Justification Precedes Faith

"We are justified through our attachment to Christ, who is righteous as we are not." -Kathryn Tanner (Christ The Key, p. 86). 

Throughout church history there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the assurance of salvation extends to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Of course, we Christians confess that Christ is the WAY to salvation. But if we are saved by grace alone, as the Scriptures teach us, and not by our own works, then we don’t determine our salvation, God does. Whoever we are, whatever faith we do or don’t have, God is the one who determines salvation and we are all equally at God’s mercy no matter what we believe. Thankfully, the Scriptures are clear that God desires that all shall be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). 

If grace is true, then salvation precedes faith. According to Paul Tillich, the phrase “justification by grace through faith” (used by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9) should not be shortened to “justification by faith,” as it sometimes is. Justification is the act of God that saves us and makes us righteous before God. To shorten it to “justification by faith,” writes Tillich, “is extremely misleading for it gives the impression that faith is an act of [human beings] by which [they] merit Justification. This is a total and disastrous distortion of the doctrine of Justification” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 179). When it comes to salvation, according to Eberhard Jüngel, “we are always receivers…” (Justification p. 55). Or to put it as Martin Luther did in his last words, “we are beggars.” 

So our salvation is not a product of faith. It’s the other way around. We live lives of faith because we know that truth that we are justified before God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have every reason to hope and trust that this is true for Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, and people of every other kind of faith alike.