I recently listened to this podcast by the White Horse Inn guys (e.g., Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Ken Jones, and Ron Rosenbladt).
Many Christians, though we say and may sincerely believe that we are saved by grace apart from our works, we oftentimes – whether we’re aware of it or not – make faith itself into a work that merits salvation.
For example, so often – perhaps from the upbringing that we have had – we are tempted (and too often give into that temptation) to look inside ourselves and see if we have “enough faith,” or whether or not we “trust God enough.”
Thus, if we look inside ourselves and feel that we have enough faith, we believe that “God loves me.” But when we look inside and see that we don’t have enough faith – or that we don’t trust God enough, then we believe that “God must not love and accept me anymore.”
I am starting to become convinced that this is why so many genuine believers struggle with their doubts. That is to say, those who have placed their trust in Jesus, but were taught to constantly base their relationship with God by looking inside themselves to see if they had “enough faith,” are all but crushed under the weight of condemnation when – for whatever reason, in the providence of God – they begin to doubt.
Here’s what the WHI guys had to say on the issue (note: I edited it a bit in order to make it more readable):
This is what many evangelicals believe: “The soul makes a free will decision and accepts Christ. Then, God seeing the presence of faith in the heart, He reckons that faith as though that were righteousness.”
The problem with this understanding is it completely removes Jesus Christ from the equation. Jesus is missing. Rather, what justifies us is not faith; what justifies us are the merits of Christ. And we receive those merits of Christ through faith.
And so the question is: “Am I saved because of my conscious awareness that I have faith in my heart?” Or, “Am I saved by Jesus Christ who will save me even if my faith be the size of a mustard seed?”
This is a world of difference. Here, you have the difference between trusting in yourself – whether it’s works or faith – versus trusting in Christ through faith.
Here’s how Tim Keller puts it in The Reason for God:
The faith that changes the life and connects to God is best conveyed by the word “trust.” Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but don’t actually read out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why? It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch (pp. 244-245).
To those who, like me, are tempted to look inward and evaluate our relationship with God on the basis of whether or not we have “enough faith,” please realize that this is an exercise in futility, for how much faith do we need to muster up in order to have “enough faith”? At what point do we say, “Okay, that’s enough faith”?
No – rather, look outward, even in spite of your doubts and seemingly absent faith, and trust the One who says to you:
31 “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)