In teaching through Romans 3:25, you make a distinction between "through faith" and 'by faith," but I didn't understand the explanation. When Paul teaches we have salvation "through faith," rather than by faith, is Paul saying that faith is a passage way?
First, the Bible teaches that no man, by is own will or intellect, will ever choose to accept the Gospel and be saved.
No (natural) man seeks for God or understands His ways of righteousness, according to scripture. Not one. Paul explains further:
No (natural) man will ever set his mind upon the Spirit or the commandments of God. A man's mind is not even able to do so, Paul says. Therefore, no man can find God through his own intellect, for his natural fallen state precludes such a search or discovery. Simply put, men will not and cannot find God on their own.
In fact, a natural man is set against God, and he instinctively views God as an enemy. No amount of persuasion can overcome the sinful nature and its opposition to God. Our rejection of God is so complete that the Bible compares it to a state of death, as if we are a corpse, spiritually speaking.
Paul explains this further in Ephesians:
Paul says it wasn't our sin that made us enemies of God; rather, it was our nature that brought us under His wrath. Our sinful behaviors are just eternal symptoms of this underlying spiritual problem. As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are born sinners.
In chapter 4, Paul contrasts the new state of every believer with his prior state as a natural man. Notice how Paul describes the state of an unbeliever:
Our former state prior to salvation was one in which we were "dead" to the gospel and we walked according to the "futility" of our minds. We were darkened in our understanding and excluded from the life of God because of an ignorance and hardness of heart that could not be penetrated apart from God's grace.
Paul sums up this problem simply in one verse in 1Corinthians:
We could describe salvation as a "Catch 22." Paul says the message of the Gospel saves men, but it can only be understood by being spiritually appraised. In other words, you have to be saved already to understand the Gospel, since the message of God can only be understood by a living, born-again spirit. Notice Paul says a natural man "does not accept" the things of the Spirit. It is literally impossible for an unbeliever to believe the Gospel of their own will.
So how can anyone be saved???? The answer is God MUST act first to overcome our natural, unbelieving state by giving us a living spirit capable of belief in the Gospel. God MUST become the author of our faith, for faith can come no other way, according to scripture.
Paul explains this process at numerous points in the NT, but perhaps the best is found in Ephesian 2:
Notice Paul says that while we were still in that state of deadness, the Lord initiated the salvation process. By the Spirit, He gave us new life (made us born again by Spirit), through the gift of faith by which we believed the gospel. As Paul says in Romans 2:4, it is the kindness of God that brings us to repentance.
So in summary, God acted first to bring us new life by His Spirit, then as a result of that new spiritual birth, we gained the ability to have faith and believe the message of the Gospel.
We now turn to understanding what the Bible says concerning the role of the evangelist. First, we notice in the verses we read above that salvation comes BY grace and THROUGH faith, according to Ephesian 2:8.
Paul's connecting words are important. Salvation is not BY faith. It is BY grace. God's grace is what saves us, not our faith. If it were our faith that produced salvation, then we could take credit for our own salvation. Paul teaches that faith is a gift given to us, so therefore salvation is BY God's grace and manifested to us THROUGH our faith. Simply put, our evidence that God's grace has come to us is our faith in the Gospel, which is the means God has chosen for His children to display His grace to the word. As Paul said in Romans 3:
Faith is the way by which God's grace is manifested in us.
Paul says this in 1Corinthians:
Notice in vs.23-24 Paul says he came to Corinth preaching a foolish message that was guaranteed to be rejected by Jew and Gentile alike, since natural men perceive the Gospel as foolishness. This is exactly as God intended. God intentionally chose a foolish-sounding message (i.e., the message of the cross) as the required content of saving faith, and He did so to shame the so-called wisdom of the world. Then God elected the weak and the ignominious of the world to believe this message, so that in eternity they would serve as witnesses against the so-called wise, strong and noble of the world.
Finally, notice in v.30 Paul says we are "in Christ Jesus" by His (Christ's) doing. None of us became believers because of our own acceptance or agreement with a foolish message. We became believers because the Lord made us so.
Obviously, sending men like Paul to preach and persuade men of the truth of the Gospel is a part of God's plan to grow the church, just as Paul went to Corinth to preach a foolish message, but did God REQUIRE Paul's participation in order to bring faith to Corinth? Self-evidently not, since even Paul himself came to faith without another man preaching the Gospel to him (see Acts 9). Therefore, we conclude that though the Lord doe not NEED men to contribute to the work of salvation, nevertheless the Lord desires to work through me to accomplish His purposes. So we are commanded to go.
Not surprisingly, it was Paul who taught that the persuasive efforts of an evangelist rest upon God for a positive outcome:
Paul says he worked diligently to persuade men because of his fear of the Lord, but still he hoped that his presentation would be "made manifest" to his listeners' consciences. This is the relationship between evangelists and the Lord. We are the workers in the field, we plant, we water, but the Lord causes the growth, as Paul wrote:
So men must act to preach the word and spread the gospel as a matter of personal obedience, but God gives this command not because it is necessary to create faith. On the contrary, only God can bring saving faith. Instead, we are commanded to obey so we may enjoy the fruits of obedience, which is eternal reward. Salvation comes by God's Spirit with our without our obedience.
Concerning Personal Confession
Paul also wrote:
Similarly, Jesus commanded men to repent and believe:
Clearly, the scriptures anticipate a specific, personal response from each believer when confronted with the Gospel. Men are to repent, believe, and confess their belief. Furthermore, believers are to enter into the water to receive baptism. All of these steps are expected. Paul says in Romans 10 that a man is made righteous by belief in the heart, but then he goes further to declare that when he confesses this belief with his mouth, the result is salvation.
Since we know that salvation is not dependent on a man's work, how do we reconcile these statements? Paul is speaking about the personal impact of salvation on the individual. As God brings faith to a heart, righteousness is imputed and the person is born again. At this moment, the person has become a believer, but without the step of making a personal confession, their salvation will not be apparent to the individual. They have not demonstrated their faith outwardly.
In the same way that believers are commanded to be water baptized, likewise the confession of faith is the first act of a believer following belief in the heart. Self-evidently, a confession of faith can only come from a believer, and that believer is already saved by faith in the heart even before they open their lips to confess. Like baptism, confession is an act of obedience by a believer who is called to respond to God's grace.
Finally, why are Christians sent to the world with an appeal for the world to "trust in Jesus?" Because this is the manner by which the Lord has chosen to invite his elect into the family of God. When the message is delivered to one who has been called by the Spirit, the hearer will respond and believe. This call and response pattern is God's chosen method. Regardless of the method the Lord chooses, the source of faith and salvation is always the Spirit.