It is an objective fact that God has forgiven your sins and counts sinners to be righteous. So why does He do it?
Many Christians say that God forgives them because of their faith. Their faith, they believe, is what brings God to forgive them. So they will say things like, “God forgives me because of my prayer for forgiveness,” or “God forgives me because of my sincere repentance,” or “God forgives me because of me giving Him my heart.” All of these are ways of saying the same thing: God forgives you because of you.
Those who phrase that they are justified before God, forgiven of all their sins, because of faith, are effectively saying that they contribute toward their own salvation. This is contrary to St. Paul’s words in Romans 7:18:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…”
“But,” they will say, “you have to have faith to be saved.” Yes, but to believe that you are saved because of your faith is dreadfully wrong.
You are saved through faith. This is as different as being outside is from being inside, and the difference is Jesus. Faith is how we receive Jesus and all the benefits He earned for us (Rom 1:16). Faith is like the beggar’s hand that receives what Jesus has to give. Faith is God’s creation and not in any way our own work since we are by nature dead in sin and cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him (Eph. 2:1-9; 1 Cor 2:14). Jesus is the difference between being justified through faith and being justified because of faith.
When we say that we are justified through faith, all glory goes to Jesus, not to us. Again, we are dead in sin and He enlivens us to trust in Him. And why does anyone trust in Him? He is God’s Son made flesh who died for us. He shed His blood for all of our sins upon the cross. His holy, precious blood purchased our salvation and our forgiveness and reconciles us to God. His innocent suffering and death God now counts as our own. Jesus gave His perfect life to God for us upon the cross (Romans 3:23-26). God raised Him from the dead, justifying everything He said and did and justifying us in Him (1 Timothy 3:16). This Good News we receive through faith, faith that God creates Himself through His Word (Romans 10:17). When we say we are justified through faith, all glory goes to God and His grace alone through Christ alone!
This truth brought Martin Luther to write that faith does not dwell on itself, but on Jesus. He wrote that “…there is no quality in my heart at all, call it either faith or charity; but instead of these I set Christ Himself before me, and I say, ‘There is my righteousness.’” This is what it all comes down to in this discussion of whether we are saved because of faith or through faith. Is Jesus your righteousness before God or do you contribute even as something as small as a prayer? Why does God forgive you?
The joyful answer to that question is that you contribute nothing and that Jesus has done it all for you. This is joyful because it gives you certainty that your salvation is secure in Him. This is joyful because it gives you the comfort that as wicked of a sinner as you have been, still Jesus died for you. This is joyful because God doesn’t leave it in your hands to mess it up, but rather Christ said on the cross, “It is finished,” and He left not a single sin behind. This certain and comforting promise of Christ is delivered to you in His Word and Sacraments and creates faith in your heart (Romans 10:17). So, yes, you do need to have faith to be saved. But thanks be to God that you are justified through faith, faith He gives to you through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be all glory with the Father and the Son forever and ever.