By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
We need to remember that “faith” within the biblical context is “trust”. It is not a blind leap of belief based on irrationality or a lack of evidence. Within the Christian faith men are sinners all of which have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Because this is the state of man, he is unable to save himself since the requirements of God are perfection (Matthew 5:48) and no one is perfect.
Furthermore, sin is equated with “debt” (Matthew 6:12) in the Bible. When man sins he is indebted to God since he has broken his law. The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and hence all men deserve death because all men have sinned in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22). As people deserving of God’s righteous judgment, and as people who are fallen in Adam, the Bible says that we are “dead in transgression and sin” (Ephesians 2:1), and as people who are dead in sin and “enslaved to sin” (John 8:34), man in his own strength is “unable to please God” (Romans 8:8). Because man is “unable” to please God because of his spiritual deadness and enslavement to sin, salvation is only possible through the work of God.
For this reason I think “faith” is the instrument through which salvation is attained; that is, faith in Christ who died on behalf of sinners. Faith is an attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending upon ourselves. Scripture says, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace…”. If the promise came by something other than faith, then it would seem that the promise would have to come by some work that we perform. However, what work can sinful and enslaved persons perform that is adequate to pay the debt of our sin before a holy and righteous God?
Now I do not mean to undermine the role of our works. I just desire to see salvation by faith apart from works (Romans 4:5) in its proper context. The Bible does speak of justification by faith apart from works (Romans 4:5), but it also speaks of justification by works (James 2:18-26). There is no contradiction here since the concept of “justification” is being used in different senses. James is using justification to mean “demonstrate or show to be righteous” not “declared to be righteous”, which is the sense in which the apostle Paul is using it. For James, one shows themselves to be righteous by their works. And the context in James is that this is shown to other men. Other men see that we are righteous by our works, but before God, our works do not demonstrate our righteousness, rather, we are “declared righteous by God in Christ Jesus.”
All this to say, I believe that God chose the instrument of faith because it places things in its proper context, namely, that we need to rely completely and solely upon God, who demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to pay the debt that we could not pay hence causing us to see our complete helplessness. Praise be to God who saved by his grace through faith in Christ Jesus.