James 2:18-19 (NKJV)18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
Last week James invited us to make the distinction between the profession of saving faith and the possession of saving faith. If we merely claim to believe in Jesus but our claim is not validated by our works, then we are simply professors of faith not possessors of faith. We will be those to whom the Lord says on the last day – “Depart from me you who practice lawlessness for I never knew you.”
But what exactly is saving faith? What is this thing that the Lord works in the hearts of His people and through which He unites them to Himself? In the passage today James makes yet another distinction which helps form the foundation of the traditional way theologians discuss the various elements of saving faith – notitia, assentia, and fiducia. What do these fancy words mean?
Notitia insists that saving faith contains a basic knowledge of God and the content of the Gospel. In order to believe in the Gospel and be delivered from our sin, we must know the nature of our sin and the promise of the Gospel. Saving faith involves knowledge. “For there is a way which seems right to a man but in the end it is the way of death.” We must know the correct way.
But mere knowledge is not sufficient for saving faith. As James remarks in our passage today – the demons know as much and tremble! No one knows the truth quite so well as the evil one and his legions; but no one hates it so viciously either. And so joined to notitia, knowledge, must be assentia, assent. We must not only know what the truth is, we must acknowledge that it is in fact true. Saul knew in his bones that David was not out to destroy him, yet he refused to believe his better wisdom. We must give our assent to the things that the Spirit of God brings to our awareness.
But even joining knowledge with assent, we don’t yet have a sufficient definition of saving faith. For when we come in saving faith to our Lord, not only do we know the truth at a basic level, not only do we give our assent to these things, saying, “Yes, those things are in fact true and lovely”, we also heartily embrace the One who has revealed these truths to us and enabled us to give our assent to them. Saving faith involves not only notitia and assentia but also fiducia. Christianity is ultimately not about knowing a number of facts and giving our assent to them; it certainly involves this, but is not defined by this. Christianity is ultimately about putting our trust in the One who has revealed these things to us. And this is what fiducia is – trust; embracing Christ Himself and clinging to Him as the solution for our sin.
This saving faith – notitia, assentia, and fiducia – is the very thing that the Spirit of God creates within us when He unites us to Christ. He opens our minds that we might acknowledge the truth, He woos our affections that we might give our assent to it, He moves our wills that we might embrace Christ – and so what kind of people ought we to be? How thankful ought we to be?
Reminded of the true nature of what the Spirit of God creates in us and our failure to be grateful, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.