Have you ever been told that if you believe in Jesus then you will be saved?
During the Reformation in the 15th century, an emphasis was placed on Martin Luther’s doctrine of sola fide (by faith alone). This taught that we are justified by faith in Christ (in contrast to Roman Catholic practices and doctrines at that time, such as indulgences).
Luther rightly discerned that, contrary to what was promulgated as truth during his time, our works do not justify us. But there is another reformation sweeping through the body of Christ in which our own faith is also being recognized as a recipe for failure. It is still accepted that justification is by faith alone, but it is acknowledged that it is not our own fickle faith in Christ that justifies us but Christ’s faith on behalf of humanity, the only reliable faith.
One of the most significant debates going on in biblical scholarship is whether certain verses should be translated “in Christ” or “of Christ” (both are valid renderings in the Greek, and the context does not always clearly show which would be superior; see link at bottom for more details). Here’s what some familiar passages of scripture would read when “of” is chosen over “in.”
“Even the righteousness of God which comes through the faith of Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction” (Romans 3:22).
“For the demonstration of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
“But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).
“Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through His faith” (Ephesians 3:11-12).
“Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).
The word “faith” is sometimes used as a synonym for “religion” or a certain set of beliefs. “What faith are you of?” The scriptures don’t use it in this sense when it says that there is “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5) or refers to “the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It’s not pointing to the “christian religion.” It means it isn’t our faith but Jesus’ faith, and this faith is found in Christ (1 Timothy 1:14, 2 Timothy 3:15).
This entails an enormous shift in the role of faith.
Some say you have to at least believe to be “saved.” It’s the one work they require of people in order to obtain salvation.
Of course, no one ever calls it a work because they also like to say that “we’re not saved by works.” But that’s precisely what it is! Anything you have to do is a work, and any salvation that requires you to do something in order to achieve it is salvation by works.
“No, brother, Jesus’ works save you, not your own.”
But it’s up to us to generate faith to make stuff happen? It’s up to us to believe within the time limit of this life?
It doesn’t matter that Jesus is the savior, the one who made salvation potentially possible. In the end it is up to you and whether you will do that one good work in order to actualize salvation.
Some will try to gloss over the attempt include just a teeny tiny bit of our own efforts of faith by saying how easy a thing it is. “All you gotta do is believe!” But law + grace = law. Add any of your own works to the finished work of the cross and you end up with the hamster wheel of religion. It doesn’t matter how few requirements of self-effort are given. Even if the only step to inclusion is conjuring up faith to believe, you have stepped out of the realm of grace.
What this way of thinking ultimately says is this that it’s up to us to save ourselves.
If it is our own faith that saves us, then our salvation boils down to our ability to make good decisions. But how is this any different from righteousness by the Law? Sure, it reduces the requirements we must fulfill to just one (namely believe in Jesus), but it is still based on our own effort to follow that one law in order to gain righteousness. There is no essential difference.
Let me return to the idea that it is the faith of Christ that saves us.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Our participation in Christ’s perfect faith is purely a gift; we have no part to play in trying to create or maintain it.
Taking credit for a work you did not author is called plagiarism. Hebrews 12:2 is clear, Jesus is both the author and the finisher of our faith! It does not begin with us, nor is it ours to complete. From beginning to end, faith is all God! Don’t be a spiritual plagiarist! Faith is not yours, but God’s. It is a work that you did not, and cannot author on your own. Rest in the fact that Christ is both the “once upon a time”, and the “happily ever after” of your faith! – Jeff Turner
And we [believers], too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men. – Clement of Rome
It’s not about somebody believing in Jesus, it’s about Jesus believing in humanity.
Your works don’t save you and neither does your faith. Jesus saved you.
It isn’t up to humanity to save itself. Jesus finished the job.
Many people fight against the Calvinistic notion of limited atonement in which Christ died only for a select group of individuals and not for the whole world. Yet many of these same people fail to realize that restricting the efficacy of Christ’s work to a select group is also a form of limited atonement; it is limited by human will power, our own ability to believe.
Let me clarify that believing matters. I have been saying that it doesn’t cause salvation. It does, however, recognize salvation and thereby allows us to experience it.
Faith is like an eye. It doesn’t create what it sees; it simply sees what is there. And in the same way, your faith didn’t create your salvation or your union with God. Your faith was you just opening up your eyes to see that you were already saved and already in union with God. Faith is the taking off of the wrapping paper to see the gift hidden inside of you. – Christian Erickson
I want to emphasize again that our faith doesn’t save us. It is simply an acknowledgement of reality, an aligning of ourselves to what is already true.
Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there. – A. W. Tozer
Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing…Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them – and who has promised me he already has. – Robert Capon
Remember, the Gospel is good news. Telling people that they have to do something in order for God to do something for them is bad news; it is the message that they are currently in a bad spot (and most people don’t need to be told that to know it). But telling people that God did it all for them is really good news (and most people have no clue about this).
As Andre Rabe says, “The gospel does not demand faith; it supplies it.”
Faith isn’t about trying to muster up your own perfect beliefs but trusting the sufficiency of Jesus’ beliefs. It’s not about what you have to believe about God; the Good News is what God believes about you
Jesus believed and still believes in you!
Don’t try to put your faith in God. Partake of Jesus’ faith in God. Dump your own faith and enjoy Jesus’ instead. Let faith effortlessly flow out from its author and perfecter within you.
Don’t rely on your own beliefs, convictions, or self-persuasion. Even if we fail in these areas, we have nothing to worry about. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
You can make your own efforts to believe, or you can trust that Jesus’ faith was enough.
Rest in his faith.
The Faith of Christ – C. Baxter Kruger