Does the Bible Say There is Such a Thing as Non-Saving Faith?


In a previous post where I wrote about Derek Webb and his loss of faith, I suggested that the reason why some fall away from the faith is because their faith was man-made and not God-made. That is, their belief in and allegiance to Christianity were based on human conditioning and reasoning but were not the product of new birth; thus they are able to be moved by experience and human reason away from Christ. What is wrought in human strength can be changed by human strength.

Does the Bible make such a distinction? Is this a desperate grab at a flimsy argument in hopes of salvaging a predetermined theological system that does not square with real experience? In short, can we support a category of non-saving faith made by mere human decision rather than by God’s action from the Bible itself? I contend that we can and offer two texts as proof.

John 8:30-47

In this text, we are picking up the middle of a conversation between Jesus and Jews in Jerusalem who had come for a feast. Jesus is describing his person and work and we are told in verse 30, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.”

But the way the conversation unfolds is striking. Verse 31 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (emphasis mine). This statement irks his audience and they begin to push back, arguing they are not slaves to anyone. In essence, they don’t continue in his word but reject this further teaching. Jesus’ words to them in the ensuing debate make it clear that in whatever sense they have believed in him, it was not a saving belief that made them true children of God.

Jesus says their father is the devil (verse 38, 41, 44), that God is not their Father (verse 42), and they are not of God (verse 47). These Jews had believed in Jesus and yet they still were ensnared by the devil, had not become true children of God, and they were not of God. Whatever faith they had was not saving faith.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

In this text Paul says this: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”

Paul is speaking to the established church in Corinth, a church that had heard the gospel, received the gospel, staked their lives on the gospel, and had begun to see deliverance by the gospel. And yet Paul could still tell them that if their faith was not the kind of faith that endured, then their prior belief was in vain.

I am convinced that this means that it is possible to hear the gospel, receive it, stake your life on it, and even taste the benefits of true conversion in the form of freedom from sin–and still not have genuine saving faith. This same Paul–the one through whom God revealed that those whom God foreknew, he predestined, and those he predestined his called, and those he called he justified, and those he justified, he glorified–could also say that one could build their life on the gospel and still have a kind of belief that was ultimately empty.


My reason in contending this is not to defend a particular theological system. It is to join the Bible’s pleading that we continually examine our hearts, not rest on religious pedigree or prior acts of obedience, and always strive to press on for current faithfulness to Jesus, his teaching, and his commands.

Why else would Paul exhort the church in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves”? Why does Peter entreat his audience to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election”?

Not all faith in Jesus is saving faith and we need to make every effort to examine the kind of faith we have, lest we find ourselves with a faith that is empty.

8 thoughts on “Does the Bible Say There is Such a Thing as Non-Saving Faith?

  1. Pingback: Derek Webb, Wrestling with the Category of “Ex-Christian,” and the Nature of True Saving Faith | Theology Along the Way

  2. Thank you for posting this, the Conclusion is well stated, that we should examine our hearts and not rest on a previous act (prayer, baptism, etc.) that assures our salvation.

    However, this article fails to address the criticisms of your previous article. The issue is not whether someone could have faith that is man-made and not genuine. Or if there is scripture to support “a category of non-saving faith made by mere human decision rather than by God’s action”. The dispute is around Derek Webb’s faith or lack thereof and how it is explained by the Calvinist doctrine. As one commenter asked:
    “How can Webb be condemned by a just God if he had no choice as to if he is saved or not?”

    The Calvinist strongly believes that their view of God electing only some to be saved and not others is the correct one, despite verses like John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, and others that suggest God desires all to be saved, and verses like 2 Peter 3:9 that suggest we have a part in determining where we end up, and yet when asked why God would predestine some people to be saved and not others have no good explanation, only “for His glory”. I commend the realization that not all can be known and would suggest that when faced with a theological quandary that we question what we think we know about God.

  3. Pingback: Flashback Wednesday: Derek Webb, Wrestling with the Category of “Ex-Christian,” and the Nature of True Saving Faith | Theology Along the Way

    • I just today read about Derek Webb. Never heard of him before now. I have to say that one reason for the Ex-Christian movement is. American Christianity is so ugly,materialistic,authoritarian, corrupt supports genocide of the Native people here and slavery. The Internet enabled like minded people,victims of spiritual abuse,to find each other.

