I’m Not Saved By Faith, I’m Saved By This

Let me guess: you clicked on this post to see if I had gone off the heretical deep end. Am I right? I mean, to say that I’m not saved by faith…

…them’s burning at the stake words.

After all, Sola Fide (faith alone) is a pillar of Reformed doctrine.

Your heresy hackles are raised and you’re currently at DEFCON 4.

To quote today’s hip, cool, totally modern youth, of which I am totally a part, “Slow your roll.” (Side note: I don’t actually understand what that phrase means. I think I’m using it correctly.)

I’ve used the phrase, “Saved by faith,” hundreds of times, and I’m not against it, per se. It’s shorthand for saying I’m not saved by works. By grace, through faith, etc.

But lately, I’ve started to realize that saying that I’m saved by faith somewhat shortchanges the staggering, glorious reality of what Christ has accomplished on my behalf.

Not Saved By Faith, Saved By Christ

Yes, I realize that I sound like that guy. The “technically” guy. Every church has at least one.

You’re in small group, and you make a theological statement that isn’t 100% precise. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s not as biblically sharp as it could be.

Technically guy clears his throat, pushes up his glasses (which I do frequently because I am a nerd), and says, “Wellllll, technically that’s not quite right.”

Then, to the great dismay of the group, he takes the next 45 minutes to explain that you shouldn’t use the word “resurrection” when referring to Lazarus being raised from the dead.

Is he right? Yes (that’s for another post). Should he monopolize the group to dissect this point? Probably not. He probably should write a 10,000 word blog post about it.

I have been Technically Guy. I don’t like Technically Guy. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us. Or something like that.

But in this case, I’ve realized that the stakes are much higher, at least for me.

Here’s why: when I say that I’m saved by faith, I’m unintentionally driving a wedge between the saving work of Christ and Christ himself. I am speaking as if things like justification and forgiveness and adoption are separate from Jesus himself.

See, here’s the thing…

…I’m NOT saved by faith, I’m saved by being united to Christ.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s huge. Gigantic. Enormous. The more I understand what it means to be united to Christ, the more staggered I am by the person and work of Christ.

The Glory of Being In Christ

In Ephesians 1:7, Paul puts it this way, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…”

Then in verse 13, he says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…”

Notice anything here?

How do we have redemption, forgiveness, and the promised Holy Spirit?

In Christ.

If I am not joined to Christ, I can’t have redemption, forgiveness, adoption, the promised Holy Spirit, or any other glorious gospel treasures.

I am not saved by my faith. I am saved because God has joined me to his Son in a beautifully mysterious way.

When I believed the promises of the gospel, God united me to Jesus so closely and organically that his life, death, and resurrection became my life, death, and resurrection.

No, I’m not somehow absorbed into Christ to the point where I disappear. But I am joined to Jesus so closely that God sees Christ’s accomplishments as mine.

I can say with Paul that I have been crucified with Christ, and that it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me.

Christ. In. Me.

What a knee-buckling thought.

John Calvin puts it this way in his Institutes of Christian Religion:

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 to us.

Frankly, I’m still wrestling with what this all means. Union with Christ is a such a glorious, mysterious truth that it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

But what I do know is that the overwhelming blessings of salvation are mine, not because of faith, but because I am IN JESUS and Jesus is IN ME.

I can’t separate the blessings of the gospel from Jesus himself. It’s not like God somehow gives me forgiveness apart from Jesus. My body can’t be a temple of the Holy Spirit unless I am first connected to Christ, who gives the Spirit freely to all.

In some ways, I feel like I’m rambling at this point. But that’s how it should be. I’m flailing in the deep end of divine mystery. And it’s a beautiful mystery indeed.

No, I’m not saved by faith. Faith is what allows me to be connected to Jesus, and every bit of my salvation comes through Jesus.

Is it wrong for me to say that I’m saved by faith? No. But when I use that phrase, I always want to remember that faith is just the connector. Jesus is the Savior.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook

23 comments

  • As you predicted, I was filled with trepidation until you started explaining yourself. You got me. Great post! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    • Thanks Kent! I’m really glad you liked it. Trying to work through these issues is always tricky for me, so I try to balance things well.

  • As always, entertaining, and thoughtful. It has always bugged me to hear someone say I have my faith and this is borderline similar. Is “faith” a noun or a verb? But in the usual reformed circles we understand and mostly acknowledge the phrase. Are we assuming too much. We know what happens when we use that word assume, right?

    Good stuff!

    • Hey Barry,

      I do think that we assume too much when we use the phrase, “Saved by faith.” Actually, maybe we assume too little. In other words, we don’t consider what we really mean by that phrase. There is so much glory behind it.

  • I’m amazed on how your book turned out I’m also saved by God he’s done wonders for me you have done a great job on your book

  • I’m another Technically Correct Person. ? perhaps because I see in my own heart the ease in which I am deceived and fallible. I long for truth with all my heart (I think) and I pray I somehow pursue that truth with a heart of compassion to the people around me. This was a clear, beautiful piece of writing! Many thanks!!

  • I agree with your thinking, but technically…………………..

  • Amen to all you wrote. Salvation is a gift and once received we are immediately in Christ and saved by Christ. There is so much internal security that comes with the knowlege of this truth. Pressing on to know Him better with you.

  • Faith has an object. I sit in a chair because I have faith that the builder knew what he was doing and therefore it will support my weight. When someone says they have faith, I always found it helpful to ask “faith in what?” What is the object of your faith? And of course as you have articulated, for believers it is in the blood of Jesus Christ alone. But many people struggle to answer the question and often end up essentially saying they have faith in faith. It is a question that causes folks to think and may open the door to a gospel conversation.

    Thanks for your always thoughtful posts!

  • I knew it was a trick — wasn’t going to be heresy. And I love the point. And the less than 10,000 words.

  • Good stuff Calvinist. ‘Faith in Jesus’ might be the shortest way to explain your thought. ‘Faith’ is often expressed as a ‘work’ itself but squashed most of the air out of that.

    Well done.

  • Ephesians 2 clearly states for we are SAVED by GRACE through FAITH. Emphasis mine 🙂
    We are united in Christ, when? When we believe. The inclusion/universalist crowd claims simply because of Christ’s death and resurrection all humanity is in Christ, united to Him. Our Union with God because of the Finished Work is an amazing, too good to be true, but true Good News! It’s our new identity. How did we get this new identity? By personally receiving what He did. In all honesty, salvation is really about simply receiving a free gift. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • Since this is a “reformed” “Calvinist” blog site, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say I was ordained and predestined to write a slight disagreeing post? 🙂 😛

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