“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” -Romans 3:21-22a, ESV
It may sound strange, but one question about Christianity I have thought a lot about is:”Why faith?” Why is it that God chose faith as the means by which men and women are made right with Him? Why not some other means?
Well, let’s first consider our other options. I can think of two:
Option #1: Works, effort, religious observance, etc. This option would mean that we somehow make ourselves right with God by making up for our own sin and inadequacy. This is the path that most religions of the world take and is, I would argue, the default of the heart of man. We want to “redeem ourselves.” But what is the actual result of this attempt to be right with God? If one comes to think that he has been successful in his efforts, boasting is the result. This is why the Apostle Paul explains that the gospel of grace removes any ability to boast (Rom. 3:27; Eph. 2:9).
However if one has a more realistic view of himself, he quickly begins to realize that he can never “balance out” his good with his bad. What rubric would determine the moral weight of his thoughts, words, and actions anyway? How could he even begin to keep score? Attempting to do this would be maddening.
Option #2: Sin is no big deal. I suppose another option might be for God to treat our sin as if it is no big deal. This seems to be the default of the secular, agnostic modern man. The problem with this is also immediately obvious. For God to treat our sin as if it is no big deal would be to undermine His perfect goodness, justice, and holiness. When God chooses to give mercy and grace to human beings, this is not the same thing as treating our sin as if it is no big deal. Quite the opposite. God has provided a way to lavish mercy and grace upon us, but only at great cost to Himself – the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. In this way, He remains just and is able to simultaneously be our Justifier (Rom. 3:26). In the gospel, God does not set aside His goodness, justice, or holiness; He upholds them and at the same time makes a way for us to be right with Him.
But even if one were to reject the idea that God must maintain His goodness, justice, and holiness, the “no big deal” argument still can’t hold water. In order for the world to be a good and just place (which even the most anti-religious want!), all evil and injustice must be removed. The Bible tells us that this is precisely what God is up to in His plan of redemption, but if He were to treat sin as if it is no big deal, then He could never accomplish this mission. He would go on allowing this and that “minor” sin to continue, and thus never bring complete goodness or justice to the world.
Hopefully I’ve given you some good reasons to reject the other supposed options that are offered in our quest to be right with God. But we can’t stop there. It is also important for us to realize why faith is in fact the best means God could have chosen to make us right with Himself. This becomes clear when we realize what biblical faith actually is.
You see, in today’s culture, the words “faith” and “belief” have taken on a particularly religious flavor. For most people, these words have come to mean the acknowledgement or affirmation of a set of doctrines. And while biblical faith is not less than affirming true things about God and His world, it is way more!
Biblical faith is more akin to our English words for “trust” and “confidence.” The Bible knows nothing of a true faith which acknowledges doctrine without living in line with that doctrine – without loving God and loving people in response to that doctrine (Jas. 2:14-26). This points us to the superiority of faith over works and the “no big deal” mentality.
Think about it. The ideas or persons or things in which we place our trust guide every aspect of our lives. If you trust your parents or teachers, you listen to what they say. If you trust an airplane, you take your seat on the flight. If you trust a restaurant or grocery store, you eat their food. If you trust others, you develop deep relationships with them; but if you trust only yourself, you live a guarded and self-centered existence.
Trust is the linchpin of the will. It permeates every thought and precedes every word we say and action we perform. Every belief held, every decision made, every word spoken, and ever action taken is first filtered through our personal faith in someone or something. This is not simply an abstract religious concept. This is a what is means to be human. This is what it means to have a will and to live genuinely human lives: we evaluate who/what we trust, and we move forward in light of our belief. Because it is such a fundamental part of who we are, most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
And so, it is incredible to think about how God in His wisdom chose the kind of gospel He chose in order to create the kind of outcome that was needed. We needed our wills changed that we might trust Him; so He sent His Son to display His mercy and grace, which lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). At its core, to sin is to not trust God (see Gen. 3:1ff). So at its core, repentance must be about placing our trust back in God. And the gospel is the glorious reason why we should trust Him.
How can we move from questioning God’s goodness to being like God in His goodness? The gospel (Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection on our behalf) is meant to so radically reorient our will that we truly, finally realize life’s most important truth: we can trust Him.