by J. Gresham Machen
We have been engaging, in the latter part of the last chapter, in something like a digression, and it is time to return to the point at which we left off. When a man, we observed, accepts Christ, not in general but specifically "as He is offered to us in the gospel," such acceptance of Christ is saving faith. It may involve a smaller or a greater amount of knowledge. The greater the amount of knowledge which it involves, the better for the soul; but even a smaller amount of knowledge may bring a true union with Christ. When Christ, as he is offered to us in the gospel of His redeeming work, is thus accepted in faith, the soul of the man who believes is saved.
That salvation of the Christian, in one of its aspects, is called "justification by faith;" and the doctrine of justification by faith must be considered specifically, though briefly, at the present point in our discussion.
There will perhaps, however, be an objection to the terminology that we are venturing to employ. "Justification," it will be said, is a distressingly long word; and as for the word "doctrine," that has a forbidding sound. Instead of such terminology surely we ought to find simpler words which will bring the matter home to modern men in language such as they are accustomed to use.
This suggestion is typical of what is often being said at the present time. Many persons are horrified by the use of a theological term; they seem to have a notion that modern Christians must be addressed always in words of one syllable, and that in religion we must abandon the scientific precision of language which is found to be so useful in other spheres. In pursuance of this tendency we have had presented to us recently various translations of the Bible which reduce the Word of God more or less thoroughly to the language of the modern street, or which, as the matter was put recently in my hearing by an intelligent layman, "take all the religion out of the New Testament." But the whole tendency, we for our part think, ought to be resisted. Back of it all seems to lie the strange assumption that modern men, particularly modern university men, can never by any chance learn anything; they do not understand the theological terminology which appears in such richness in the Bible, and that is regarded as the end of the matter; apparently it does not occur to anyone that possibly they might with profit acquire the knowledge of Biblical terminology which now they lack. But I for my part am by no means ready to acquiesce. I am perfectly ready, indeed, to agree that the Bible and the modern man ought to be brought together. But what is not always observed is that there are two ways of attaining that end. One way is to bring the Bible down to the level of the modern man; but the other way is to bring the modern man up to the level of the Bible. For my part, I am inclined to advocate the latter way. And I am by no means ready to relinquish the advantages of a precise terminology in summarizing Bible truth. In religion as well as in other spheres a precise terminology is mentally economical in the end; it repays amply the slight effort required for the mastery of it. Thus I am not at all ashamed to speak, even in this day and generation, of "the doctrine of justification by faith."
It should not be supposed, however, that that doctrine is an abstruse or intricate thing. On the contrary it is a very simple thing, and it is instinct with life.
It is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul—the question: "How shall I be right with God; how do I stand in God's sight; with what favor does He look upon me?" There are those, it must be admitted, who never raise that question; there are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men, but never with the question of their standing before God; there are those who are interested in what "people say," but not in the question what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world; they are apt to go with the current; they are apt to do as others do; they are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men, and becomes interested in the judgment of God.
But if we can gain that much insight, if we have become interested in the judgment of God, how shall we stand in that judgment? How shall we become right with God? The most obvious answer is: "By obeying the law of God, by being what God wants us to be." There is absolutely nothing wrong in theory about that answer; the only trouble is that for us it does not work. If we had obeyed the law of God, if we were what God wants us to be, all would no doubt be well; we could approach the judgment seat of God and rely simply upon His just recognition of the facts. But, alas, we have not obeyed God's law, but have transgressed it in thought, word and deed; and far from being what God wants us to be, we are stained and soiled with sin. The stain is not merely on the surface; it is not a thing that can easily be wiped off; but it permeates the recesses of our souls. And the clearer be our understanding of God's law, the deeper becomes our despair. Some men seek a refuge from condemnation in a low view of the law of God; they limit the law to external commands, and by obeying those commands they hope to buy God's favor. But the moment a man gains a vision of the law as it is—especially as it is revealed in the words and example of Jesus—at that moment he knows that he is undone. If our being right with God depends upon anything that is in us, we are without hope.
