Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Paul says we are saved by grace through faith in his letter to the Ephesians. A simple definition of grace is God's favor shown to those who deserve only his wrath. For grace to be grace it must be totally of God. If we contribute something to His favoring us, we could not say our salvation was by grace, at least not strictly speaking. There is something more to consider about our salvation in Christ when we say it is by grace through faith. I might be tempted to think that it is my faith that salvation depends on. God does it all, but, I must have faith. It is true, just as Scripture says- we are saved through or by faith. Isn't faith something I must then contribute? Is faith somehow a work that I do?
A generic definition of faith is a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. On the surface, it seems like faith is something I must exercise or somehow conjure. I take faith in Scripture to mean faith in Christ. More specifically, faith in the finished work of Christ on my behalf. Again, if I must have faith, is this something I do? If so, isn't it a work? James writes something that causes more questions-
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
James is posing a rhetorical question to which the answer is NO. If someone has no works which manifest a life transformed by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit they do not possess saving faith. A person can have a kind of faith (that is, a belief in something) yet not have saving faith. This is James' point in 2:19
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Belief in God's existence or even some particular attribute of God does not constitute saving faith- the kind of faith that will save me from the punishment I deserve for my sins.
But wait a minute. We are saved by grace through faith. The kind of faith it takes to save me- saving faith or justifying faith- is far too great a faith for me to exercise. Frankly, if it's up to me to muster such faith, I would be lost. Further, how would that not be a work I contribute to salvation if the faith comes from me? I think the answer is actually contained in the same passage from Paul (among other places) in Ephesians. Look again keying on what is said about faith-
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Do you see what this passage says is a gift? Look closely. The passage says- "For by grace you have been saved through faith".....AND THIS IS NOT YOUR OWN DOING; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD. What is not our own doing? Being saved by grace through faith! Therefore, the faith needed to save us is a GIFT from God. He provides the faith necessary to lay hold of Christ! Our own faith would not ever suffice. We could never believe well enough. God must give faith for us to own Christ! That's exactly what He does and that's why we are saved by 100% grace! God does it this way so that no man can boast. None of the credit for salvation is ours...none.
Think of it sort of like this- back when I was a kid delivering newspapers in Western New York an old fisherman invited me to go fishing in Lake Erie with him. I had told him I liked to fish, so he thought I would enjoy some real fishing. He was a pretty serious fisherman, the beautiful mounts that lined his garage and house gave testimony to his angling prowess. The day we were going to fish I arrived at his house well before first light, loaded my fishing stuff in to his truck and we drove 45 minutes to a long pier that jutted out into Erie. As we approached the pier I could tell this was way bigger than pond fishing for sunnies and catfish. When we started to unload our stuff I immediately noticed his huge heavy poles with rope-like line and odd looking huge hooks. I realized that my Zebco 33 pole with 10 lb test line and a small hook would not be able to catch whatever we were about to fish for. My older fishing buddy looked at my pole and asked, "what do you think you will catch with that"? He then told me we were going to try and catch Northern Pike and/or Muskies. Both were aggressive, large fish. Along the pier there were actually hollow poles made to slip your own pole down in to. If a pike got on your line, you'd need to brace yourself for the fight to get him in! I knew I was ill prepared. My pole was simply not capable of doing what I came to do. Just as I was embarrassed and despairing, the old man grabbed a pole from his truck and handed it to me. I could barely carry it! I knew this pole would work! It was not mine, it was given to me to use. I knew it would work!
I suggest that man's faith is not capable of doing what it would need to do to for our salvation. We must be given a faith by God, a saving faith, that allows us to lay hold of Christ and to rest in Him completely.
The Westminster Larger Catechism does a tremendous job describing the kind of faith that is necessary for salvation-
What is justifying faith?
Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.
When faith is rightly understood, it is plain to see that we contribute nothing to our salvation. Man receives none of the glory in salvation. This is why we can truly say "Soli Deo Goria"- to God alone be the glory.