We cannot save ourselves! If we could be good enough to be good enough, there would be no need for a savior. But we can’t—we’ve all sinned and “fallen short” (Romans 3:23). We need someone to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.
Having said that, it’s just as wrong to run to the other extreme (as some have) and conclude that the God does everything and we have no responsibility in our relationship with Him. He saves no one against their will and no one without their cooperation. Choosing to cooperate with God in the work He wants to do in our lives is what the Bible calls faith. Faith not only complements grace but as we’ll see, it is the outworking of God’s grace in our lives.
1. Faith is the instrument through which grace does it work. Ephesians 2:8-10 is instructive: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Paul makes it clear that it is the grace of God by which we are saved. He makes it equally clear that this grace works through faith. His point is not that grace and faith work together (though they obviously do), but that grace works through faith. Grace does the work, faith is the instrument through which the work is done (1 Corinthians 15:10). Cooperation is called for on our part, but instead of understanding faith as something we do by ourselves and then is somehow added to grace, we should view it as a cooperative, grace-based behavior in the sense that we are responding to God’s overtures toward us (Romans 2:4) and in us (Philippians 2:12-13). So the “it” of v. 8 (either faith or more likely the entire process of salvation), is the gift of God. We have no reason to boast in regard to either our faith or our good standing with God. Either way, we aren’t self-made, we are His workmanship.
2. Faith is normally used in the Scriptures to embrace both belief and behavior.
Faith is one of those words that’s used several ways in the Bible. Sometimes it’s used in a one-dimensional way simply meaning to accept something as true, intellectual acknowledgement, mental assent, etc. Texts such as James 2:19; Mark 16:12-13, and Matthew 24:23 are all examples of this minimalist usage.
But this is not the normative use of the word. It is used much more often to mean believing in someone (i.e., God or Jesus), rather than simply believing someone. When used this way, faith is not fragmented at all, but is a rich, full word that touches all areas of a life pleasing to God. You can see this in Hebrews 11 where faith includes:
- being sure of what you hope for (v. 1),
- being certain in regard to what you cannot see (v. 1),
- belief in God (v. 6),
- trust in His character (v. 6).
In Hebrews 11 faith involves:
- making a sacrifice (v. 4)
- building an ark (v. 7)
- leaving a home (v. 8)
- living like a stranger (v. 9)
- looking forward to heaven (v. 10).
It should be clear from this that faith involves not only belief but the behavior that results from such conviction. This being so, it should come as no surprise that faith is often used as an umbrella term to sum up man’s entire response to God in the same way that the word “love” is (Mathew 22:36-40). Therefore, the Scripture speaks in numerous places of us being saved by faith (John 3:16, 20:30-31; Acts 16:31; Romans 1:16-17).
In such instances, we shouldn’t seek to minimize these passages because they don’t include the meaningful specifics involved in salvation (i.e., repentance or baptism). Instead, we should take these texts for what they are—statements focused on our overall response to God. It would make no more sense to substitute “baptism” for “faith” in any of the above passages than it would to substitute “faith” for “baptism” in passages like Acts 8:36, Romans 6:3ff, or 1 Peter 3:20ff). We must allow the writers of Scripture to speak as we do! We encourage husbands and wives to “love” each other and be “faithful” to each other. At other times, we might call for more specific behaviors of love and faithfulness (i.e., complementing, communicating, forgiving, etc.) In either case we recognize that speaking in general terms doesn’t exclude specifics any more than speaking in specific terms excludes generalities. This is the same way the Scriptures speak in reference to salvation!