How am I, a trembling believer, to understand this momentous appointment? To answer this, consider the Gospels, the book of Hebrews, Romans, Galatians and many others. Consider especially Hebrews 11. That chapter answers the question, “How shall we then live?” It catalogs the lives of believers, God's saints. It shows that God is pleased with His work of faith in them (John 6:29; Heb. 11:6). The introduction to Hebrews 11 comes from chapter 10:38: “Now the just shall live by faith.” What we believe determines what we do. What we do evidences what we believe. Knowing this fact, I must conclude that my faith is small indeed! I join the cry of the desperate father, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24)!
When the Lord Jesus Christ takes account of His people on the last day, I believe He will not only own them as His sheep, set them on His right hand and confess their names before His Father and His angels (Matt. 10:32; 25:33; Luke. 12:8), but He will say of each of them what He said of those in Hebrews 11: “By faith…By faith...By faith...” He will show that they lived by faith and died in faith. He will show that they did what they did by the faith that is in Him, the faith which is by Him (Acts 3:16; Gal. 5:5). Believers live by faith. What we think, pray, say and do depends on what we believe (Matt. 12:34). By the grace of God, every believer believes that Christ is his all.
Few things are clearer in scripture than this: we are not justified before God by what we do. We are not right before God by anything we do, anything of us or from us. Paul said this three times in Galatians 2:16, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law.” This is something we know. Therefore, we know that on the last day, we will not be justified because of our good works. Nor will we be condemned because of our bad works. Jesus said “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Believers possess everlasting life now. They are not now, nor ever shall be condemned, because their sin was condemned in their Surety (Rom. 8:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21).
But Paul goes on in Galatians 2:16 to say how we are justified, how God made it so that when He examines us, He finds no sin and finds only perfect righteousness (Heb. 10:14-18; Jer. 50:20)! “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). We are justified “by the faith of Jesus Christ!” But what is “the faith of Jesus Christ?” Many think they are justified because they believe Jesus, that is, that God justified them by their act of faith. But “the faith of Jesus Christ” does not mean our act of faith. “The faith of Jesus Christ” identifies the faith that belongs to Christ (Rom. 3:22; Php. 3:9). The faith of Jesus Christ is what God considers as the basis on which He justifies sinners. How are we to understand this from scripture?
Many times scripture uses the phrase, “the faith” as a synonym for the truth of the Gospel which we believe: the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which He saved His people from their sins and glorified God in all of His perfections. By His substitutionary death and representative life, Christ justified His people before God (Rom. 5:9,19; 2 Cor. 5:21). In Philippians 1:27, for example, the truth we believe is called “the faith of the Gospel” (see also, Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5, etc.). Again, “the faith of Jesus Christ” belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And it is what justifies us.
Understand this: we are not justified before God because of an act of our faith. Nor are we justified through an act of our faith, as if our act of faith was the means by which God justified us. Such a view makes our act of faith trigger God’s response of justification. But even human courts do not work this way. When the judge passes down a decision in human courts, his decision is never conditioned on the accused believing it. Certainly the accused will only enjoy the truth of that sentence when he believes the decision of the court, but before the court, he is only guilty or not guilty based on the final ruling of the judge. But if by our act of faith we were justified before God, we would be justified by an action on our part, a mental attitude or disposition from us, something in our experience. But Gal. 2:16 three times denies this as a possibility: “not by the works of the law.” That is, not by our own personal obedience! If it were possible that our act of faith justified us in whole or in part, God would accept our faith as satisfaction to His justice and fulfillment of His law. But that cannot be. Some say, “God has relaxed the standard. We cannot keep the law; God only requires that we believe on Jesus.” But this is a perversion of justice and dishonoring to God’s law. How would such faith establish God’s holy law (Rom. 3:31)? If God required only our act of faith to justify us, why did God give the law at all? More importantly, why did He send His only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die, to bear the full load of all of the sins of all of His people, and make propitiation to God by His death, if our act of faith is an equivalent substitute for the demands of God’s law and justice (1 John 4:10; Rom. 3:24-25)?! If only the act of believing God or Christ were enough, why did God require Christ to die (Gal. 2:21)?! And since our faith is imperfect at best, how could God accept anything less than perfection (Prov. 17:15)? Our faith is also temporary. It will not last forever. It will become sight when Christ returns. It therefore cannot be everlasting righteousness. No! Faith as an action does not justify. Not in entirety, not as a means and not as a substitute for obedience and satisfaction to God’s holy law. Faith as an act on our part does not justify, but Christ, the One we believe justifies! His substitutionary death and representative life is all that God considers when He determines the matter of our justification. He is the only ground, the only basis of our justification! We are justified freely, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24; 4:25; 5:9; Heb. 10:14; John 15:25; Hosea 14:6)! Freely: without cause; undeservedly by anything that could be considered ours. By His grace. God, in sovereign grace, provided Christ to make satisfaction and work out righteousness for His people in His obedience unto death (Gen. 22:8; 2 Cor. 5:21). Christ’s obedience unto death is the only righteousness that justifies. Our faith has absolutely nothing to do with God’s righteous judgment: the decision of the court of heaven that in Christ and for His sake alone we stand justified before Him according to His ancient purpose of grace (John 8:11; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9)!
