We say that we are “saved by faith” or “justified by faith.” What does that mean? Faith, after all, is something we do. We are the ones who believe, not God. But isn’t salvation entirely of God? Isn’t it entirely by God’s grace? Or is faith the one thing we do in order to merit God’s forgiveness? Certainly not. It’s important to be precise about this, to see what faith does and what it doesn’t do for us.
First, faith is not the ground of our salvation. The ground is what entitles us to eternal life. The sacrifice of Christ is the only ground of our salvation. His righteousness, not ours, entitles us to fellowship with God. Nothing we do is good enough to gain God’s forgiveness and fellowship. Not even our faith is worthy of him.
For the same reason, our faith is never the cause of our salvation. The cause is the power that brings us into relation with Christ. As we’ve seen, this power does not come from ourselves; it comes from the power of the Spirit, making us believe the Word and trust in Christ. We cannot do anything to save ourselves, to bring about our own salvation.
So, what is the role of faith? Theologians struggle for words here, but the word that Reformed theology has settled on is instrument. By this we mean to say that faith, even though imperfect and unworthy, is the means (“instrument” = “means”) by which we reach out and receive God’s grace. Some have compared it to an empty hand reaching out to be filled. As the hymn “Rock of Ages” puts it, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
Rather than tying yourself in knots trying to understand these technical expressions, it is better just to remember that faith is trust. Jesus has died for you; that is your only hope, the only means by which you can be saved. Your faith is simply trust in him. Your trust is not going to earn you anything, but it connects you with Christ, who has earned everything for you.
Taken from “Salvation Belongs to the Lord” by John Frame ISBN 978-1-59638-018-9 pages pp. 192-193. Used with permission from P&R Publishing Co., P.O. Box 817, Phillipsburg N.J. 08865 www.prpbooks.com (Click here to purchase book)
Dr. John M. Frame serves as J.D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.