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Assuming

  1. that faith in Christ is what gives sinners access to grace and salvation, and
  2. that faith is necessary because the alternative (knowing God) would leave no room to actually measure our character, and
  3. God is indeed the author of the universe, and things are going more-or-less to plan,

Why is God selecting the faithful instead of the righteous for salvation? Are there any biblical passages which actually speak to the value of faith in and of itself (why faith, not other things such as works, is what gets us into heaven), rather than the value of faith in the context of imperfect information (i.e. the world). I'd also love to hear any extra-biblical (though hopefully still biblically-grounded) explanations of the value of faith.

Regarding my starting assumptions, I believe (1) to be unanimous throughout Christianity, but I would like to hear if there's a fault in (2). For (3), I recognize that free will complicates the knowability of God's plan, but I believe that's accounted for in "more-or-less".

Edit 1: I am open to any denomination's particular answer to this question so long as it's prefaced as such, but per (1) it is not in question whether or not God wants us to be faithful.

Edit 2: @ken-graham raises a good point regarding (1). Per their reading of James 2:19, devils believe but (presumably) do not have access to Christ's grace.

Edit 3: I want to be clear that this is a "meta-religious" question. I want to know if the scriptures talk about why God made a world where faith was necessary.

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  • 1
    this answer may have different answers depending on the denomination. Is there one in particular you want an answer from? I would argue faithful are righteous, faith is an act
    – depperm
    Sep 30 at 15:20
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    Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. James 2:19
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 30 at 16:16
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    Faith is not the beginning of the spiritual journey from being a lost sinner to finding God. To this will I look : that of a broken and contrite heart and that trembleth at my word Isaiah 66:2 (literal rendering). Only such as these will come to faith. None else do.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 30 at 17:48
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    Ephesians 2 anyone? Even faith is a gift of God, not something God is "rewarding" us for, as if we were such good people that we had faith and others didn't.
    – Nacht
    Oct 2 at 12:13
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    Very simply, faith is the opposite of what Adam did in the garden: he decided to not trust God to be the definer of good and evil. God doesn't change and he still requires faith. Oct 3 at 11:29
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Clarifying righteousness

First, let's review the Biblical meaning of righteousness. The first paragraph of the Righteousness article of Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology edited by Walter A. Elwell (1996), shows how faith in Jesus leads to the Trinitarian God producing righteousness in us, which comes in stages (emphasis mine):

God the Father is righteous (just); Jesus Christ his Son is the Righteous (Just) One; the Father through the Son and in the Spirit gives the gift of righteousness (justice) to repentant sinners for salvation; such believing sinners are declared righteous (just) by the Father through the Son, are made righteous (just) by the Holy Spirit working in them, and will be wholly righteous (just) in the age to come. They are and will be righteous because they are in a covenant relation with the living God, who is the God of all grace and mercy and who will bring to completion what he has begun in them by declaring them righteous for Christ's sake.

Then, in the theology of the Reformers, it's helpful to distinguish between two (or even three) kinds of righteousness:

  • Righteousness of believers coram deo ("in the presence of God") a.k.a passive righteousness, the righteousness of God imputed to us, that is the basis of our salvation. This is what NigelJ's answer describes.
  • Righteousness of believers coram mundo ("in the eyes of the world") a.k.a. active righteousness, which cannot merit salvation. This is imperfect righteousness as we walk in the Spirit, trying to obey the New Testament commandments. These works are pleasing to God because they are the fruits of the Spirit. The prerequisite is the 1st kind.
  • "Righteousness" of unbelievers as they try to obey the voice of their conscience. These are not pleasing to God and also cannot merit salvation. Faith in Christ is necessary for this kind of righteousness to be turned into the 2nd kind.

Why is God selecting the faithful instead of the righteous for salvation?

The simple answer is that God still requires us to be righteous to enter heaven (Matt 5:20) , but knowing that we cannot be righteous on our own He sends Jesus as the way for us to become righteous. Jesus's work on the cross is the fulfillment of God's promise to provide this way, which is called the plan of salvation.

How do we apply Jesus's work of salvation to our lives? It's through faith in Jesus, which then unlocks God's gift of new spiritual life (which is called being born again). Armed with the new spiritual life, in which we are united with Christ, Christ (the Holy Spirit) helps us obey commandments so we can live righteously, although until the Holy Spirit finishes His work in us (called sanctification), we will still commit sins when we fall into temptation.

How does free will come into the picture? Before we have this new life, our will was not completely free, but in bondage to selfishness. After being born again, we need to use our free will to reject the old-self way of living and to embrace the new spiritual way of living, which is called walking in the Spirit, Gal 5:16. In our new life the Holy Spirit gives us grace that assists our free will to choose the spiritual way. Being faithful should result in desiring to be righteous (Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness).

