The Empty Hand of Faith
By James White
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness . . . For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants."
—Romans 4:4-5, 16
"That I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
"Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation, because it does not pretend to create salvation, nor to help in it, but it is content humbly to receive it. Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it. Faith never makes herself her own plea, she rests all her argument upon the blood of Christ. She becomes a good servant to bring the riches of the Lord Jesus to the soul, because she acknowledges whence she drew them, and owns that grace alone entrusted her with them."
—Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace
The single most amazing truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: it is all of grace. It is the work of God, not of man. It is the story of a powerful Savior who redeems His people, and He does so completely. It is about a sovereign God, a perfect Savior, and an accomplished redemption.
In the above quoted Scripture we hear the very message of life itself. We first hear about our inability: if we think we can "work" to gain something from God, we do not understand how truly lost we are. The one who works receives only his wages, not righteousness. But to the one who does not come to God with any idea of merit or earning, but instead trusts in the God who justifies the ungodly, that kind of faith is reckoned to him as righteousness. It is a faith that comes with empty hand, claiming nothing for itself, but seeking its all in Christ. This empty-handed faith is the kind of faith that results in a right standing with God.
Next we hear about God’s ability: since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want. God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than free, unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, he excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace.
Finally, we see the certainty of salvation: because God saves by His all-powerful and undeserved mercy and grace, the promise of salvation is "guaranteed" or made firm and unmovable to everyone who extends that empty but believing hand to His all powerful and sovereign grace. If salvation was in the least bit dependent upon the sinner, the promise could never be thought of as firm and unmovable. But since faith brings no idea of self-worth with it, and since grace is by definition free and unmerited, then salvation itself is wholly the work of God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31), and hence it is certain, firm and can be "guaranteed." Only salvation that is God’s work in its totality can fit this description.
My friend, do you have the kind of righteousness that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:9, cited above? Or do you have a standing before God that is based upon what you do, rather than upon what Christ has done in your place? Can you understand why a true Christian cannot help but stand in wonder at these words: "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him" (Romans 4:8)? Have your sins been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness imputed to you by faith? Do you know what it means to have Christ not merely as Savior in name, but in fact, so that your entire trust is in Him and in nothing you can ever do? Can you honestly say you trust Him with your eternal destiny, and fully believe He carried your sins on the cross, and has given His righteousness to you, so that you can stand before the holy God? It is my prayer that if you cannot claim Christ in this way, you will give consideration to these truths, and God will be merciful toward you so as to grant you true faith to embrace His gospel. May God richly bless you as you seek His truth.
Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace which is the fountain and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. . ."No man comes to me," says Jesus, "except the Father who sent me draws him." So that faith, which is coming to Christ, is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved "through faith," but salvation is "by grace." Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: "By grace are you saved." What glad tidings for the undeserving!
—Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace