Why Faith, and Not Something Else, is the Means of Salvation

Ephesians 2:8 states that one is saved by grace through faith. Now, this is a relatively well known verse. And the concept of salvation by means of faith in Christ and His saving work alone is also relatively well known, at least among evangelicalism.

Maybe your familiar with this truth. I hope you are. But have you ever thought to yourself, “why faith? Why is it that faith saves as opposed to something else like good deeds, joy, sorrow, gladness, or a sense of surreal peace?” Obviously it was God who determined faith to be the means of man’s salvation; it’s not as if this was some external law or obligation that was imposed on Him. So, why faith? Why is God’s plan of saving people by His grace through faith. Why does He count those with faith as righteous (Rom 4:3; cf. Gen 15:6)?

In this post, I would like to propose two reasons as to why faith, as opposed to something else, is the means of salvation.

Man Can’t Save Himself

Our need for salvation is desperate. We are unbelievably sinful (literally, most people don’t believe how sinful we really are). We are terribly unrighteous and God is amazingly holy. Even if we were to compile all of what we might think are our good deeds and character qualities, compared to God’s perfection, we discover that they are spiritual garbage (Isa 64:6)–worthless. God hold us all accountable and our accounts before Him are really messed up. We need a right standing before God, but our feeble attempts of righteousness don’t cut–not even close. That’s a really bad problem for us.

So what’s the solution? Our friend John Murray sums it up quite nicely for us in his comments on Romans 3:21-31:

The righteousness contemplated is God’s righteousness. . . . contrasted not merely with human unrighteousness but with human righteousness [which is, as we noted above, simply garbage before God]. . . . Human righteousness is the essence of the [false] religion of this world in contradiction to the gospel of God [salvation through faith in Christ]. Only a God-righteousness can measure up to the desperateness of our need and make the gospel the power of God unto salvation. . . .

If it is a God-righteousness [that we need to be saved], it is also a faith-righteousness. . . . It is faith that places us in the proper relation to this righteousness because faith is receiving and resting–it is self-renouncing, it looks away from itself and finds its all in Christ.[1]

In other words, absolutely nothing we can offer counts for absolutely anything when it comes to solving our problem before God. Nothing we can muster makes us one more [spiritual] ounce right before God. His standard is perfection and we need a perfect “God-righteousness,” not a pathetic human righteousness (which is really no righteousness at all), to meet that standard. But what faith points towards is not man or anything man can offer. It by-passes a man-based-righteousness to receive the righteousness of God–the righteousness of Christ (see “Romans 5:12, 15-19 and 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Therefore, salvation, specifically justification (being counted right before God), can only be through faith. Anything else (i.e., praise, mourning, deep contemplation, praying a prayer, etc.) would only be further ways for man to claim a righteousness of his own. And even more so, none of the “make-believe” means of salvation would ever suffice, for no one could practice or exemplify them well enough to meet God’s perfect standard.

To this point one might respond in refutation, “if no one can practice or exemplify anything well enough to gain salvation, then what about faith? Couldn’t the same thing be said of faith, that no one has ‘good enough faith’ to be saved?” O, it is true that our faith is very frail and imperfect. But that is no problem for salvation through faith, because in the essence of faith is the plea, “I have nothing! I can’t be right before you, God, with regards to what I have to offer–even my weak faith.” This is all the more reason to depend on God and to trust Him in faith for salvation, because it is nothing in man that saves (Eph 2:8–“not of yourselves”). In other words, our faith is not in our faith. Our faith is in God’s grace and it is grace that saves us.

And so faith rejects the would-be attempt of a man-righteousness to receive the righteousness of God. As Romans 3:22 says, “The righteousness of God [the God-righteousness] through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all who believe.”

Salvation is About God

As noted above, faith cries out, “I have nothing to offer when it comes to salvation! This is all you God!” Consequently, faith properly directs all attention to God’s grace and away from man’s efforts. In other words, salvation through faith brings God glory.

Here the words of J. Gresham Machen:

Faith means not doing but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if he obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he obtains it by faith is only another way of saying that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.
. . .
The means [of salvation] was of God’s choosing, not ours; and it is not for us to say, “What doest Thou?” Yet even we, weak and ignorant though we are, can see, I think, why this particular means was chosen to unite us to Christ; why faith was chosen instead of love, for example, as the channel by which salvation could enter into our lives. Love is active; faith is passive; hence faith, not love, was chosen. If the Bible had said that we are saved by love, then even though our love was altogether the gift of the Spirit [just as God grants saving faith to believers], we might have thought that it was our own, and so we might have claimed salvation as our right. But as it is, not only were we saved by grace, but because of the peculiar means which God used to save us, we knew that we were saved by grace; it was of the very nature of faith to make us know that we were not saving ourselves. . . . We were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.[2]

In the words of Paul, salvation is nothing of ourselves so that no one who is saved can boast in their salvation (Eph 2:8-9). Faith makes the phrase “this is not of yourselves” (v.8) blatantly clear and as such directs all attention to God.

My ultimate point, as the subheading above indicates, has to do with the fact that salvation is all about God. Ephesians (especially chapter 1) makes this blatantly clear. Conversely what this means is that salvation is not ultimately about man. By directing attention away from the ones being saved and towards the one saving, faith as the means of salvation does not deter one bit from this ultimate purpose of salvation.

Notes

[1] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), xxiv.

[2] J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1925), 195-197.

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