Justifying Faith: Not Doing, But Receiving

At its core, justifying faith is not defined by doing, working, performing, or earning.

“The reception of that gift is faith: faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if be obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he obtains it by faith is only another way of saying that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.”

 

At its core, justifying faith is not defined by doing, working, performing, or earning.  Paul so very clearly says that a sinner is justified by faith apart from works(Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16).  Salvation from sin, misery, and death is a divine gift of sovereign grace, not the reward for work done (Rom. 4:1-5).  A sinner is justified by receiving a gift – Christ and all his benefits.  We are justified by faith alone (apart from works) in Christ alone (in “no one” or “nothing else” at all).  J. G. Machen explains this well:

“That is the center of the Christian religion – the absolutely undeserved and sovereign grace of God, saving sinful men by the gift of Christ upon the cross. Condemnation comes by merit; salvation comes only by grace: condemnation is earned by man; salvation is given by God. The fact of the grace of God runs through the New Testament like a golden thread; indeed for it the New Testament exists. It is found in the words which Jesus spoke in the days of His flesh, as in the parables of the servant coming in from the field and of the laborers in the vineyard; it is found more fully set forth after the redeeming work was done, after the Lord had uttered his triumphant “It is finished” upon the cross. Everywhere the basis of the New Testament is the same — the mysterious, incalculable, wondrous, grace of God, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“The reception of that gift is faith: faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if be obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he obtains it by faith is only another way of saying that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.”

J. G. Machen, What Is Faith?, p. 194-195.

Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.