In his second and final conference message, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson spoke on the theme “The Nature of Saving Faith.” Dr. Ferguson took his text from Romans 3:19-4:2, but also read several verses on the results of saving faith from Romans 5.
Towards the beginning of the third book of his great work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin notes:
“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”
In Romans 3, Paul is giving us a commentary on Isaiah 52-53. And Paul’s aim is to exhort us to be joined to Jesus Christ.
Ferguson noted that although we are unconditionally elect of God from eternity past, and although Jesus Christ has suffered and died in our place, we remain under God’s wrath until we take hold of Christ with saving faith. Every blessing of the gospel pours down upon us through Christ.
JUSTIFICATION COMES VIA FAITH IN CHRIST
A sinner must direct his faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ is qualified to save those who come to Him. The Greek used in the New Testament implies that we believe “into” Christ. In other words, we obtain union with Jesus Christ by faith–by trusting Him and Him alone we gain all the blessings of salvation. Strictly speaking, faith does not save. Christ saves. And Christ saves by the means of faith. Faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of salvation in Christ.
SAVING FAITH IS ACTIVE
Although we come to Christ with an empty hand, it is we that come to Christ. God does not believe for us. We must believe. The genius of God’s plan of salvation is that our saving faith is both an activity involving human volition and yet it is wholly passive in that it makes no material contribution. It simply receives.
SAVING FAITH MAGNIFIES THE ABSOLUTENESS OF GOD’S GRACE
In Paul’s rhetorical questions at the end of Romans 3, we see the beauty of how saving faith magnifies God’s grace. Saving faith totally excludes human boasting, and not just because we have insufficient works to merit God’s favor. Rather, human boasting is excluded because it is replaced with boasting in Christ and His accomplishment on our behalf.
So what about circumcision? Saving faith is never directed toward the sacraments. Nor does it depend upon the sacraments. Nevertheless, we can and should see more of Christ through the sacraments, and thereby grow in grace.
Lastly, do we overthrow the law since justification occurs by faith apart from the law? No. Although it does not contribute to our justification, our obedience is important for our sanctification. This severs the root of legalism and antinominanism.
Saving faith leads me to boast in Christ, not works. It receives the kiss of Christ in the sacraments, but avoids sacerdotalism. Obedience is the hallmark of the Spirit-filled person, but is never the grounds of his or her justification.