Another way, however, has been opened into God's presence; and the opening of that way is set forth in the gospel. We deserved eternal death; we deserved exclusion from the household of God; but the Lord Jesus took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on the cross. Henceforth the law's demands have been satisfied for us by Christ, its terror for us is gone, and clothed no longer in our righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear, as Christ would stand without fear, before the judgment seat of God. Men say that that is an intricate theory; but surely the adjective is misplaced. It is mysterious, but it is not intricate; it is wonderful, but it is so simple that a child can understand.
Two objections to the doctrine of justification, however, need to be considered even in a brief presentation such as that in which we are now engaged.
In the first place, it is said, "justification" is a "forensic" term; it is borrowed, that is, from the law-courts; it smells of musty volumes bound in legal calf; and we moderns prefer other sources for our figures of speech; we prefer to conceive of salvation in a vital, rather than in a legal, way.
In answer it may be said, of course, that justification by faith is by no means all of the Christian doctrine of salvation; it has as its other side the doctrine of regeneration or the new birth. What the Christian has from God is not merely a new and right relation to Him in which the guilt of sin is wiped out, but also a new life in which the power of sin is broken; the Christian view of salvation is vital as well as forensic. This modern way of thinking, on the other hand, errs in being one-sided; it errs, not indeed in insisting upon the "vital" aspect of salvation, but in maintaining that salvation is only vital. When the vital aspect of salvation is thus separated from the forensic aspect, the consequences are serious indeed; what really happens is that the whole ethical character of Christianity is endangered or destroyed. It is important to understand that the Christian has a new life in addition to a new standing before the judgment seat of God; but to be interested in the new life to the exclusion of the new standing before God is to deprive the new life of its moral significance. For it is only as judged in accordance with some absolute norm of righteousness that that new life differs from the life of plants or beasts.
The ultimate question, however, that is involved in the objection concerns the validity of retributive justice. The objection regards as derogatory to the doctrine of justification the fact that it uses the language of the law-courts. But is that fact really derogatory to the doctrine? We for our part think that it is not, for the simple reason that we hold a totally different view of the law-courts from the view that the objector holds. At this point, as at so many other points, there is revealed the far-reaching character of the disagreement in the modern religious world. The disagreement concerns not merely what is ordinarily called religion, but it concerns almost every department of human life. In particular it concerns the underlying theory of human justice.
The objector regards as derogatory the fact that our doctrine of justification uses the language of the law-courts. But he does so only because of the limited function with which according to his view the law-courts must be content. According to his view our courts of law are concerned only with the reform of the criminal or the protection of society; in connection with our courts he thinks that the whole notion of retributive justice must be given up. Very different is our view; and because it is different, the fact that the doctrine of justification uses legal language appears to us to be not a reproach but a high commendation. Courts, we think, even human courts, far from exercising a merely utilitarian function, are founded upon a principle that is rooted in the very being of God. They do, indeed, also exercise the utilitarian functions of which we have just spoken; they do seek the reform of the criminal and the protection of society: and they must never allow these considerations to be forgotten. But back of all that lies the irreducible fact of retributive justice. We do not mean that human judges can ever speak in any infallible way with the voice of God; human limitations must constantly be borne in mind; a truly just and final settlement must often be left to a higher Assize. But still, when all that and more is admitted, there remains a basis of eternal significance in every true court of law. That significance is, indeed, today often obscured; the low utilitarian theory of which we have just spoken has invaded only too frequently our courtrooms, and put trivial consideration of consequences in place of the majesty of the law. Men are complaining of the result, but are not willing to deal with the cause. They are complaining loudly of the growth of criminality; they are feverishly filling statute books with all sorts of prohibitions; they are trying their best to prevent the disintegration of society. But the whole effort is really quite vain. The real trouble does not lie in the details of our laws, but in the underlying conception of what law is.
Even in the field of detail, it is true, there is room for improvement—improvement in a very different direction, however, from that in which contemporary law-makers are accustomed to turn, improvement in the direction not of increased multiplication of statutes, but of a return to simplicity. Instead of the mass of trivial and often irksome prohibitions which now clog our statute books, legislatures ought to content themselves with what is demanded by the overwhelming moral judgment of the people; one way to encourage respect for law, we think, would be to make law more respectable. The real trouble, however, is more fundamental than all that; it lies, not in matters of detail, but in the underlying principle. Respect for human laws cannot, in the long run, be maintained unless there is such a thing, in the ultimate constitution of things, as justice; mere utilitarianism will never check the rebellion of the flesh; human judges will be respected only when again they are clothed with a majesty which issues ultimately from the law of God.
