The Means of Salvation

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).

- Romans 3:28

Protestantism, in keeping with its commitment to the Bible as the final authority in all matters of faith and life, emphasizes that justification is by faith alone. Only by our faith are we justified.

It would be a mistake, however, to view this faith as in itself some kind of meritorious work that earns our justification. Faith is not some good thing that makes up for all of the evil that we have done in our lives. This is important because some Christians mistakenly assume that we are justified as a reward for the goodness of our faith or that we, even after the Fall, possess some small bit of good will that enables us to exercise faith on our own.

The Bible tells us that this is not the case. Our faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). We are responsible to exercise it, but the only reason we have it at all is because of God’s sovereign work of regeneration. Even our faith is something that we do not deserve.

Justification is not a reward for the “goodness” of our faith. Rather, faith is the instrumental cause of our justification. Faith is the sole instrument by which we lay hold of the righteousness of Christ. We can think of it like a conduit. When we truly believe in Jesus, faith is the means by which our sin is transferred to Jesus and through which His righteousness is imputed to us.

During the Reformation, the argument was not over whether faith was necessary for justification. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics agreed, and still do agree, that faith is required for justification. The debate centered around the instrumental cause of justification: Is faith alone the instrument of justification or are works included as well?

Today’s passage indicates that the instrumental cause of justification is faith alone. Any good that we do plays no part. Roman Catholics deny this by teaching that at justification, righteousness is infused into our nature and that by our good works we maintain or lose this righteousness. But if we are to be true to Scripture, we must maintain that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith alone and that our right standing before God is the result of His declaration, not as a result from any righteousness we possess in ourselves.

Coram Deo

In a few days, we will discuss the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants regarding justification in more detail. Today we will note that, according to Scripture, justification does not infuse a righteousness that we must maintain in our nature. Rather, it legally declares us righteous in God’s sight. Once granted, this declaration can never be rescinded. Let gratitude for this declaration motivate you to die daily to sin and live faithfully before the face of God.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 15:1–6
Isa. 28:16
John 1:12–13
Rom. 6:1–2

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343