Is there a difference between a believer and a disciple of Jesus? Is there a difference between believing in Jesus and saving faith? If “even the demons believe…and tremble,” how do I know whether I have saving faith? How much do I have to follow Jesus to be saved?
Let’s clear the most important part of these questions up immediately: there’s nothing you can do to save yourself. There is no, “How much do I have to…” anything. Even faith itself is a gift of God given to you by the Holy Spirit that comes by hearing to Good News of His love and rule in your life. But that said, faith is more than intellectual assent. The devil is no atheist. In the Gospels, we repeatedly see demons confessing Jesus as the Son of God. They know Who He is. They fear and loathe Him like a deer fears a gunshot.
But when God gives you saving faith, it changes you. When you have Jesus in your heart, you begin to see the world through the eyes of God. You see all people as those He died for and want them all to be saved, just as God does. Faith gives confidence and peace and hope in the darkest hours. Faith produces fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, etc., not out of obligation, but out of the assurance that Christ has conquered all, and we have nothing to fear. Yet because we are at the same time sinners, we continue to sin and waver in our commitment and courage. But then faith draws us to the cross of Christ and pleads for mercy from the One Who we know to be always merciful.
Saving faith sees Jesus not just as Savior, but Lord and King, not just true, but the truth by which all other truths are judged. Faith seeks to avoid sin out of love, not obligation. Faith wants to know Jesus better, to be more like Him in attitude and action, and to trust Him more.
But most of all, faith recognizes that we’ve fallen short on everything we strive for, no matter how deeply and closely we want to follow Jesus, so faith clings to the crucified and risen Christ and trusts that His servant heart that led Him to the cross is the same scarred heart that leads Him to us in our brokenness and rebellion, sets us free from sin, claims us as His own, and calls us again to follow Him with the joyful knowledge of His unconditional love and the inheritance of the Resurrection.