It is not, therefore, at all derogatory to the doctrine of justification that it uses the language of a court of law; for a court of law represents—in obscure fashion, it is true—a fact in the being of God. Men say indeed that they prefer to conceive of God as a Father rather than as a Judge; but why must the choice be made? The true way to conceive of Him is to conceive of Him both as a Father and as a Judge. Fatherhood, as we know it upon this earth, represents one aspect of God; but to isolate that aspect is to degrade it and deprive it of its ethical quality. Important indeed is the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God; but it would not be important if it were not supplemented by the doctrine of God as the final Judge.
The other objection to the Christian doctrine of justification can be dealt with just as briefly; since the objection, upon examination, soon disappears. Justification, we are told, involves a mere legal trick which is derogatory to the character of God; according to this doctrine, it is said, God is represented as waiting until Christ has paid the price of sin as a substitute for the sinner before He will forgive; He is represented as being bought off by the death of Christ so that He pronounces as righteous in His sight those who are not really righteous at all. "How degrading all that is," the modern man exclaims; "how much better it would be simply to say that God is more willing to forgive than man is willing to be forgiven!" Thus the doctrine of justification is represented as doing despite to the love of God.
This objection ignores a fundamental feature of the doctrine which is being criticized; it ignores the fact that according to the Christan view it is God Himself and not someone else who in the atoning death of Christ pays the price of sin—God Himself in the person of the Son who loved us and gave Himself for us, and God Himself in the person of the Father who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. For us, the Christian holds, salvation is as free as the air we breathe; God's alone the cost, and ours the wondrous gain. Such a view exalts the love of God far more than is ever done by modern theories as to the forgiveness of sin: for those theories are alike in denying, in the last analysis, the dreadful reality and irrevocableness of guilt; they seek to save the love of God by denying the moral constitution of His universe, and in doing so they finally destroy even that which they started out to conserve; the divine love which they seek to save at the expense of His justice turns out to be but an easy complacency which is no love at all. It is misleading to apply the term "love" to a sentiment that costs nothing. Very different is the love of which the Bible speaks; for that love brought the Lord Jesus to the cross. The Bible does not hold out hopes to the sinner by palliating the fact of sin; on the contrary it proclaims that fact with a terrible earnestness which otherwise has not been known. But then, on the basis of this ruthless illumination of the moral facts of life, it provides a full and complete and absolutely free way of escape through the sacrifice of Christ.
No doubt that way is not of our own choosing; and no doubt it may seem strange. It may seem to be a strange thing that One should bear the guilt of others' sins. And indeed for anyone save Christ that would have been far beyond even the power of love. It is perfectly true that one man cannot bear the guilt of another man's sins; the instances of "vicarious" suffering in human life, which have been brought to our attention as being in the same category with the sufferings of Christ, serve only to show how far the men who adduce them are from comprehending what is meant by the Cross. But because a weak and sinful man cannot bear the guilt of others' sins, it does not follow that Christ cannot do so. And as a matter of fact, thank God, He has done so; at the Cross the burden of men's sins has rolled away, and there has come a peace with God that the world can never know. We are certainly not intending to exalt emotion at the expense of objective proof; we are opposed with all our might to the substitution of "experience" as the seat of authority in religion for the Word of God: but the Holy Spirit in the individual soul does bear witness, we think, to the truthfulness of the Word, and does bear witness to the saving efficacy of the Cross, when He cries "Abba, Father" in our hearts. That cry, we think, is a true echo of the blessed sentence of acquittal, the blessed "justification," which a sinner receives when Christ is his advocate at the judgment seat of God.
We have been speaking of "justification." It depends, we have seen, altogether upon the redeeming work of Christ. But another very important question remains. If justification depends upon the redeeming work of Christ, how is the benefit of that redeeming work applied to the individual soul?
