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Why does faith save? [repost]

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


11 thoughts on “Why does faith save? [repost]

  1. Kebs

    Thanks Glen! I really love the "union with Christ" topics on your blog!

    "Beloved brother or sister in Christ, how I wish that you could get a firm grip of this blessed truth, so that you could enjoy it to the full in your own soul! It is not always easy to realize your union with Christ: to see how He takes your place, and you take His; to mark how He is bruised for your iniquities, and how the chastisement of your peace is laid upon Him; and that, in consequence, you take His place as accepted and beloved by the Father, that you are raised from the dead and honored even to share His glory in the highest heavens, for He has gone up there as the Representative of all His people, and you also are raised up together with Him and made to sit with Him in the heavenly places…What a glorious truth this is, that all believers are dead, raised, living, exalted, and glorified in Christ Jesus!" ~ CH Spurgeon

  2. theoldadam

    What a great God we have!

    We are saved by grace, through faith, and it is not a work (it's a gift of God) that we do (faith) it is the conduit through which God brings us His saving grace.

  3. John B

    How can I receive Christ and be united to him? What does this union look like? Is it my assent ("saying "Yes""), along with my enthrallment (being "swept off our feet")? It seems to me clear enough that this is what you've said (if I'm understanding rightly the idiom "swept off your feet"), but I repeat it and ask, because I've so often heard others describe union with Christ in very different terms.

  4. Brian Midmore

    Cranmer along with Bucer believed in an initial justification by faith followed by an ongoing and increasing justification by works. Salvation could be described as justification, sanctification and glorification. If we are saved, being saved and we will be saved might not the same apply to its 3 elements?. In Scripture we are sanctified and are being sanctified. Also we are being changed from glory to glory on earth but will be finally glorified at the End. I'm sorry that I always want to make things less clear cut, but thats why I'm not an evangelist.

  5. Howard

    "Salvation could be described as justification, sanctification and glorification".

    That is because the ones whom Christ Justifies, He also sanctifies and glorifies. It is all His work, not ours - how can a being 'dead' to the life of God bear anything good? Only the new humanity, given to us in Jesus from above can express and reflect the significance of what transpires as a result of being set free from sin and death and clothed in a righteousness not of ourselves. Only the new creature can be grieved at sin in the manner Paul declares in Romans 7 and be seeking a liberty of the kind Paul unpacks in Romans 8. It is all, from first to last, pure gift, evidenced in the promise to our alienated parents in the garden, made flesh in the manger, poured out into the world in His life, death and resurrection, and thereby made the life held out to all the world.

  6. Glen

    Hi John - sorry this is so late, just catching up with things after a busy fortnight...

    "Being swept off our feet" is describing the work of the Spirit as the gospel comes to me. "Saying yes" is faith. Union is not either of those things, it's the fact of my one-ness with Jesus, having been sealed by the Spirit into Jesus. Or something

  7. John B

    Hi Glen,

    I've heard others describe the bonds of the union as the Spirit sent by Jesus, and the faith of the believer. This sounds a lot like what you've said here.

    Is the union ultimately ineffable—as in, you'll know it if you're in it?

  8. Glen

    "I’ve heard others describe the bonds of the union as the Spirit sent by Jesus, and the faith of the believer. This sounds a lot like what you’ve said here."

    Just thinking on the fly here but I wonder whether a kind of Spirit + faith understanding doesn't quite get at the "*state* of the union" so to speak. There are lots of things that make a marriage but the union itself is not the sum total of 'leaving' + 'cleaving' or whatever. Does that make sense? When I want to speak of union with Christ, certainly faith and the Spirit have been vital both initially and ongoingly (Eph 1:14). But I want to say that the union itself simply *is* the one-ness I share with Jesus as a matter of fact. I just am a branch in the Vine. And Eph 1:14 tells me how I got there and much of John 15 tells me how to enjoy that union. But, bottom line, I want to hold onto the *fact* of the union. Is that a meaningful distinction? It seems like it to me.

    As for whether you know if you're in it... perhaps I'd turn again to Ephesians 1:14 and say "Here's how you get in and if you doubt you're in (which I take it is not an uncommon feeling), returning to the gospel word will reassure you."

    Again I'm not wanting to identify the union with the means of the union or the authentication of the union - but I think the union is authenticated by the Spirit through the word. I think.

  9. John B

    Thanks for your comments on this, Glen. They are very helpful and encouraging. I, too, think that doubt about the union is a common feeling. In John 15, Jesus repeatedly used the word "if". In v.10, he links obedience to his commandments to this union. Jesus regarded abiding in his love as a two-way commitment. In Galatians 5:24, Paul echoes this idea when he speaks of crucifying the passions and desires of the flesh. This leaves much room for doubt about the existence of the union.

    In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul distinguishes between "the natural person" and "the spiritual person". But then, in the next chapter, he describes his brothers in Corinth as "people of the flesh", and not spiritual, and also as "infants in Christ". Paul describes the condition of brothers who are neither natural or spiritual, but who walk by the flesh, instead of by the Spirit.

    In Romans 6, Paul says that believers have been united with Christ "in a death like his", and because of this union with Christ by faith, they are to put to death the "deeds of the body", and live (Romans 8). The death of the flesh is appropriated by faith, and isn't automatic because of our faith or assent. Jesus came "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Living moment by moment and step
    by step, it seems that doubts will persist until the fight is fought and the race is finished.

    O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalms 136:26)

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