CONCLUSION: Saying that God requires us to be faithful rather than righteous will lead to misunderstanding. As we can see in the preceding section, faith and righteousness are intimately connected. God requires righteousness from us, but because humans abuse their free will resulting in the condition of the Fall, we can no longer live righteously on our own. It is no wonder then, that in this corrupted condition God requires us to have faith in Jesus as the ONLY way God provided for us so we can live righteously.

In other words, people who believe they can be righteous on their own are lying / delusional. That is why God selects the faithful who hungers for righteousness and who out of desperation begs and trusts Jesus to provide the way. We are like sheep who need to follow Jesus as He leads us to heaven through trials to refine us (1 Pet 1:6-7).

I hope this explanation resolves your confusion. I purposely answered in general terms that I think most mainstream denominations can agree. Different denominations have

  • different teaching on how this righteousness is applied to us: imputed, imparted, or infused.
  • different teaching on how this faith should be expressed. Some require the sacrament of baptism.
  • different teaching on the sanctification process. Some require the sacrament of Eucharist and Confession.

But all denominations teach that by the time we enter heaven we will be fully sanctified, a condition that will fully reverse our current Fall condition. In that glorified condition (with a new body, no less) we will then be able to obey God's commandments perfectly in heaven (i.e. being righteous) with pleasure and ease.

Why God made a world where faith was necessary?

This is your follow up question (edit 3). The Bible didn't really answer the question because the Fall already happened very early in the Bible (in Genesis chapter 3) and the theme of the whole Bible itself is this plan of salvation announced as early as Gen 3:15 (Protoevangelium) to which faith in God's unfailing love and faithfulness (OT) and in Jesus (NT) is the necessary response.

The book of Job acutely demonstrates how even God refused to answer Job's question of why the righteous (like himself) suffers and the wicked prospers, pointing out that a human being is asked to have faith (trust) in God who is great beyond measure, who is His own category that cannot be compared to any creature. God merely assured Job that He is greater than the most awesome evil creatures (God's Sovereignty Over Leviathan and Behemoth). Still, a human's desire for explanation cannot be quenched, which is okay as long as it doesn't caricature God the way Job's friends did. How then, to reconcile God's character, God's omnipotence & omniscience, the goods we experience in creation, and the presence of evil?

The usual answer (example: C.S. Lewis's Problem of Pain summarized here) is that this world may be the only possible arena where:

  • all rational creatures (human and angels) have a meaningful free will, EITHER to love God and other creatures OR to disobey their God-given conscience
  • to create an environment for free will to be expressed, the laws of nature need to have some stability (a sword doesn't turn soft when used to kill) which can cause pain and great evil such as wars and genocide to happen, forcing humans to face the REAL CONSEQUENCES of their acts of evil as well as the REAL GREATNESS of their acts of charity
  • the drama of Fall and Redemption takes place in the full presence of God: from Adam's sin in Eden to God's incarnating Himself in Jesus to the Holy Spirit's activities today, to impart healing and grace to those who have freely chosen to make God #1 instead of putting themselves above God; in other words: God is not aloof up there but gets down to the most heartbreaking place offering love, strength, and hope

Faith, then, can be seen as human response to God's tainted creation, in contrast to despair (culture of death) or materialism. Together with the community of the faithful, we embrace God's original vision for creating this world: for humans to partake in the world's goodness while avoiding evil by choosing responsibly aided by grace. The Great Commission asks us, as the body of Christ (salt and light of the world), to bring this vision to the unsaved, so they too will be invited to join the Kingdom of God and enjoy the goodness of God's original creation. It's faith in God's rescue mission to prepare the world for the future fulfillment of God's promise of the new heaven and earth.

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  • Thank you. Only yours and @peter-turner's answers actually faced the question I was trying to ask, which is "why did God make the world this way?". I admit that questioning the necessity of faith gets prickly quickly, but I feel it's necessary.
    – funkopops
    Oct 1 at 18:31
  • @funkopops I and others had answered before you added your final edit, "Edit 3: I want to be clear that this is a "meta-religious" question. I want to know if the scriptures talk about why God made a world where faith was necessary." This means that we never saw any indication that you wanted the answer to "why did God make the world this way?" because such a phrase occurs nowhere in your question, not even in that edit. It may have been what you intended to ask, but you need to be clearer and more concise in forming questions, I suggest (hopefully, helpfully!)
    – Anne
    Oct 2 at 12:53
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    Free will is incompatible with omniscience, and C.S.Lewis's argument is atrociously poor.
    – Davor
    Oct 3 at 12:09
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    @Davor "Free will is incompatible with omniscience" It is indeed a difficult problem, but there have been many Christian solutions. A book here, summarized and linked to McTaggart A/B time series here. The trend is Open Theism, but it's hard to swallow for many Christians. I myself focus on the practical: When choosing I don't feel internal restraint (hence "meaningful" free will), but I DO feel affected a lot more by my predisposition to sin. Oct 3 at 17:05
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    @Davor "C.S. Lewis's argument is atrociously poor." Being a C.S. Lewis advocate, I certainly want to know why, which we can discuss in chat. This wiki page has a good summary of The Problem of Pain. I think C.S. Lewis keeps getting cited because of his commitment to common sense, fidelity to the Bible, honest appraisal of the human condition, exposé of non-Christian philosophical/cultural assumptions/biases, and leave mysteries in place without capitulating to fideism. Oct 3 at 17:18
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The Bible states that, "Without faith, it is impossible to please [God]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 KJV). That whole chapter lists many people of faith, right from Abel onward. The question you ask is, 'Why does God choose to reward [such] faith?'