The most natural answer might seem to be that the soul applies the benefit of Christ's work to itself by its own appropriation of that work; it might seem natural to regard the merits of Christ as a sort of fund or store which can be drawn upon at will by individual men. But if one thing is clear, it is that such is not the teaching of the Word of God; if one thing is plain, it is that the New Testament presents salvation, or the entrance into God's Kingdom, as the work not of man, but of God and only of God. The redeeming work of Christ is applied to the individual soul, according to the New Testament, by the Holy Spirit and by Him alone.
What then do we mean when we speak of "justification by faith"? Faith, after all, is something in man; and therefore if justification depends upon our faith it depends apparently upon us as well as upon God.
The apparent contradiction is welcome; since it leads on to a true conception of faith. The faith of man, rightly conceived, can never stand in opposition to the completeness with which salvation depends upon God; it can never mean that man does part, while God merely does the rest; for the simple reason that faith consists not in doing something but in receiving something. To say that we are justified by faith is just another way of saying that we are justified not in slightest measure by ourselves, but simply and solely by the One in whom our faith is reposed.
At this point appears the profound reason for what at first sight might seem to be a surprising fact. Why is it that with regard to the attainment of salvation the New Testament assigns such an absolutely exclusive place to faith; why does it not also speak, for example, of our being justified by love? If it did so, it would certainly be more in accord with modern tendencies; indeed, one popular preacher actually asserts that Paul's fundamental doctrine was salvation by love rather than justification by faith. But of course that only means making the wish the father to the thought; as a matter of fact, whether we like it or not, it is perfectly clear that Paul did not speak of salvation by love, but that he spoke instead of justification by faith. Surely the thing requires an explanation; and certainly it does not mean that the apostle was inclined to depreciate love. On the contrary, in one passage he expressly places love ahead of faith. "And now abideth faith, hope, love," he says, "these three; but the greatest of these is love." Why then, if he places love higher, does he attribute, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, such an absolutely exclusive place to faith? And why did not Jesus say: "Thy love hath saved thee, go in peace," but rather: "Thy faith hath saved thee"? Why did He say only that to the men and women who came to Him in the days of His flesh; and why does He say only that, in accordance with the whole New Testament, to burdened souls today?
The answer to this question is really abundantly plain. The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man except things that can be regarded as mere aspects of faith, is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in slightest measure, but that God saves us. Very different would be the case if our salvation were said to be through love; for then salvation would depend upon a high quality of our own. And that is what the New Testament, above all else, is concerned to deny. The very centre and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God—the grace of God which depends not one whit upon anything that is in man, but is absolutely undeserved, resistless and sovereign. The theologians of the Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they have grasped with less or greater clearness that one great central doctrine, that doctrine that gives consistency to all the rest; and Christian experience also depends for its depth and for its power upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart. The centre of the Bible, and the centre of Christianity, is found in the grace of God; and the necessary corollary of the grace of God is salvation through faith alone.
We are brought at this point to a profound fact about faith, a fact without which everything else that we have tried to say would be valueless. The fact to which we refer is this: that it is not as a quality of the soul that faith saves a man, but only as the establishment of contact with a real object of the faith.
This fact, in present-day thinking, is generally denied; and from the denial of it proceed many of the evils, intellectual and otherwise, which beset the religious world. Faith is, indeed, nowadays being exalted to the skies; but the sad fact is that this very exaltation of faith is leading logically and inevitably to a bottomless skepticism which is the precursor of despair.
The whole trouble is that faith is being considered merely as a beneficent quality of the soul without respect to the reality or unreality of its object; and the moment faith comes to be considered in that way, in that moment it is destroyed.
Yet at first sight the modern attitude seems to be full of promise; it avoids, for example, the immense difficulty involved in differences of creed. Let a man, it is urged, hold to be true whatever helps him, and let him not interfere with whatever helps his neighbor. What difference does it make, we are asked, what does the work just so the work is done; what difference does it make whether the disease is cured by Christian Science or by simple faith in Christ Jesus? Some people seem to find even bare materialism a helpful doctrine—conducive to a calm and healthy life, preventing morbid fears and nervous strains. If so, why should we unsettle their "faith" by talking about guilt and retribution?
