“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7–8

C. H. Spurgeon wrote a book called, “Around the Wicket Gate.” In it he speaks to the troubled heart of someone who is beginning to be awakened to faith in Christ but is not yet assured he has been granted saving faith. The “seeker” tantalizingly finds himself outside the little gateway to the “straight and narrow” path of faith. Perhaps you know someone who is in a similar circumstance.

Saving faith is certainly a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8–10). Nicodemus exemplifies one who is yet to receive and exercise saving faith. I am sure that the Apostle John included this story because his purpose in writing his Gospel was to provide assurance of saving faith. John 20:31 reads, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” How many born-again believers are thankful for our Lord’s words that John faithfully communicated in John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There are many who claim to be saved; but to the discerning, authentic believer, they seem to be missing something within that translates outwardly to faithful Christianity. When does intellectual assent to Scriptural truth effectively mesh with an internal reality of implanted saving faith by the Holy Spirit’s direct agency? There may be no way to discern the chronology of the Holy Spirit drawing and a person genuinely trusting. Both appear to happen at the same time. But there is a logical order which assists us in identifying whether professed faith is indeed possessed faith.

K. S. Wuest tells us that the Greek word pistos means “believe, trust, trust in, put faith in, and rely upon.” He says faith is “the act of considering the Lord Jesus worthy of trust as to His character and motives, the act of placing confidence in His ability to do just what He says He will do, the act of entrusting the salvation of his soul into the hands of the Lord Jesus, the act of committing the work of saving his soul to the care of the Lord.” He also says that saving faith “means the definite taking of oneself out of one’s own safe keeping and entrusting one’s self into the keeping of the Lord Jesus.”

His exposition is correct. Saving faith operates in very human terms. Every person is capable of faith, faith in a chair that it will not let you down, faith in a car when you turn the key, faith in a dentist. Faith is a very human activity. But where does the “miracle” of saving faith take root along the path of the human exercise of faith in spiritual matters? It is obvious that Nicodemus’ human exercise of faith had gotten at least as far as a narrow-viewed, intellectual assent to who Christ is. John 3:2 records his words, “We know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Yet he was missing the grace in verse 3 of being “born from above.”

There seem to be three aspects to the logical progression of saving faith in the human heart. Faith must be professed, possessed, and pursuant. Many, like Nicodemus, seem to quickly get to the idea of faith professed, but struggle to get further. They have made intellectual assent to the fact of the saving truth, but there is no evidence of the Holy Spirit within them affirming that saving faith is at work (Romans 8:16). We know the words of James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God, You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” No one would even pretend to believe that demons can exercise saving faith yet they exercise intellectual assent to truth about God. There are many so-called Christians that make intellectual assent and quite possibly have experienced emotional feeling that accords.

They recognize the truth for what it is and emotionally acquiesce to God’s power and grace in Jesus Christ as applicable to the needs of the soul (A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology). John 5:35 reads, “He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” What is missing is the Spirit-enabled shift from emotion to devotion. It is not emotion that counts, but devotion, because anything temporary is valueless in eternal salvation. It is usually when emotion becomes devotion that the “light” of life goes on in the eye of the convert. Though thought and emotion are totally human responses, what is often lacking is the volitional surrender that is authenticated by the Spirit in the heart. Human intellectual assent and emotional feeling receives God’s truth, but what is necessary is the fact that saving faith is both receiving and giving. It is no mere acquiescence, it is full embrace, an investment of one’s self!

Saving faith is belief in the body of truth that God reveals in the Word—faith professed—doctrine. Saving faith is also the full, faithful reliance upon God’s promises found in His Word—faith possessed—worship. Saving faith is revisiting the Word of God often in order to submit to God and to maintain willing, faithful obedience—faith pursuant—morality. Saving faith possesses you and owns you, it is your proprietor (John 1:12, 8:31ff). Saving faith reckons that God is trustworthy (thought), relies on His promises (feelings), and retraces regularly all the steps of discipleship (actions). Trust and obey.