Tuesday, January 16

Thinking About Faith Alone and Christ Alone, Part 5

I started this series in November, and didn't get it finished before the busy Christmas season. I'm wrapping the series up with this one last post. The point of these posts, if you recall, is to consider the relationship between sole fide and solus Christus. The first post examined what it means that Christ's work is the grounds for our salvation, while faith is the means by which we receive salvation. The second post looked at the unique suitability of faith as the instrument through which the benefits of Christ's work are received. Then the third and fourth posts considered statements I'd heard or read concerning faith's role in the process of salvation that incorrectly (and probably unknowingly or unthinkingly) moved faith out of the realm of means only and over into the realm of grounds for salvation. In this final post, I want to look at the remaining two problematic statements about faith's role in salvation that I've collected.

Up first? Try this one:
I obtained my salvation on the basis of my faith.
Yes, I really did read this one recently. If you see that sentence as a clear example of a statement that makes faith into work, I think you are right.

First of all, there's that word obtain, which is defined as "to succeed in gaining possession of as the result of planning or endeavor; acquire." The word obtain has work (or endeavor) written all over it. Remember that the reason faith alone is the only suitable match, means-wise, for in Christ alone is that saving faith is faith that rests or trusts in Christ's work alone. Saving faith has right within it an understanding that I can't obtain my salvation. Saving faith is receptive; it receives what someone else has obtained.

The one who obtained my salvation is not me by my faith, but Christ by his work.
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here . . . he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9: 11, 12 NASV)
Christ is the one who obtained salvation for the believer, and it was a once-for-all-time, all-wrapped-up, no-loose-strings, sat-down-when-he-was-done work. It is finished. If you think of yourself as obtaining your salvation, you are taking something away--and not something insignificant--from the completeness of what was done for you in Christ.

The other problem word in this statement is the word basis. Basis is a word that refers to grounds, or as my dictionary says, "a foundation upon which something rests." Thinking of faith as the basis for salvation moves our faith over into realm of grounds for our salvation, and that's a role it can't play if our salvation is on the grounds of Christ's work alone. Christ's work is sufficient, and there is and can be no other and no additional basis for salvation.

Let's move on to the final inaccurate statement about faith's role in salvation. This problem with this statement is similar, but more subtle, than the problem with the previous statement.
The reason I am saved is because I believed.
Just as basis is a word that refers to the grounds for something, so too with reason and because. The reason anyone is saved is because the benefits of Christ's death are applied to them.

Faith isn't important for it's own sake, or because of what faith is in itself. It isn't the reason or the basis or the because or the why or the crux, or even the condition--if by that you mean a requirement that we must meet--of our salvation. All those words belong to Christ's work alone. His active and passive obedience--that he lived righteously and died for us--is the reason, the basis, the because, the why, the crux, the requirement met. Faith is important, but it's important because it has an object, and that object is the crucial thing.

What words would rightly describe faith's role in our salvation? Theologians call it the instrumental means of salvation or the vehicle through which salvation is received. Salvation is by faith, or through faith, but even then, it's not merely by faith or through faith. It's by faith or through faith in Christ. Faith is the way salvation is received because faith is an expression of a relationship to the Christ whose work provides the meritorious grounds for salvation to those who are united with him.

Does this seem like a whole lot of nitpicky hairsplitting over picayune details? It might be nitpicky hairsplitting, but the details aren't unimportant. I might even grant that much of the time, these sorts of statements are simply sloppy language; but sloppy language, repeated often enough becomes sloppy thinking, and sloppy thinking, over time, becomes the way we think things really are. If we repeat those sorts of phrases often enough, we really will start to see our faith as the basis for our salvation. We will begin to think of our faith's role in our own salvation as joining with Christ's work in meriting it for us, even though we would never be so bold as to use the word merit to describe it. I can't speak for you, but I've have a hard time coming up with a list of one item more important than preserving, in our language and our thought, the perfection of Christ's sacrifice and the sufficiency of his work in providing the merit by which we are saved.