There is unfortunately one great obstacle in the way of such a broad eclecticism. It is a very real obstacle, though at times it seems to be not a bit practical. It is the old obstacle—truth. That was a great scheme of Lessing's Nathan der Weise, to let Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity live peacefully side by side, each contributing its quota to the common good of humanity; and the plan has attained enormous popularity since Lessing's day by the admission, to the proposed league of religions, of all the faiths of mankind. But the great trouble is, a creed can be efficient only so long as it is held to be true; if I make my creed effective in my life I can do so only because I regard it as true. But in so doing I am obliged by an inexorable necessity to regard the creed of my neighbor, if it is contradictory to mine, as false. That weakens his faith in his creed, provided he is at all affected by my opinions; he is no longer so sure of the truth of it; and so soon as he is no longer sure of the truth of it, it loses its efficiency. Or if, in deference to my neighbor and the usefulness of his creed, I keep my creed in the background, that tends to weaken my faith in my creed; I come to have the feeling that what must be kept in the dark will not bear the light of day; my creed ceases to be effective in my life. The fact is that all creeds are laying claim to the same thing, namely truth. Consequently, despite all that is said, the creeds, if they are to be held with any fervor, if they are really to have any power, must be opposed to one another; they simply cannot allow one another to work on in peace. If, therefore, we want the work to proceed, we must face and settle this conflict of the means; we cannot call on men's beliefs to help us unless we determine what it is that is to be believed. A faith that can consent to avoid proselytizing among other faiths is not really faith at all.
An objection, however, may remain. What we have said may perhaps sound very logical, and yet it seems to be contradicted by the actual experience of the race. Physicians, for example, are very practical persons; and yet they tell us that faith in very absurd things sometimes brings beneficent and far-reaching results. If, therefore, faith in such diverse and contradictory things brings results, if it relieves the distresses of suffering humanity, how can we have the heart to insist on logical consistency in the things that are believed? On the contrary, it is urged, let us be satisfied with any kind of faith just so it does the work; it makes no difference what is believed just so the healthgiving attitude of faith is there; the less dogmatic faith is, the purer it is, because it is the less weakened by the dangerous alloy of knowledge.
It is perfectly clear that such an employment of faith is bringing results. But the curious thing is that if faith be employed in this particular way it is always employment of the faith of other people that brings the results, and never employment of one's own faith. For the man who can speak in this way is himself always not a believer but a skeptic. The basal fact about faith is that all faith has an object; all faith is not only possessed by someone, but it consists in confidence in someone. An outsider may not think that it is really the object that does the work; from his scientific vantage ground, he may see clearly that it is just the faith itself, considered merely as a psychological phenomenon, that is the important thing, and that any other object would have answered as well. But the one who does the believing is always convinced just exactly that it is not the faith but the object which is helping him; the moment he becomes convinced that the object was not really important and that it was really just his own faith that was helping him, at that moment his faith disappears. It was that previous false belief, then—the belief that it was the object and not the faith that was doing the work—it was that false belief that helped him.
Now things that are false will apparently do some rather useful things. If we may be permitted to use again, and to apply a little further, an illustration that we have already used in a different connection, it may be remarked that a counterfeit note will buy many useful commodities—until it is found out. It will, for example, buy a dinner; and a dinner will keep a man alive no matter how it is obtained. But just when I am buying the dinner for some poor man who needs it very badly indeed, an expert tells me that that useful result is being accomplished by a counterfeit note. "The miserable theorizer!," I may be tempted to exclaim, "the miserable traditionalist, the miserable demolisher of everything that pragmatism holds most dear! While he is discussing the question of the origin of that note—though every up-to-date man knows that the origin of a thing is unimportant, and that what is really important is the goal to which it tends—while he is going into learned details about the primitive history of that note, a poor man is suffering for lack of food." So it is, if the current view be correct, with faith; faith, we are told, is so very useful that we must not ask the question whether the things that it leads us to accept are true or false.
Plausible are the ways in which men are seeking to justify this circulation of counterfeit currency in the spiritual sphere; it is perfectly right, we are told, so long as it is not found out. That principle has even been ingeniously applied to the ordinary currency of the realm; if a counterfeit note were absolutely perfect, it has been said, so that by no possibility could it ever be detected, what harm should we be doing to a man if we passed it out to him with his change? Probably it will not be necessary to point out—at least to the readers of the present book—the fallacy in this moral tour de force; and that fallacy would really apply to the spiritual currency as well as to five-dollar notes. By circulating bad money we should be diminishing the value of good money, and so should be robbing the generality of our fellow-men. But after all, that question is purely academic; as a matter of fact counterfeit notes are never sure not to be found out. And neither is bad currency in the spiritual sphere. It is a dangerous thing to encourage faith in what is not true, for the sake of the immediate benefits which such faith brings; because the greater be the building that is erected on such a foundation, the greater will be the inevitable crash when the crash finally comes.
