What does authentic, saving faith in Christ look like? The Protestant Reformers held that saving faith includes three key elements: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia consists in knowing the basic facts concerning the person and work of Jesus. Assensus is the belief that these facts are true. Fiducia means personally entrusting ourselves to Christ to save us.
In keeping with passages such as James 2:14–26, theologians note that while saving faith is an exercise of the heart, mind, and will, it will result in visible effects. In fact, saving faith bears fruit in good works, particularly in the good work of confessing Jesus before others. In fact, Jesus Himself warns, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). If we truly believe in Christ, we will publicly associate ourselves with Him, professing our faith in Him before the watching world.
With that in mind, we turn to John 12:42–43. John has been describing Jesus’ teaching in Jerusalem during the last week of His earthly ministry, and it might be easy from what John has said so far to believe that the only thing Jesus received from the religious authorities was full-scale rejection. But this was not the case. John says that “many even of the authorities believed in” Jesus (v. 42). At least some of the leading Jews embraced Jesus in some sense.
We add the qualifier “in some sense,” for it is not clear how many of them exercised true saving faith in Christ. John adds that many of the authorities who “believed” did not confess their trust in Jesus before others because they were afraid of the Pharisees and did not want to be “put out of the synagogue” (v. 42). John is not necessarily saying that all of the authorities he describes fell into the category of those who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (v. 43). It could well be that some of these authorities later made a public declaration of faith, for we know that religious leaders such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea finally publicly identified themselves with Jesus by taking His body for burial (19:38–42). Still, John’s comment is an implicit warning and a call to commitment. It is not enough merely to say that we believe in Jesus; those who have actually received and rested on Christ alone for salvation will confess their faith before others.