"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (Rm 3:25-28)
God's righteousness is to be justified freely. It’s to be forgiven without paying for our sins. This is possible because Jesus became a sacrifice of atonement and shed His blood to pay for our sins.
The Bible says that this righteousness can only be received by faith. That’s the only condition God requires of us. Faith is the only way to receive God’s righteousness which is freely given to us.
Tim Keller—one of best contemporary Christian authors and pastors—defines faith like this.
“Faith is simply the attitude of coming to God with empty hands.”
It does a good job of explaining an important factor of faith—faith is to acknowledge that we don’t have any merit to receive God’s grace. It’s to say that there's nothing we can do to earn God’s righteousness.
The reason God made His perfect righteousness by paying an enormous price and just gave it freely to us was that He knew that human beings couldn’t pay the debt they owed.
Psalm 49:7-8 says,
“No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them. The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Ps 49:7-8)
Knowing that we couldn’t redeem our own lives, God decided to pay the costly ransom Himself. He didn’t require us to do or pay anything to earn it.
However, even though Jesus died for all people on earth, not everyone is saved. God’s righteousness is freely given to all humanity, but there are people who don’t receive it. What makes them different? Faith is the difference because only those who have faith in Jesus can receive God’s righteousness.
This is a very important, but simple truth we all know as Christians. However, Christians need to be more humble when think of faith because even though faith itself doesn’t include any work, it’s possible to think of faith as work—what we do.
Although faith inspires us to do good works for God and produces good fruits in our lives—which is how we can check the veracity of our faith—the basis of faith is to come to God with empty hands. It’s to acknowledge that we can’t save ourselves, only God can.
It’s crucial for Christians to have this stance because it’s easy to find the basis of our salvation in ourselves. We can say, “I’m saved because I have faith in Jesus!,” which is right, but there’s a danger in diminishing what Jesus did for us. It makes us concentrate on our own actions.
So, it’s better to say, “I’m saved, because Jesus shed His blood to save me when I couldn’t do anything, and He freely gave His salvation to me through faith.”
This is crucial because if we come to think that our faith is the cause of our salvation, we can stop looking at Christ and start looking at our faith itself. In other words, we can turn our faith into a work.
So, we should keep in mind that faith is only the instrument by which we receive our salvation, not the cause of it. If we keep this stance, we can always humbly come to God with open hands, professing that only Jesus can save us, not trying to find the foundation of our salvation in ourselves, but in Him.
Then, in what we must have faith? Paul is even more specific about this. It is faith in what Christ did on the cross, rather than a general acknowledgement of him as a great man.
In Romans 3:25, Paul says that righteousness comes “through the shedding of His blood to be received by faith” (Rom 3:25). He also said that real, saving faith is in “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Co 2:2).
True faith that leads us to God’s righteousness and salvation is to believe specifically what Jesus did to save us on the cross.
We may believe that God’s alive. We may acknowledge His creation. We may believe that God works for good in the world. Even though this kind of faith can be a good start, we can’t receive God’s salvation through such faith.
Real, saving faith must include what Jesus did on the cross to save all people from their sins—His suffering, His shedding of blood, His death, and His resurrection. It’s to profess what Jesus did on the cross is true and accept it in our hearts.
If we have that kind of faith, Jesus’ sacrifice starts to work in us. His blood cleanses our sins. What He did two thousand years ago takes effect in us. Our sins are washed away, and God’s righteousness is infused into our lives.
When we go before God with empty hands, professing that there’s nothing we can do in regard to our salvation, only then will God’s grace start to change our lives.
The great preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones once said:
“The man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself, and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not look at what he hopes to be … He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished work, and he rests on that alone.”