The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord tells us:
“To the article of justification [. . .] belong and are necessary only the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith, which receives this in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, whence we receive and have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life.”
If one examines this citation carefully, he will note four key components which are necessary (and only necessary) to the article of justification:
- The grace of God.
- The merit of Christ.
- The promise of the Gospel.
Consequently, while faith does not bring the merits of Christ or the grace of God into existence, it does receive the Gospel promises that they empower, thus constituting the totality of the justification article.
Faith does not bring the righteousness of Christ into existence any more than it brings the grace of God and the Gospel promises into existence. But without faith, one does not receive imputation of righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship, and heirship to eternal life. These all certainly exist and are the merits of Christ whether or not there is faith to receive them, but they are not the property of the individual regardless of faith. They are simply what the article of justification says: the merits of Christ. They become the property of the individual when he becomes one with Christ in the Holy Laver. But until one is clothed with Christ in those waters of life, "the wrath of God abides on him" and he is “condemned already” as the third chapter of St. John tells us. A lack of faith means the opposite of justification; it means condemnation.
In light of this, it seems apparent that all men are neither justified nor righteous in God's sight without faith; how could they be, since they have never had faith and remain under God's wrath and condemnation?
Thus it is evident that faith justifies and is imputed for righteousness. And yet, we cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, much less come to Him. This is because faith is the gift of God. The Holy Spirit comes to us in the Blessed Means of Grace - the Holy Gospel - and works faith in our hearts. This faith is not something we do, but is something God does in us. It saves not because we choose Christ, but because He chose us. Thanks be to God!