Faith lies at the heart of the Christian message. But what is it? Does it have any content? How should we express it? I have found in my limited experience that discussions concerning faith can lead to very interesting places depending upon whom you are speaking. For Christians, faith is an essential component. A faithless Christian is an oxymoron. They are as ordinary as hot snow or a frozen flame. They are a walking contradiction. But in order to address this contradiction, we must first turn to our initial comment: What is faith? To this end let us turn to the Scriptures for a sufficient answer, for a Christian is first and foremost a student of the Bible, God’s Holy Word. The moment we abandon its pages for a sufficient answer, we abandon our sure foundation (cf. Ephesians 2:20).
Faith is the gift of God. Faith is not something that is produced by the hearts of unbelievers for Scripture refers to unbelievers as spiritually dead (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3). Faith cannot be born from the barren womb of our natural hearts. So first and foremost, we must recognize that faith is the gift of God. The ability and desire to believe or act in faith is gifted to every believer’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, typically by the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 10:9-14).
The Apostle Paul emphasizes this work of God in his letter to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 2:8 we learn about this one-sided work of God in salvation. Paul writes “for by grace you are saved through faith” and then he emphasizes “and this is not out of or from yourself, it is God’s gift.” Faith is not your gift to God, but God’s gift to you. To what end? We return to Paul’s language in verse 8 to see that God’s goal is your salvation.
Faith is God’s gift, but there is more to it. Faith is the means by which sinners cling to Christ. We are made new by faith. We are by faith justified, or pardoned from our sins, and accepted in God’s sight because of Jesus’ work on our behalf as our substitute. As already hinted at, faith has a definitive object in mind: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Contrary to many, faith is not merely a religious enterprise that is accomplished if we place our trust in some vague higher power. The sort of faith that truly deals with our sins in God’s sight must have Christ as its object. Faith in your family will not save you from the coming wrath of God. Faith in humanity cannot do it either. Faith in your education, or your pension, or your church, are equally useless. Even faith in your accomplishments are useless because every act we perform is mingled with sin and divided intentions. To use the language of Isaiah 64:6, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (ESV) Faith is the only means by which we pardoned.
Faith is the only means towards peace with God and one another. To simplify the matter, we can say that faith is synonymous with trust. Here we turn to the prophet Isaiah 26:3-4, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” Do you see the benefits of trusting in the LORD? God Himself promises peace. Not merely momentary peace but everlasting peace. By faith in Christ we are able to find peace: peace with God; peace with our fellow man.
But all of this comes to us through Christ alone. As the Protestant Reformers so often used to say, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Faith is God’s gift (grace alone) and the only means of salvation (faith alone) through the perfect work of Jesus Christ (Christ alone). Sin is a rebellious marathon away from the presence of our triune God. Faith is a departure from ourselves and a fleeing to Christ trusting in Him. For in Christ alone do we find acceptance, pardon, consecration, renewal, and an eternal hope this world could never produce.