Faith Unites Us to Christ

William Cunningham (1805-1861)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God.”—Ephesians 2:8

Let us now…shortly consider the effect of faith as uniting us to Christ, and thus saving the soul. There is a great deal spoken of in Scripture on the subject of faith—of its great importance and of its indispensable necessity to salvation. We read, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mar 16:16). It is faith that makes a man a Christian, that produces all those things that accompany salvation, that salvation which is the turning point of a man’s existence, that salvation which delivers him from the authority of the devil and translates him into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

Faith occupies this important place in our salvation because it unites us to Christ. We are expressly told this by the Apostle in Ephesians 3:17, where it is written, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” This union of believers to Christ, effected by faith, is indeed frequently spoken of in the New Testament. The nature of it is set before us by every mode of expression and description fitted to convey the strongest impression of its closeness and its importance.

It hath pleased the Father that in Christ “should all fulness dwell” (Col 1:19); and it is from Him alone that any portion of this “fulness” can be derived. The Covenant of Redemption[37] was made between the Father and the Son, for man was not directly and primarily a party to it. As Christ fulfilled the conditions of this covenant, so all the blessings that the covenant secured were bestowed upon Him and continue in His possession. In everything connected with this eternal covenant, He acted as the Head and the Surety of His people in their room and stead. He took their place, agreeing to suffer what they ought to have endured and to purchase for them what was necessary for their salvation, but what they never themselves could have earned. He was accepted by God as the Surety and Substitute of all those who should afterwards believe in Him, and He was dealt with accordingly.

Now when a man believes in Christ, he is, according to God’s appointment, united to Him. There is a union formed between them. God regards him as if he were Christ and treats him as if he had suffered the punishment for his sins that Christ endured in his room—as if he had in his own person performed that full and perfect obedience to the Divine Law that our Savior’s conduct exhibited. It is this imputation of Christ’s sufferings and of His righteousness, or, as it is often called, His active and passive obedience—it is this communion of suffering and of merit in which the union of believers with Christ mainly consists. This union and communion with Him is the foundation of their salvation in all its parts and in all its aspects. When they believe Him, God regards them as one with Him—as if they had offered what He has suffered, as if they had done what He has done, as if they had paid the penalty for their sins and had gained a title to His favor.

Viewing them thus as united to Christ—as one with Him—God bestows upon them the blessings that Christ purchased for all who should believe on His name. They obtain through faith the forgiveness of their sins, acceptance with God as righteous persons, the renovation[38] and sanctification of their natures, and, finally, an inheritance among them that are sanctified. Christ is the great Head of influence: all spiritual blessings are the fruits of His purchase. It is only by abiding in Him that we are enabled to bring forth fruits unto eternal life; as it is written, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (Joh 15:5). 

You see now the great importance of faith in the salvation of sinners. It is the instrument by means of which we receive everything necessary to our peace. None can be saved without it, and everyone who has it will assuredly be saved. It is connected in the statements of God’s Word with almost every blessing that is mentioned as important and valuable, as the origin from which they are all derived, the instrument by which they are all received. It is the Holy Spirit that forms the union between Christ and believers, and faith wrought in their hearts by His almighty power is the tie that connects them together and forms the bond of union.

While salvation is thus through faith, it is, at the same time, “by grace” (Eph 2:5, 8). It is to be traced wholly to God’s free and unmerited favor. There is nothing whatever in faith as a grace or virtue, as an act of ours, to merit anything at God’s hands [or] to deserve anything for us…Faith, viewed as a work or act of ours, could not itself procure for us the pardon of sin any more than repentance, if that too were in our power. Far less—[even if] we could believe by our own strength—could it ever merit for us any reward at God’s hands.

It is not indeed, then, as a work or a grace that faith saves: it is merely the instrument of uniting us to Christ. His work is the sole ground of our salvation and of all that is connected with it. We owe it all to Him. He purchased it for us by His own sufferings and obedience, and He bestows it upon us by His Spirit. Therefore, we must beware, friends, of giving to our own faith, in the work of salvation, the place that belongs only to Christ. When salvation is ascribed to faith, this is so far from attaching merit to faith that it is just expressly renouncing it. We are saved indeed by faith, but it is faith in Christ Jesus. Our faith is that which carries us out of ourselves to Christ, transferring our whole dependence, as it were, from our own doing to what He has done and suffered for us. And it is a constant act of trust, a confidence in Him for everything pertaining to another world. It bears at all times upon it a declaration of our utter inability to do anything for ourselves. Hence, not only is salvation by faith quite consistent with being by grace, but further, as the Apostle tells us, it is of faith that it might be by grace. Not only are they consistent with each other, but the one affords the most striking illustration of the other. Nothing could have more fully established or more clearly illustrated the free grace of the Gospel than making our salvation depend upon faith; for faith, besides being originally God’s gift, is a constant appeal to His agency: it is both in form and in substance a casting [of] ourselves entirely and unreservedly upon His mercy through Christ and resting upon Him alone. We believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved.

From Sermons from 1828 to 1860, reprinted by Still Waters Revival Books, & Used by permission.

William Cunningham (1805-1861): Scottish theologian; author of many theological works, including Historical Theology; born at Hamilton, Lanarshire, Scotland.