Such counterfeits should be removed, not in the interests of destruction, but in order to leave room for the pure gold the existence of which is implied by the presence of the counterfeits. There is counterfeit money in the world, but that does not mean that all money is counterfeit. Indeed it means the exact opposite. There could be no counterfeit money unless there were genuine money for it to imitate. And the principle applies to the spiritual realm. There is in the world much faith in what is false; but there could hardly be faith in what is false unless there were also somewhere faith in what is true. Now we Christians think that we have found faith in what is true when we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. We are well aware of what has been said against that gospel; we are well aware of the unpopularity that besets a man the moment he holds any one thing to be true and rejects as false whatever is contradictory to it; we are fully conscious of the risk that we are taking when we abandon a merely eclectic attitude and put all our confidence in one thing and one thing only. But we are ready to take the risk. This world is a dark place without Christ; we have found no other salvation either in ourselves or in others; and for our part, therefore, despite doubts and fears, we are prepared to take Christ at His word and launch forth into the deep at His command. It is a great venture, this venture of faith; there are difficulties in the way of it; we have not solved all mysteries or resolved all doubts. But though our minds are still darkened, though we have attained no rigidly mathematical proof, we have attained at least certitude enough to cause us to risk our lives. Will Christ desert us when we have thus committed ourselves to Him? There are men about us who tell us that He will; there are voices within us that whisper to us doubts; but we must act in accordance with the best light that is given us, and doing so we have decided for our part to distrust our doubts and base our lives, despite all, upon Christ.
The efficacy of faith, then, depends not upon the faith itself, considered as a psychological phenomenon, but upon the object of the faith, namely Christ. Faith is not regarded in the New Testament as itself a meritorious work or a meritorious condition of the soul; but it is regarded as a means which is used by the grace of God: the New Testament never says that a man is saved on account of his faith, but always that he is saved through his faith or by means of his faith; faith is merely the means which the Holy Spirit uses to apply to the individual soul the benefits of Christ's death.
And faith in one sense is a very simple thing. We have been engaged, indeed, in a sort of analysis of it; but we have been doing so, not in the interests of complexity, but, on the contrary, in order to combat the false notions by which simplicity is destroyed. We have not for a moment meant to imply that all the logical implications which we have found in faith are always consciously or separately in the mind of the man who believes; mysterious indeed is the chemistry of the soul, and a whole new world of thought as well as life is often conveyed to a man in an experience of faith that seems to be as simple as the falling of a leaf from the bough and as inevitable as the flow of a mighty river to the sea. Certainly, at bottom, faith is in one sense a very simple thing; it simply means that abandoning the vain effort of earning one's way into God's presence we accept the gift of salvation which Christ offers so full and free. Such is the "doctrine"—let us not be afraid of the word—such is the "doctrine" of justification through faith alone.
That has been a liberating doctrine in the history of the world; to it was due the breaking of mediaeval bondage at the Reformation; to it is due ultimately the civil liberty that we possess today. And now that it is being abandoned, civil liberty is slowly but steadily being destroyed in the interests of a soul-killing collectivism that is worse in some respects than the tyrannies of the past. Let us hope that the process may be arrested in time. If we are interested in what God thinks of us, we shall not be deterred by what men think; the very desire for justification in the sight of God makes us independent of the judgment of men. And if the very desire for justification is liberating, how much more the attainment of it! The man who has been justified by God, the man who has accepted as a free gift the condition of rightness with God which Christ offers, is not a man who hopes that possibly, with due effort, if he does not fail, he may finally win through to become a child of God. But he is a man who has already become a child of God. If our being children of God depended in slightest measure upon us, we could never be sure that we had attained the high estate. But as a matter of fact it does not depend upon us; it depends only upon God. It is not a reward that we have earned but a gift that we have received.
From What Is Faith? by J. Gresham Machen