But what is this belief that’s a pillar of salvation?
This could be considered as a question of philosophy – of ontology or linguistic analysis – or a question of psychology or etymology, or in other ways as well. We’re only going to consider it within the realm of the pragmatic question of how to live in relationship to Christ. That is, having discovered belief in Jesus as Lord to be a pillar of salvation, we move on to what that discovery amounts to.
With that said, it is obvious that such a belief does not consist in words floating around somewhere, in one’s head, for example, or one’s ‘mind’, or anywhere else. Nor is it simply a potential or disposition for vocalization under certain circumstances. Christian belief isn’t simply something said, whether potentially or actually, whether aloud or to oneself. A human monster could say the appropriate words while doing monstrous things, could even sincerely ‘think’ them. Even the devils believe, as James puts it.
Salvific belief, meaning the attitude towards the sovereignty of Christ that sets a person on the road of salvation, is a dynamic attitude, one connected with behavior, but also one that admits of degrees. Degrees of what? Degrees of strength. But strength is something that doesn’t have meaning in a contextual vacuum. Having strong muscles describes the muscles in the context of weight resistance. Just so, having strong beliefs describes something in a context. What is the context? It’s the context of the other dynamic attitudes of the individual, the other attitudes connected to behavior, the desires, the hungers, the fears, even the other beliefs.
My belief in Jesus as my Lord refers to my dynamic attitude towards His sovereignty over my life, over the uses to which I put my time and energy. At least for most of us, it is an attitude at least occasionally in conflict with other dynamic attitudes, and it is in the context of such conflicts that its strength becomes apparent. We might usefully compare it to the gravitational pull on my being towards the leadership of another. At a great distance from that source, the pull is weak, and easily overcome by pulls from other sources. But with each step I take closer to the source, its pull becomes stronger, and the influence of the others correspondingly weaker.
This is the road of salvation, one voluntary step after another towards that source. An observer might say His faith is growing, but experientially, it is the weakening of the other influences. For a few – the truly blessed – the steps are not difficult; but for many, they can be very hard, especially at the beginning, most especially the first. That’s why the experience of conversion can seem so shattering to those whose lives have never offered the least resistance to the other sources.
A poet might describe it as inner demons shrieking in agony.