Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith. By faith, we take hold of Christ and all his saving benefits. In Christ, we find that our debt has been paid (Col 2:14). Furthermore, through faith in Jesus, we find his righteousness is our righteousness, not inherently but by imputation. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 2:8–9). Thus, we look to Jesus as the object of our faith in order to be justified in God’s sight.
Justification is by grace. That is, sinners do not deserve God’s favor.
Furthermore, justification is not on the basis of works (cf. Gal 2:15–16) but comes through faith (Rom 3:28).
Yet, in order to steer clear of ambiguity, theologians have taken time to identify the object of justifying faith. That is, what or who do we have faith in if we would be justified before God?
For the Reformed tradition, and according to the Bible, Christ alone is the object of justifying faith. God is therefore “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). That is, Christians are not saved by believing in belief, or having faith in faith, or trusting in trust. Instead, faith is the instrumental cause of our justification when and only when it is placed in Jesus Christ.
This call for explicit faith in Christ stood in contrast to the Scholastic notion of implicit faith (fides implicita). Catholicism taught that a person should simply believe the teachings of the Church, even if they do not understand the content of the teaching. The medieval theologian, John Brevicoxa (ca. 14th century), states the position clearly in his A Treatise on Faith, the Church, the Roman Pontiff, and the General Council. He writes, “to believe implicitly means firmly to assent to a universal truth from which many things follow and not to cling stubbornly to its negation.” Helpfully, Brevicoxa provides an illustration. He writes, “For anyone who believes that everything the Church asserts is true believes by implication the following statement: “Blessed Andrew was an Apostle of Christ,” since this has been handed down by the Church. He believes this even though he does not know the Church makes such an assertion” (italics added). There was, then, an idea in Roman Catholic theology that faith did not necessarily and explicitly fall on Jesus. It was sufficient to assent to the teachings of the Catholic Church, regardless of whether or not you knew what the Church taught explicitly.
John Calvin asks in response to such a notion, “Is this what believing means—to understand nothing, provided only that you submit your feeling obediently to the church?” Calvin demurs. True faith does not mean turning over to the church “the task of inquiring and knowing…” Rather, “faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge.”