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Why does faith save?

Why is it that faith saves?  What's so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here's how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in 'justification by faith alone.'  Therefore it's not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the 'justification' switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He'll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That's much more reformed...

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who've been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that 'faith' keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who's Boss?  In which case why give us Christ's righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever - that'd keep us humble right?  And what's the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central - and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) - then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying "Yes."   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there's nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there's nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it's not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith does not mean "being zapped because of mental assent."  But we'll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.


7 thoughts on “Why does faith save?

  1. Chris E

    "Justification by faith does not mean “being zapped because of mental assent.” But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre."

    Why not just use the traditional categories of assent, belief and trust and the distinction between faith and the object of faith ?

  2. Chris Oldfield

    Love this - here's a gem of a quote from packer in evangelism & sovereignty of god that I find transforrmative:
    "what the new testament calls for is faith in (en), or into (eis), or upon (epi) Christ himself. The object of saving faith is not therefore, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the [living] lord Jesus, who made atonement"


  3. Glen

    Hi Chris E,

    Wasn't trying to be novel here. Faith union has a pretty 'traditional' pedigree wouldn't you say? Assent, belief and trust can be useful in describing such faith.

    Can you answer the opening question without recourse to a discussion of faith union?

    Hi Chris O,

    Nice quote!

  4. Bobby Grow


    Right on. Calvin sees it this way, given his unio mystica (mystical union), but more importantly Paul sees it this way with His "in Christ theology" (or His union with Christ theology). And of course TF Torrance see it this way which his recent books (Incarnation and Atonement) make clear (i.e. his thinking on "ontological atonement" vs. the strictly "forensic atonement" that Federal theology necessitates).

    Salvation is from the inside out (cf. II Cor. 3); not the outside in (think of the Thomistic/Calvinistic understanding of habitus and habituating in grace . . . fake it till you make it kind of stuff).

    Btw, Frost would be proud of you with your points on thinking this through the marriage framework (so would Sibbes according to Frost . . . and while we're at it so would Luther given His thinking on the marriage language of Paul esp.).

    Everything you've said here flies in the face of Classic Calvinism. Who's being inflammatory here ;-) .

  5. Bror Erickson

    Always knew there was a reason I dislike Calvin.
    Long live Luther! Extra Nos!
    Christ died on a cross for my salvation distant in time and space from my heart. But there salvation was secured for me. Justification and therefore all of what is called salvation happens from the outside in. Faith comes from hearing.
    Faith saves because it is a gift of God that grabs hold of the gospel, grabs hold of Christ.

  6. Glen

    Hey Bror and Bobby,

    I'm totally with you on extra nos etc. The very essence of faith is looking outside you. How would you understand these verses:

    1 John 3:14 "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers."

    2 Corinthians 13:5 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?"

    I have some thoughts, but love to hear what you think.

  7. John B

    Hi Bror,

    I've got to give Calvin his due on union with Christ. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. And a stopped clock is right twice a day!

    The Lutheran alternative might be to just follow its Finnish School and say that Luther's doctrine of the union has been there in hiding all along!

    Remember Melancthon!

    (Colossians 1:27) To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

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