Sometimes people will say that saving faith is trust in a person. What does that mean, exactly? Here is John W. Robbins explaining when that expression makes sense, and when it does not:
“Long before the neo-orthodox theologians thought of saying that faith is an encounter with a divine person rather than assent to a proposition, preachers who ought to have known better taught that faith is trust in a person, not belief in a creed…‘trust in a person’ is a meaningless phrase unless it means assenting to certain propositions such as ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty…and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.’ Trust in Christ, unless it means belief of these propositions, is totally without value. ‘Christ’ means these propositions—and a lot more, to be sure, but at least these” (John W. Robbins, “What Is Faith?” in Against the World: The Trinity Review, 1978-1988, p. 121).
In other words, the phrase trust in a person or believe in a person is meaningless because the popular meaning commits a category error. You can no more believe in a person than you can smell a number or weigh the color blue.
However, you can believe propositions about a person—and that’s where the phrase can make sense. You can believe that person is trustworthy, or reliable, or has promised you everlasting life.
There’s a similar problem with the expression “personal relationship with Christ.” What is that supposed to mean? Here is Robbins again:
“As for having a ‘personal’ relationship with Christ, if the phrase means something more than assenting to true propositions about Jesus, what is that something more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect…” (Ibid.)
Robbins goes on to muse that having a personal relationship with Christ might mean something like shaking His hand, or eating with Him as the disciples did. But Robbins notes that millions of believers have not had a personal relationship with Christ in that sense, and yet, they have believed in Him and Jesus called them blessed. In other words, having a personal relationship with Jesus is not a salvific issue, as the disciples themselves show:
“The difference between Judas and the other disciples is not that they had a ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus and he did not, but that they believed—that is, assented to certain propositions about Jesus—while Judas did not believe those propositions. Belief of the truth, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. Those who maintain that there is something more than belief are, quite literally, beyond belief” (Ibid.).