To be sure, Scripture mentions other evangelical conditions of the covenant of grace. Repentance, love, obedience, and good works can be counted among the evangelical conditions of the covenant of grace as well. However, the evangelical conditions do not all function in precisely the same way with respect to laying hold of Christ and the benefits of redemption. For instance, according to Scripture and the Reformed confessions, it is faith—rather than repentance, love, obedience, or good works—that functions as the sole instrument of laying hold of Christ and the blessing of justification. In this post, we will briefly consider in more detail what the Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches about saving faith. In the next post, we’ll consider the place of repentance in the Christian life.
Even to speak of faith as a condition is to bring us into murky waters in which we must carefully wade. It is altogether possible to place an inappropriate value on faith—to view it as a work that we do in order to merit the covenant blessings. There are many well-meaning Christians who view the role of faith in the Christian life in the following way: “Jesus did His part for my redemption; now, I must do mine and believe in Him in order to finish what He has begun.” This line of thinking reveals a faulty belief that faith is a work that we do in order to contribute to our salvation.
Instead, the Scriptures teach us that faith is a saving grace—a gift from the God who sent His Son to die for us. When the Jews were disputing with Jesus in John 6, He told them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29, emphasis added). It is God’s work to create faith in the souls of His people. The Apostle Paul also explained the gracious nature of saving faith when he told the Philippians, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).
Although faith is a gracious gift of God, we must understand that it is still our responsibility to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. While Jesus kept the legal conditions of the covenant of grace for His people, He does not keep the evangelical conditions for them. Jesus does not believe for me. Jesus did trust in His Father throughout His earthly ministry (Isa. 8:18; Heb. 2:13) as the last Adam and true Israelite. However, Christ’s faith is not imputed to us. His righteousness (i.e., His law-keeping status) is imputed to those who believe in Him.
So how would you define saving faith if someone were to ask you? The members of the Westminster Assembly supplied us with a helpful definition when they wrote, “The principal 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” (WCF 14.2). In Westminster Shorter Catechism, they answered the question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” in the following way: “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (WSC 86). Faith, thus, embraces all that God says in His Word. As the Westminster Confession notes,
By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. (WCF 14.2)
Faith is not mere intellectual assent to the truth of God revealed in Scripture. It is a living and active instrument that enables us to do what is pleasing to God. As the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). A living faith will be evidenced by those other graces (e.g., repentance, obedience, and good works) that always accompany or flow from it. Saving faith does not lay aside the ethical teaching of Scripture. Rather, it embraces the ethical teaching of Scripture and responds appropriately to it by God’s grace. Nevertheless, saving faith only ever does so in relationship to Christ as the Savior of those who have not kept that ethical ideal and as the Lord who works renewing and sanctifying grace into their hearts and lives. It is for this reason that the members of the Westminster Assembly explain that “the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life” (WCF 14.2).