But your second and third assumptions are strange, and not necessary to answer the question. Faith, you see, is not about measuring our character. Faith is not about us. It's all about God. It is WHO we have faith in that is the crunch point - not that we have faith!

Your third assumption is odd, because even if I did not think 'things are going more or less to plan' I could still have faith in God, that he would achieve his plan despite everything appearing to be going haywire, due to faith in his power and timing. Also, with this assumption, 'free will' has got nothing to do with it. Just asking your question with assumption 1 is fine; the other two only confuse matters.

You asked, "Why is God selecting the faithful instead of the righteous for salvation?" then added, "why is faith something that God ordained to be righteous?" I answer from a Reformed Presbyterian position. The Bible says "The righteous will live by faith" (Galatians 3:11). Also, Romans chapters 3 to 6 say a great deal about faith and righteousness. I cannot go through all of that, but can only give a brief summary.

Chapter 3 starts by quoting the Old Testament where it states that there is no-one righteous, no, not even one. No-one does good, either. Yet, despite that, God's righteousness is by faith of Jesus Christ to all who believe (3:20-23). The point is made that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but God will justify freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (vs. 24), through faith in his blood "to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God, to declare his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (vss. 25-26).

Now comes the reason for faith in Jesus being essential, in verse 27 - "Where is boasting then? It is excluded" by the law of faith, not the law of works. Abraham is then given as an example of how to please God, by faith. He showed faith (trust) in God before doing anything. He left Ur, trusting God's command to go to a place (he knew not where). He trusted God's promise of inheriting a land, and having a child in his old age that would require a miracle. From that child of promise would come the nation to inherit that promised land. Abraham had hope in God, against all hope, for all of that. That's all in chapter 4, a key verse being that the promise was not through the law, "but through the righteousness of faith" (vs. 13).

Chapter 5 verse 1 is the basis for your 1st assumption. Verses 17 to 18 sums up the reason for God counting faith as righteousness. By one offence death reigned by one, but those who receive an abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. The offence of sin brings judgment of condemnation upon all men, yet God chose to show grace to undeserving sinners by judging Christ in our place, punishing him instead of those who put faith in Christ. God justly dealt with sin at the cross, which is why faith in Christ's shed blood is counted to us as righteousness as that is our way of declaring the righteousness of God. The last verse in chapter 6 concludes:

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Nobody needs faith to believe that sin leads to death! But only faith in Christ's shed blood speaks to a faithless world of the gift of eternal life, which is unmerited. God is pleased when we trust in what he did, in Christ, to undeservedly do away with our sin. Such faith is all about God and Christ, you see. It's not about us, or about free will, or works. There can be no boasting, or pointing to ourselves as having faith, for it is all of God and must bring glory to God.

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    I'm sorry, I think I might have worded the question poorly. I understand that faith is necessary in the context of a fallen world because we need access to grace through Christ. What I want to know is why God chose faith as the defining factor. Surely there were alternative choices for God to make, but He chose faith as the ultimate criterion. Why?
    – funkopops
    Sep 30 at 20:11
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    @funkopops You are missing the point of justification by faith (the obtaining of righteousness by faith) that it is the righteousness of God (not a human righteousness) that is obtained by believing. Abraham believed God and there was evaluated to him unto righteousness Genesis, Galatians, Romans and James.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 30 at 21:31
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    @NigelJ I am asking why God ordained faith as righteousness. I understand that in our earthly, fallen state that faith is righteousness. I am asking why God made it that way.
    – funkopops
    Sep 30 at 23:00
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    @funkopops acting as mod, I can tell you this question is on rocky ground on this site owing to the fact that it is now narrowed down to a particular denomination. This site doesn't attempt to answer the "Why does God" type questions, but only what Christians think about subjects. AFAIK, all Christians believe that "God rewards faith", if you think all Christians believe God chooses faith as the "ultimate criterion" you should go back and ask that question to find out whether its true, then ask this question of those who do.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 1 at 6:16
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I believe the premise of this question is a bit off. I think I know where you're going with the idea that all Christians believe that "God rewards faith" but a good chunk of the Protestant/Catholic divide was fought over this and it's not because we believe the same things but we just call them different things.

