Just as the only basis for the justification of sinners before a holy God is the once-for-all death of Jesus, so the only means by which sinners may receive that justification is personal faith. This is an important doctrinal distinction.
We are not justified on the basis of faith, but on the basis of Christ’s death. His death — not our exercise of faith — is the act of merit. Faith is the God-appointed means by which the merits of Christ’s self-sacrifice may be received.
We might think of saving faith as an outstretched and empty hand receiving justification before God based on the merit of Christ’s substitutionary death for guilty sinners.
Just as the basis for justification is Christ’s death plus nothing, so the means of receiving justification is faith plus nothing. The Bible is quite clear in declaring that a believer’s right standing before God is actually a free gift to believers that came at great cost to His Son.
One does not come to God for justification intellectually. One does not come merely emotionally. While both intellect and emotion are involved, a sinner comes to God willfully, choosing to lift an open hand to receive a free gift. Romans 3:24 speaks of “being justified freely” by God’s grace “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Christians are those who choose to open their hands to receive a divinely provided free gift.
No matter how complicated, educated or sophisticated we may be — or how simple we may be — we must all come to God the same way.
Just as kings, rulers and mighty men are born the same way that simple and humble ones are, so must everyone come into God’s acceptance and forgiveness by the same means of saving faith. Romans 5:2 reminds us that it is through Christ that “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”
Romans 10:9–10 summarizes this means by which justification comes to sinners in the oft-quoted and deeply cherished declaration, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Saving faith as the means through which salvation comes to sinners is also summarized in the cherished promise voiced in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”