What Is the Role of Faith in Salvation?

In reading Luke’s Gospel recently, a phrase stood out that Jesus repeated on four occasions: “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Three times He spoke it to someone who had received physical healing and once to a sinful woman who received forgiveness after anointing His feet with her tears along with expensive ointment. faithVarious translations of Scripture render some of the four occurrences as “your faith has made you well,” but it is always the same Greek construction: “Your faith has saved you.” And in each instance, Luke seems to have eternal salvation in view, not just physical healing. When examined carefully, this one phrase tells us much about the role of faith in salvation.

It rules out the doctrines of religious pluralism and inclusivism. Both popular today, pluralism teaches that faith in any sort of deity will save. It’s not so much the object of the faith that’s important, but the sincerity. Inclusivism teaches that Jesus is the only person who can secure eternal salvation for humans, but in order to be saved explicit faith in Him is not required. Acting in faith on whatever spiritual knowledge one has is sufficient to be saved, according to the inclusivist. In contrast to both of these doctrines, the saving faith described in these four passages was intentionally and explicitly directed at Jesus.

It rules out “word of faith” theology’s teaching that a person’s words literally construct the fabric of reality. According to word of faith teachers, physical healing and financial prosperity are always God’s will for believers and are in a sense created by the believing words of anyone willing to claim these blessings. Of course, God does grant physical healing and wealth at times. But these passages from Luke demonstrate that Jesus brings about deliverance from danger and affliction, not faith itself. There was no forgiveness for the sinful woman in Luke 7 until Jesus pronounced it, and there was no healing for the blind beggar in Luke 18 until Jesus decreed it. The initiative and power that brings about salvation of various sorts is His, not that of the person exercising faith.

It rules out a form of hyper-Calvinism that insists no human action is involved in salvation. While Jesus is indeed the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and while every aspect of salvation is “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), the salvation described in Luke was not accomplished apart from human faith. Though Jesus enacted the deliverance, “your faith” was an essential component of the transaction in all four passages.

The correct view of faith’s role in salvation—as illustrated by these four passages in Luke—is that trust in Jesus’ ability to deliver us from the ruinous effects of our sin is essential for rescue from condemnation. Jesus is the object of our faith. And He is the initiator of the saving power, not the one exercising faith or even the faith itself. Still, salvation does not occur apart from faith.

Other passages in the New Testament confirm this reality. For instance, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

As the Westminster Divines well put it more than three centuries ago, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification.”