Thursday, November 30

Thinking About Faith Alone and Christ Alone, Part 3

The first post in this series considered the relationship between faith and Christ's work: what it means that Christ's work is the grounds for our salvation, and that faith is the means by which we receive salvation. The second post looked at why, if salvation is in Christ alone, there is no other instrument but faith that would fit with it as a receptor for it. In this post I want to begin the discussion of incorrect ways of thinking about faith's role in the process of salvation--ideas about faith that move it out of the realm of means only, and right over into the realm of grounds for salvation.

What I've done is collect a few statements about faith, belief, and salvation that I've seen in the recent past--mostly from discussion boards--that, taken at face value, move faith over into the realm of grounds of salvation. I'll be looking at the statements one or two at a time in order to keep the posts of bloggish length.

I understand, as well, that these remarks may be made casually, without the expectation that they would be examined for their technicalities. However, if this is the way someone thinks about salvation, then they are missing out a little by not understanding the completeness--the perfection--of what was accomplished for them by Christ. It can't hurt, then, to look at the statements critically if it helps us think a little more clearly about the role of faith in salvation.

First up, let's look at this one, which is probably the least subtle way of making faith the grounds for our salvation of all the quotes I've collected.
God knew that no one could keep the commandments, so he required faith instead.
In this statement, whatever it is that keeping the commandments is, faith is a simpler version of the same thing. Whatever it is that keeping the law would do (if we could do it), faith does, too. Since keeping the commandments in order to obtain eternal life is meriting eternal life, this statement puts faith in the cubbyhole labeled merit right along with obedience to the law. Believing might be an easier requirement than perfect obedience for us to fulfill, but it's still a requirement that we must fulfill in order to obtain eternal life.

Thought of in this way, faith becomes something that has value in itself, because it meets a condition in order to obtain something--eternal life--from God. The condition of faith replaces the condition of obedience to the law, as a sort of "dumbed down" form of obedience; and faith becomes grounds for salvation in the same way that, under the law system, obedience to the law is the grounds of salvation. When you hear someone say that a certain way of thinking about faith makes faith a work, this may be the sort of thinking they are referring to.

The more correct statement to make, by the way, would be
God knew that no one could keep the law, so he sent Christ to keep the law and bear the penalty of disobedience to the law.
What directly corresponds to the works of the law is not faith, but the work of Christ. It is indeed true that no one can keep the law, but it took something a whole lot bigger than dumbing down the requirement of perfect obedience to solve that problem. In fact, the requirement that people keep the law, being a perfectly just requirement, could not be made easier, so the only solution was Christ himself fulfilling the law on our behalf. The benefits of Christ meeting those requirements come to us through the means of faith, so faith is indeed necessary for salvation, but it is not a requirement we meet in order to obtain it. All the requirements for our salvation were met in Christ alone.