The difference between saving faith and living faith might be described as the difference between the past tense and the present tense. Saving faith is past tense, “I believed and so was saved or rescued by God from the penalty of my sins,” while living faith is present tense, “I am believing still in God’s goodness and ability to make me what He wants me to be.”
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). And he says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
The Scriptures make clear that saving faith always leads to living faith. In 1 John the apostle focuses on the tests of a genuine Christian, because some had proven not to be genuine and had left the church. One of those tests is whether an individual continues to believe what he once confessed concerning Christ. Those who left denied their original faith and bought into a false teaching that had come to their community. John’s readers demonstrated their genuine saving faith by continuing to follow the apostles’ teaching. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). It is not “whoever once believed” but “whoever now is believing and continues to believe.” Saving faith always leads to continued living faith.
This same theme is taken up in Hebrews. For this writer there is no such thing as an initial faith that is not followed by an enduring faith in the promise of God. So he warns,
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:36-39)
On this heels of this follows Hebrews 11, the great chapter of encouragement to a persevering faith.
It is not too distant a thought from this that James expresses when he writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) Works are faith in action, living faith, giving evidence of the fact that you believe in God and are letting His life flow through you.
Faith, then, is the basis of our everyday life. It is the constant attitude of confidence that God’s Word is true and reliable. It becomes, for the most part, a habitual way of thinking about life. It is constantly being tested by what life brings our way. True believers always come around to passing the tests. Our faith is thus never stagnant but always growing in amazement at the grace and glory of God.