." In
this case the speaker is "assenting" to a falsehood.
It is vital to note that assensus and notitia alone
are not sufficient for saving faith as James noted in his epistle
(James 2:19), even the demons know and intellectually agree with the
statement "Jesus is the Son of God." What is lacking in these
affirmations is the vital third element of Fiducia.
By Fiducia we mean absolute trust and practical agreement.
Fiducia is the hardest element of saving faith to define
because it involves intangibles that may be perceived or apprehended
without being fully comprehended. An example of this would be the
often quoted example that while Assensus or theoretical
agreement refers to an agreement in one's "head", Fiducia or
practical agreement refers to an agreement in one's "heart." Heart
in this case obviously does not mean the muscle that pumps blood
throughout the body, but rather the human will or soul. Fiducia
therefore mingles the emotion of love with trust, inclination, and
The following example may provide an insight into the meaning of
the word Fiducia and the way the three previously mentioned
elements operate in "saving faith."
During the late 19th century a French tightrope walker made quite
a stir by repeatedly crossing over Niagara Falls on rope stretched
between the two banks of the river. Reportedly, he once singled out
a member of the audience before one of these "trips" and asked him
several questions along the following lines:
"Sir", he asked, " do you believe I can walk over the falls on
this little rope?"
"Sure", answered the man, "I've seen you do it before."
"And do you also believe that I could push this wheelbarrow across?"
"Yes, I do."
"And do you also believe that I could do it with a man sitting in
"Yeah, I'm positive you could."
"Then, kind sir, would you mind assisting me by getting into the
"Not on your life!", answered the man.
The man being questioned here demonstrated Notitia, or
knowledge, in that he knew what the stunt entailed, because he had
seen him do it. The man also demonstrated Assensus, or
intellectual assent, because he believed the tightrope walker could
successfully push a wheelbarrow across the falls. He did not,
however, demonstrate Fiducia because he was not willing to
put his life into the tightrope walkers hands by getting intothe
wheelbarrow. Therefore his belief or assent never bridged the gap
between the theoretical and the practical. At the risk of seeming
trite, saving faith involves "getting into the wheelbarrow" and as
such is markedly different from what is often referred to as "easy
This vital, saving faith is the result of the regenerating work
of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God's elect, which ordinarily
accompanies the preaching of the Gospel. "I will give them a heart
to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will
be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart."
(Jeremiah 24:7) "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new
spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and
give them a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 11:19) The practical results
of this faith, begotten of regeneration, by which the elect are
united to Christ will include:
1) The believing of that which is revealed in Scripture
2) A desire to obey the commands of God
3) Receiving, accepting, loving, and trusting in Christ alone for