The Jigsaw Puzzle: Faith Alone And Faith’s Activity

Some people love jigsaw puzzles – they’ll work on them for hours and hours. When you’re doing a puzzle, you need some clues to figure out how the pieces fit together. You’ve got the picture on the box, its colours and shapes. Another clue is the edge of the pieces – it’s always helpful to find the edges and corners. Then there are also the shapes of the puzzle pieces – some shapes just won’t fit. Taking all the clues together you can eventually finish the puzzle.

Theology is much like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. There are all these different pieces. They do fit, but we don’t always right away realize how. The key is to pay attention to the clues. These are given to us in Scripture.

One of the most consequential issues in theology has to do with faith’s activity. This is because of the role of faith in justification. This doctrine has to do with God declaring us righteous on account of what Christ has done in his life and death. When it comes to justification, Scripture teaches we’re justified by faith alone. But what does “by faith” really mean? What does faith do in our justification? What is faith’s activity?

Historically, the churches of the Reformation have had a clear answer to that question. Faith’s activity in justification is resting and trusting in Christ alone. The individual stops trying to earn God’s favour and instead looks to Christ and receives his righteousness and forgiveness. So you could also say that faith is merely receptive in justification. It receives what Christ offers for our justification. Faith is like your open hands into which are placed a gift from someone else. This is why Romans 3:25, in the context of the basis of our justification, speaks about Christ’s redemption as something “to be received by faith.”

But then there are other passages which seem to insist that faith does more than just receiving. One of those passages is Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” This passage seems to be saying that what really counts for something is faith being active in love. This has led Roman Catholics and others to argue that faith’s activity in justification is not merely receptive. Faith is also “working through love.”

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Wes Bredenhof | “What Does Faith Do? It Depends” | February 21, 2023


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