Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, (Heb. 10:39) wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17-19) and Word of God, (Rom. 10:14-17) whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, (Jn. 1:12, Acts 16:31, 10:43) and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation (Phil. 3:9, Acts 15:11)
(Westminster Larger Catechism)
Over on the meta of the post on the further compromise of J.I. Packer, a comment has been made on the salvation status of Roman Catholics in general and Mother Theresa in particular. In order to defend that, a statement has been made to the effect that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". However, is that so?
When we come to the Scriptures, we can see the motif of faith and belief (basically based upon the same root word in Greek - pistis) being essential to salvation. Salvation is by believing in Christ - by having faith alone in Christ apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:4-6). Works have no part in saving us, though of course salvation would manifest itself out in good works (Eph. 2:10, Jas 2: 14-26), but the two must be distinguished and not confused.
However, what exactly is faith? Our distractor has said that faith excludes a level of understanding. However, is that really biblical? Is faith a leap in the dark like what the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard has maintained? Or is it something else?
In traditional Reformed parlance, faith is said to be made up of three parts: cognitio (knowledge), assentia (assent), and fiducia (trust). While there is dispute over the usage of the third term fiducia, a look at Gordon Clark's book The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, MA, USA: Trinity Foundation, 1989), pp. 99-117, would show that the contention is more with regards to psychology than the actual meaning of faith itself. Regardless, our focus here is the idea of cognitio, which means understanding of the propositions of the faith. In the area of salvation, this would of course mean understanding of the propositions of the Gospel. Is understanding of the Gospel essential to salvation?
As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, faith is "being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) ..." Faith thus includes the idea of cognitio, or understanding the propositions of the Gospel, as the proof-texts also show. There is thus absolutely no way to be saved without knowing and understanding the Gospel, which is part of faith itself. Since that is so, it is anti-intellectual and blatantly unbiblical to say that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". To be saved, one must have a level of understanding of the Gospel, and such is not works but the way in which faith is expressed in the believer.
Some may attempt to refute that by saying that faith is belief in Christ, not believe in propositions. But what exactly is "belief in Christ"? In Jn. 11-14, the Word was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, thus belief in Christ IS belief in the Scriptures. To separate the Logos theopneoustos (the Inscripturated Word) and the Logos ensarkos (the Incarnate Word) is thus a grievous error.
Faith thus include belief in the propositions of the Gospel. As such, we can know for sure that all who do not believe in the Gospel, much less those who had not heard of it, cannot be saved. It is supremely irrational and unbiblical to state that those who have not heard the Gospel in false churches can be saved, of which the Roman Catholic church is the epitome of false teaching, with the Pope being the Antichrist (WCF, Chapter XXV Of the Church, Paragraph VI).