Faith is the hand by which the righteousness of Christ is received. Faith itself has no merit; in fact, by its nature it is self-emptying. It involves our complete renunciation of any confidence in our own righteousness and a relying entirely on the perfect righteousness and death of Jesus Christ.
This twofold aspect of faith—renunciation and reliance—is vividly demonstrated in the evangelism training offered by Evangelism Explosion. The person presenting the gospel to an unbeliever is instructed to denote the chair on which he or she is sitting as representing reliance on one’s own goodness for salvation. An adjacent, empty chair is designated to represent reliance on Jesus Christ. The presenter of the gospel then moves from the chair representing one’s goodness to the chair representing faith in Jesus Christ while pointing out that it is impossible to sit on both chairs at once. The point is then made that, in order to trust in Christ for one’s salvation, one must completely abandon any trust in one’s own goodness or merit. Faith in Christ and a reliance on ourselves, even to the smallest degree, are mutually exclusive.
The word faith is a noun and has no verbal form in English. Instead the word believe is used, as in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” What does it mean to believe in Jesus, that is, what is it we are to believe? We are to believe that as the Son of God, clothed in our humanity, He lived a perfect life and then died on the cross for our sins. This message is called the gospel, that is, the good news about Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself is always to be the object of our faith. We sometimes say we are saved by faith alone, meaning apart from any works. That expression, however, can be somewhat misleading, as though faith itself has some virtue that God respects. It is more accurate to say we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Faith, again, is merely the hand that receives the gift of God, and God through His Spirit even opens our hand to receive the gift.
This doctrine of trusting in Jesus Christ alone for one’s salvation is a basic truth of the gospel. Without acceptance of it there is no salvation. All believers by definition accept that fact. But it is important to realize that we were not only saved by faith at a particular point in time, but we are to live by faith in Christ every day of our lives. This means that, in the Evangelism Explosion illustration with the two chairs, I must continue to renounce any confidence in my own goodness and place my confidence solely in Christ every day of my life, not only for my eternal salvation, but for my daily acceptance before a holy God.
The apostle Paul wrote, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The context of Galatians 2:20 is justification—being declared righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ. So when Paul wrote that he lived by faith in the Son of God, he was not in that passage referring to a dependence on Christ for spiritual strength (as is the case in Philippians 4:13), but to a dependence on Him for his righteous standing before God on a day-to-day basis.