Every act of faith has three components:
- The subject of faith: the person who does the believing
- The act of believing or trusting.
- The object of faith: the truth/thing/person which is believed or trusted.
Unless you are trusting yourself, the subject of faith always believes in an object of faith external to itself.
The quality of faith depends on the object. If the object of your faith is strong, your faith is strong. So if you put your faith in a rickety chair, even if you are sincere, your faith might be invalidated as soon as the chair breaks. But if you put your faith in a strong chair, even if you are hesitant, the faith is valid. The OBJECT of faith determines the ultimate quality of that faith.
For us Christians, the object of faith is JESUS. He shed his blood for us. He rose again for us. He is our only hope for time and eternity. Our connection with God is based entirely on his merits. Salvation is based on the meritorious work–the identity, life, death, and resurrection–of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That places every ounce of merit in Christ alone. That’s why I say over and over again that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone… echoing exactly the message of the Reformers.
Under this scenario, does the subject of faith (the person who believes) have any merit? Nope. No goodness. No obedience. No performance. Nothing to commend us to God whatsoever. In fact, a very undeserving person might believe in Jesus, and obtain salvation equally with a very deserving person. Our merits or demerits are out of the picture. The merits of the subject of faith are excluded (Eph 2:8: “NOT OF YOURSELVES”, a genitive of source, meaning “you are not the source of your salvation).
Does the act of faith have any merit? Or, to ask the question another way, is faith a work? Nope, though there is one exception. Faith IS a work when we place our trust in ourselves. When both the subject and the object of faith are the same person, then the act of faith becomes an act of one’s own effort, based on one’s own merit.
But, when we place our faith in someone other than ourselves, faith because an un-work. It is an implicit rejection of one’s own works in favor of the works of another.
Add to this the fact that even a child can believe and you see that the act of faith is not a work, it is not rewardable by God. Maybe I’ll talk more about this in a future post… not sure yet.
Consider the range of options open to God when he planned salvation. In how many ways can a person respond to Jesus? Obedience. Sacrifice. Surrendur. Love. A long list. All of them are good and important, and ultimately part of the Christian’s walk. But all of them are by their nature meritorious. This would have the uncomfortable consequence of actually putting God in our debt. God would OWE us something because we merited it.
But Scripture clearly knocks this option down:
“4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:” Romans 4:4-6, NKJV.
God is never in our debt. That’s why he chose the one possible human response (faith) in which the merit resides OUTSIDE the doer of it. In every other conceivable response to Jesus (obedience, love, etc.), the merit resides within the doer. But faith is different. Faith is in a class by itself. In faith, the merit lies in the object, and the object isn’t me, myself, or I. It’s Jesus. That’s why the only possible response to Jesus, the only one which accords him his rightful place as Savior, the only one which identifies him properly as Lord, and the only one which ensures that all glory go to him and him alone, is faith. Faith alone in Christ alone.
“16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” Romans 4:16, NKJV.
Faith is non-meritorious. Get it?