We know we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone. We also know that there is a kind of faith, or a thing often called faith, which is clearly not a saving faith. If one looks at John 2:23-25, the concept is quite clear.
John 2:23–25 – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
In this passage, we see people believing in Jesus, but not in a saving type of faith. Many people, the text tells us, believed in his name. The word there for believed is the same word for faith as in saving faith, so there is no language study that makes this passage say something we do not see clearly. They believed in Jesus. Jesus would not entrust himself to them. They had a type of belief, but not one that saved.
Take a peek at a few things that I’ve grabbed from John Murray on this topic, and perhaps it will help you to see the things that must be present in saving faith. Murray offers us 3 characteristics of saving faith, and I think they are quite helpful.
There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust.
1. Knowledge… We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. There must be apprehension of the truth respecting Christ…
2. Conviction. Faith is assent. We must not only know the truth respecting Christ but we must also believe it to be true…
3. Trust. Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence. Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him. [John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, 2015), Part II, Chapter IV.]
In the passage in John 2, people had knowledge of Jesus, to a certain degree. They even believed what they saw, to a certain degree. But there was no wholesale entrusting of themselves to Christ. The people believed in facts and power, but they failed to trust the person of Jesus. Saving faith is a resting of one’s entire self, one’s entire soul, one’s entire eternity on the person and work of Jesus. You must know the facts presented about Jesus, you must believe those facts, and you must entrust yourself to Jesus. Miss those things, and you miss saving faith.