One must know about the good news of Jesus Christ in order to trust in him. As Paul asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Rom 10:14). In order for faith to be informed or have knowledge, it must have two things: content and an object. The content of assenting faith is the gospel and the object of that faith is Jesus Christ. Paul states that salvation comes through “belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:18), so we must know the truth in order for it to set us free. The Bible sometimes refers to this saving body of truth as “the faith” (e.g., Gal 1:23, Eph 4:5 and Jude 3). The fact that knowledge is an essential component of faith brings up an important question: how much knowledge is required for a biblical faith? In other words, what is the minimum amount of knowledge necessary for a person to exercise saving faith?

This question takes on particular importance in matters such as the evangelization of children and the fate of unreached people groups. A quick answer to the above question would be that, according to the apostle Paul, one must at least know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to believe on him and what he has done (cf., 1 Cor 15:1–4). But the gospel account is based on additional truths that seem to be equally essential for an informed faith. Surely one also needs an adequate understanding of why Jesus came and who he is. The sacrificial death of Christ makes sense only in the context of understanding the sinful state of humanity and the uniqueness of his person.

The book of Acts provides insights to this question, for it recounts a number of occasions in which the gospel is proclaimed to those who are hearing it for the very first time (e.g., Acts 8:26–37; 10:34–44; 13:16–41; 14:14–17; 17:22–31). A survey of the messages preached reveals three recurring themes. First, the apostles explain why the gospel is necessary: God exists, he is holy, and we are sinful (Acts 14:14–17). Second, they proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and unique Son of God who came to address the guilt of our sin (Acts 8:26–37). And third, the apostles present the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the means by which he obtained our salvation (Acts 17:22–31). The hearers are then called upon to respond to the message with repentance and faith.

The apostolic model indicates that the minimal information necessary for a saving faith is twofold: knowledge of the gospel and sufficient prerequisite information to understand its significance.

(From Dr Keathley’s “Salvation: the Work of God,” in A Theology for the Church, pp. 735-36)

Date of original post: 2010-05-18