Ephesians 2:8-9 says; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is evident from this well known verse that faith is important. However, how should we understand faith? What is faith? Is faith in any way an act of merit? These are important questions. I have compiled some historic as well as contemporary answers to these questions. Hopefully, this will assist us in thinking well about faith.
Article 22 of The Belgic Confession of Faith (1618-19) states:
Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits and so many holy works which He hath done for us and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.
The Heidelberg Catechism states the following on faith:
Q. 61: Why sayest thou that thou art righteous by faith only?
A. Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.
These confessions highlight well what Ephesians 2:8 states, that Salvation is through faith alone. Now the question to ask is; what does saving faith look like?
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), chapter 14 states:
But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
The Second London Baptist Confession (1689), chapter 14 states:
But the principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
I think these old confessions say it well; “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone”. John Stott in his book, The Cross of Christ, summed it up well when he said: “the faith that justifies is emphatically not another work. No, to say ‘justification by faith’ is merely another way of saying ‘justification by Christ.’ Faith has absolutely no value in itself; its value lies solely in its object.” I will end with a quote from Anthony Lane; “Justification is by faith alone not because of what faith merits or achieves but because of what it receives.”