I recently heard a pastor talk about his encounters with Satanists. Yes, Satanists. His story helped to clarify something about the difference between faith and saving faith.
The pastor explained there are two types of Satanists. Some are atheists who have “a little bit of Satanic flavor.” They don’t take it seriously. But others are true Satanists. Interestingly, these people believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for sins, rose again from the dead, and saves everyone who believes in Him. They believe all of that—and they hate Jesus for it.
What kind of faith does a true Satanist have?
It made me think of the traditional Protestant definition of faith as having three aspects: understanding (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia).
Following Gordon Clark, I’ve long thought adding trust to the mix was redundant or dangerous. Redundant if it was a synonym for assent and dangerous if it was used to add submission or commitment to the condition of salvation (what we call back-loading the gospel with works).
But when I heard about what true Satanists believe, it made me wonder. Is there room for fiducia in our understanding of faith after all?
To see what I mean, imagine that you have three people who hear a clear gospel presentation—an atheist, a true Satanist, and a Christian. How does each person respond?
First, the atheist understands the gospel, but he’s not convinced it’s true. In other words he has notitia but not assensus. To believe something takes more than just understanding it.
Second, the true Satanist goes one step further and both understands the gospel and is even persuaded that it’s true. In other words, she has both notitia and assensus. But does that mean she has saving faith? She can’t, right? Something is missing, but what?
Third, the Christian understands the gospel and is persuaded that it's true. However, unlike the Satanist, he takes the next step and believes in Jesus as his Savior.
Is that the difference between the Satanist and the Christian?
That brings me back to that classical Protestant definition of faith. Interestingly, fiducia can be translated as “trust, confidence, reliance, assurance.” Those last two possible translations may help us understand the difference between the true Satanist and the Christian. Could we say that, unlike the Satanist, the Christian not only understands (notitia) the gospel, and is also persuaded that it’s true (assensus), but also relies upon Jesus for his salvation (fiducia)? In other words, unlike the Satanist, the Christian makes a personal appropriation of the saving message by believing Jesus as his Savior and so is assured that Jesus saves him. He is not only persuaded of the truth of the promise in general, but believes in Jesus for what is promised, and is persuaded that it has become true of him, i.e., that he has salvation.
To put it as a syllogism:
P1: Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.
P2: I believe in Jesus.
C: Therefore, I have eternal life.
While the Satanist is persuaded of the first premise (P1), she has not believed in Jesus herself (P2), and so, unlike the Christian, also does not believe that she has eternal life (C). To put that in terms of the classical definition of faith, the Satanist has not trusted in Jesus.
I used to think that making trust an aspect of faith was unnecessary, but in light of what true Satanists believe, I can see how it might help to emphasize that believing in Jesus in a saving way means personally relying upon Him for salvation and being assured that He saves you (“assurance is of the essence of saving faith”).
Do you think that including trust (fiducia) with notitia and assensus helps to clarify what it means to believe in Jesus for salvation?
Edited: January 10, 2024
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