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  5. Hi Mr. Coleman. Yours is a well-written article, your commitment to the Lord is obvious, and I thought I might reply in a spirit of constructive discussion. It is not at all clear to me that at 1 Cor. 15:1-2, including the phrase “unless you believed in vain” at verse 2, Paul was telling the Corinthian Christians that “if their faith was not the kind of faith that endured, then their prior belief was in vain.” I note the following.

    First, as a matter of context, much of 1 Cor. 15 deals with the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:4-11) and the related topic of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-58). The word “endured” is nowhere found in 1 Cor. 15. Nor does the theme of endurance appear to be prominent in the individual verses of 1 Cor. 15.

    Second, 1 Cor. 15:2 contains the phrase “believed in vain.” Note 1 Cor. 15:14 contains the phrase, “your faith is also vain” (KJV) and 1 Cor. 15:17 has the phrase, “your faith is vain” (KJV). Your article quotes 1 Cor. 15:1-2 apparently from the ESV; note similarly that in the ESV, 1 Cor. 15:14 says “your faith is in vain,” and 1 Cor. 15:17 states, “your faith is futile.”

    Considering the above, I would respectfully submit that there is evidence that at 1 Cor. 15:1-2, including the phrase “unless you believed in vain” at verse 2, Paul is not telling the Corinthian Christians that “if their faith was not the kind of faith that endured, then their prior belief was in vain” or that he is talking about a prior belief that ceases to endure. Instead, the above is evidence that Paul is referring to a prior and enduring belief that is vain unless Christ rose from the dead. Thus 1 Cor. 15:14 says “if Christ be not risen, . . . your faith is also vain” and 1 Cor. 15:17 states, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.” On the other hand, Paul nowhere says in 1 Cor. 15 that “if your faith does not endure, your faith is also vain” or “if your faith does not endure, your faith is vain.” Please let me know your thoughts brother, and God bless you for your good work in creating and maintaining this website.

  6. For no temptation has seized you except what is common to man (male)(female)’ but God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear^ but with the temptation will provide a way out of it_ so you can stand up under it..
    When you (we) look at suffering..we (you) are like Peter who was scared.. but realizing it wasn’t a ghost but Jesus walking on the water..(yep you and ex Christian anyone would have crapoed the loin cloth too).. but you see we all sink when we take our eyes off Jesus. This is the place called real prayer..not noise..once you walk on the water with Jesus you must keep your eyes on Jesus or you will sink.. worst of all for Peter and his battles.. that very night they did not end.. the predestined occurred.. why because Jesus said of his betrayal, after that on the night Jesus was arrested chained beaten and unlawfully tried and harrassed and whipped 39 lashes (by which our bodies and our faith and by the crown of thorns our head and thoughts are completely answered and healed) this is where your faith in Jesus..walks on water..rises from death..fulfills all prophesy..and at this time after the cross we wait..given what for 400 years was held back..and will soon be held back again for only 7 short years (Holy Spirit)…because if our tormenting deceiving hatefilled prideful enemy had any longer without the Holy Spirit…there would be no life left on the gift we live on a created and designed planet earth… so come and tell me no more of this temporary life and its worries stealing the seed that is planted in you.. instead glorify Jesus by looking at Him.. for he has said. @ If you love me you will obey my commands@.. it is so simple a child can explain this to you..(if you walk with Jesus you better keep your eye on him too.. or someone evil can take your hand and you will lose your father mother sister and brother and be lost) by an evil hand or the cares of this world or by going out into this world on your own.. which Love freely allows you to do… so finally if Peter stood up against Jesus words at the passover lamb feast and first communion with all disciples.. including Judas iscariot (devil entered and used this follower).. if Peter didn’t deny Jesus the Christ (whom he proclaimed not many weeks before) but said yes i know Jesus he is the Christ the son of the living God at Jesus trial… he would have spoken the truth… but he didn’t.. would that have started the millenial reign of Jesus Christ? We will never know until we walk on the water with Jesus.. these next 7 years.. which is coming in 7 short years after the call..revelation 4 (come up here) is called at the Trumpet of God!!!.. incidents and thoughts so big no one man can communicate on this planet.. nor can it be contain or be restrained.. these are the moments we live and move and have our being.. as we are being called into this very hour… today is the day of salvation.. not yesterday not tomorrow.. glad you are trying to figure why some seed grew shallow roots and withered and why some is carried away by birds and i hope you can see in yourselves always that some grew and produced a crop! That is how you will always know you are in the will of God the Father and hand over the silliness of vanity in care of this world to Jesus who had been given all authority… Jesus is risen! Your sins are forgiven! Rejoice.. cmon walk on the water with me! You will not fail.. we will not fail..

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