To Catholics, there are two important scriptural points that make it clear to us that God values "Faith and Works". One, is from the book of James, where he says that faith without works is dead and the other is the stickier point in Romans where St. Paul is more or less trashing good works, but Catholics interpret that as "works of the law" and Protestants as "works in general".

Now, there are a plethora of examples throughout scripture where God +1's a faithful act and -1's an unfaithful act. Starting with Abraham all ready to sacrifice Isaac. That's a +1 (and he got to keep his kid); then Moses tapping a rock twice -1; Everybody who was frightened of what the spies reported in canaan -1 (back to the desert with you). Israelites grumbling and worshipping idols -2, Israelites looking on a serpent on a stick and being healed +1, David believing he can defeat goliath with stones and faith +1, David thinking he can take another man's wife -1.

In life, God rewards faithful acts and curses people (Moses and nearly all the Israelites who left Egypt never got to see the promised land, David's sons were losers, Aarons son's were killed, Aaron and Miriam became lepers, then they didn't)

But, then there are some things that aren't as cut and dry, Job, was punished for no good reason, his kids were losers, but them getting killed wasn't his only punishment. His wife was punishment enough, but even his friends were jerks. All the boys in Maccabees were killed and they kept the faith. Daniel and his buds were not killed and they kept the faith. Esther had everybody pray and asked very sweetly and she was granted deliverance, on the other hand Deborah snuck around and lopped off the head of her oppressor. One thing is for sure, that all the pagan priests who tried to screw around with righteous Israelites got their comeuppance.

Peter was literally called "Satan" and "ye of little faith" by Jesus and he's esteemed among the greatest of saints and his office passed down to his successors is vicar of Christ on Earth.

But you're not asking about theodicy or a synopsis of the Bible. You're asking why does God do something and all I can answer is that God does whatever He wants. The saints will tell you this (especially St. Alphonsus), that God wants us to seek His will. Jesus says that too "seek ye first the Kingdom and the Will of God". Faith, being "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen" is wrapped up in obedience to a God you cannot see "Blessed are those who believe and do not see". That has to be rewarded because it doesn't exist any more in heaven, it's entirely cashed in for the beatific vision where Faith and Hope aren't needed any more; but love is.

As to reward, perhaps you're referring to ones "place in heaven", the idea might be original to Catholicism, or other denominations might not have a doctrine around it. But there's an idea that everyone will be perfectly happy in Heaven, but individuals will have a greater or lesser degree of glory. I can't tell you what that means, but I'd be happy to read another question on this site asking about it.

On the other hand, Jesus says that not everyone who says "Lord Lord" will get in, and if you do get in you've gotta wear a wedding garment to the banquet or else you'll get thrown out where there's wailing and gnashing of the teeth. So, sort of implies doing something rather than just believing something, but we believe that God knows the rationale for the doing is the believing so it all comes down to faith (and works).

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God is righteous and none else is.

And this is the answer to your question.

God demonstrated his righteousness upon his own Son, righteously laying sins upon him (which were not his own) and righteously imputing sin itself to him (again, which was not his own) that by suffering 'in the body, on the tree' he should bear away sins and through death he should eradicate sin.

Those who see and believe this righteous demonstration are seeing and believing the righteousness of God in demonstration.

God therefore sees - in their faith - his own righteousness.

'Abraham believed God and there was evaluated to him unto righteousness' is the literal and accurate translation of the Greek in the Septuagint (Genesis) and of the Greek in Romans, Galatians and James.

God sees and values that within the faith of the believer - which is his own righteousness.

Thus the reason God evaluates faith (that particular kind of faith which appreciates his own righteousness) is because he is righteous.

No other response would be right.

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I think one reason that's supported by Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 1 is that God made salvation by faith so that no one could boast. If it were by works or by human understanding, people could boast--or even if the faith were by ourselves. But our saving faith is a gift from God. So the way God worked salvation for those who believe in Jesus glorifies Him.

Also faith is a key part of love. It's true of human relationships and it's also true of our relationship with God. See e.g. Proverbs 3:5-6 and Hebrews 11:6 (note that to please God we must believe in his Son as other Scriptures say--that's not all spelled out in this one verse, but is elsewhere). And as others have already said, we aren't and can't be righteous, in addition to the fact that salvation by works would be grounds for boasting as Romans points out.

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