The difference between these two things is the difference between true and false religion, between the true Gospel and false gospels, between life and death. “The faith of Jesus Christ” can only mean all that Christ did in His work of redemption to glorify God and save His people from their sins. Christ's solitary work that obtained the eternal redemption of His people is the truth of the Gospel (Heb. 9:12; 1 Cor. 15-1-4). We believe Him. In so doing, we apprehend, understand and receive Christ as our all. In so doing, we enjoy the peace that He has made for us with God (Rom. 5:1; John 3:33; Rom. 5:1; Heb. 9:14).
The faith of the Gospel, the faith of Jesus Christ, is this: by Himself, Jesus Christ obtained eternal redemption for His people (Heb. 9:12). By Himself He purged their sins (Heb. 1:3). By His one offering of Himself to God, He sanctified and perfected forever all those God gave to Him (Heb. 10:10,14; 13:12; Jude 1:1). He made full remission of their sins (Heb. 10:15-18). He justified them by His blood (Rom. 5:9, 19; 2 Cor. 5:21). When He had fully accomplished all God gave Him to do, when He had purged our sins, when He obtained our eternal redemption, when He sanctified and perfected all those God gave Him to save, then, and only then, did He sit down on the right hand of the Majesty on high! His enthronement in glory as our Mediator who is God and man, is proof of our justification (1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 4:25). We are justified by the faithfulness of Christ. He is our righteousness (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:16). He is therefore our justification before God! God-given faith enables every believer to enter into the truth of what Christ did. But their faith does not contribute to that work.
Circling back to 2 Cor. 5:10, as the Lord cataloged the faith of His elect in Hebrews 11, He will also catalog the faith of His elect on the Day of Judgment. He will show that our works were done because we believed Christ, and that that faith by which we believed Him was His work of grace (Eph. 2:8-9). He will show that we looked to Christ as everything in our salvation. He will therefore show that we are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10). If we are His workmanship, we must be His seed (James 1:18). If we are His seed, He must have chosen us as His sons (Eph. 1:4-5). If we believe Christ, it is because we were ordained to eternal life by God the Father and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (Acts 13:48; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev. 5:9). Therefore, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth! Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33-34)! If we believe Christ, we have abandoned all hope of being justified by anything that may be called ours, and we come to God only in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by what God thinks of Him. In other words, we are justified before God only “by the faith of Jesus Christ.”
Now, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ” (Gal. 2:16). Faith is God-given sight that enables us to see Christ as all of our salvation (Luke 2:30). Faith is the God-given persuasion that Christ is all and has done all to save me from my sins and present me to God in His perfect righteousness (Rom. 4:21; Heb. 11:11; 2 Tim. 1:12). And faith is embracing Christ as my all. It is trusting Him, committing myself and my eternal destiny to Him (Heb. 11:13; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:12). We believe that Christ is our justification. We believe that we are justified because of what God thinks of our Savior and His work for us, according to the truth of the Gospel. We see that He is our justification. We are persuaded of it. We trust Him. This is God’s work (Heb. 11:13; John 6:29; 1 Pet. 1:22; Rom. 6:17; 16:25-26). It is the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:1). Faith is how we receive in our conscience the peace of our justification before God by the truth declared in the Gospel of what Christ has accomplished and obtained in the court of heaven. Believing Him, we rejoice and rest in God (Rom. 5:11; 15:13; Isa. 26:3).