I believe that we are saved by faith. I think the Bible makes that abundantly clear. What isn’t always clear to us modern readers is what the Bible means by the “faith.”
What it doesn’t mean is intellectual assent. Static, lifeless belief. James makes that clear when he writes, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).
The word translated faith includes the concept of faithfulness and loyalty. The late Jay Guin wrote on his blog,
Well, we need to understand the meaning of “faith.” We take “faith” to mean that we accept the truth of what is said. We “believe” the person speaking. But the thought is deeper.
Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance.
Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”
(Jay Guin, https://oneinjesus.info/2011/03/real-restoration-abrahams-covenant-with-god-part-1/)
In his book, Paul: A Biography, N.T. Wright makes a similar point:
One obvious Greek term for “loyalty” is one of Paul’s favorite words, pistis, regularly translated “faith,” but often carrying the overtones of “faithfulness,” “reliability,” and, yes, “loyalty.” The word pistis could mean “faith” in the sense of “belief”—what was believed as well as the fact of believing, or indeed the act of believing, which already seems quite enough meaning for one small word. But pistis could also point to the personal commitment that accompanies any genuine belief, in this case that Jesus was now “Lord,” the world’s rightful sovereign. Hence the term means “loyalty” or “allegiance.” This was what Caesar demanded from his subjects. (Paul: A Biography, N.T. Wright, Kindle location 1360)
We aren’t saved by works. We can’t do the right things in order to be justified before God. Like Abraham, we are justified by our faith.
And like Abraham, we are justified by faithfully living our lives in accordance with our belief in God, in accordance with the commitment to loyalty that we have made. We are saved by faithfulness, loyalty to God. Though the word may scare us, we are saved by obedience.
The belief we have in God leads us to do good works … or we haven’t really believed in God. The belief we have in God leads us to action … or we haven’t really believed in God.
That’s why the great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, is full of action verbs. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice. By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham obeyed when called and went. By faith Abraham offered Isaac. By faith … well, you get the idea.
As Wright says in the passage above, genuine belief is accompanied by personal commitment. If you believe, you do. You act. You obey.
If you don’t act on your belief, you haven’t truly believed. We are saved, in that way, by faithfulness.