For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
There are those who will tell us that this verse means that man has no part in his own salvation. Not only does God choose ahead of time whom he will save, unless he gives you faith you cannot believe. Man, without God specifically gifting him with faith, can never know God on his own. But is that what this passage really says? Whose faith brings salvation, anyway?
Paul does not explain faith in detail to the Ephesians. Either they had received instruction about saving faith from Paul’s own lips, or they had another source of such teaching. One such source might have been the letter to the Galatians. In that letter Paul explains more about saving faith, which might shed some light on this passage.
Some people might wonder why the question was asked, above, about whose faith brings salvation. Of course, they would say, it is our faith. After all, we are the ones who have to believe in Jesus. Whether God grants us the faith or we are able to develop it on our own, is it not our own faith that saves us? According to Paul, apparently not. In Paul’s explanation to the Galatians about saving faith, all but one time he talks about the faith of Jesus. Only twice does he mention faith in Jesus.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 2:16)
Paul clearly states that those who believe in Jesus are justified, but not by their faith. Justification, the act of declaring a person to be righteous, comes by the faith of Christ Jesus. What does this mean? Jesus trusted God. That trust enabled him to die for mankind. “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Php 2:7-8)
It is true that even in this passage we have faith in Jesus. Paul later tells the Galatians that faith in Jesus makes us God’s children (Gal 3:26). It is that by which we have access to the justification that is by the faith of Jesus.
It is strange that people will teach that we are saved by faith only, and yet ignore Paul’s description of what is involved in faith in Jesus. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:26-27) The “for” in verse 27 inextricably ties immersion to faith. Paul is saying that immersion into Christ is faith in Christ. Just as Jacob “became” Esau to his father by putting on Esau’s clothes and some hair, so we become Christ, in a sense, by putting on Christ through immersion in water. God looks at us and sees his son. And because of the faith of his son, he considers us to be righteous.
Based on the letter to the Galatians we can reread the passage from Ephesians. By grace are you saved by faith, and not your faith but Christ’s. His faith was God’s gift to us.
In Galatians 3 Paul talks about the faith of Abraham being imputed to him as righteousness. In contrast, he says that the faith of Jesus is imputed to us as righteousness.