Through history, Christians have debated about the relationship between faith and righteous conduct as essential elements that may determine salvation.
Some have emphasized holiness of life as a determinant factor; others believed that only intellectual faith was enough to guarantee salvation, while others again, have taught that not only faith and good conduct are necessary for salvation, but also the performance of basic rituals, like Baptism and Confirmation.
But regardless of these positions, all Christians have always agreed that faith is the essential element required to attain salvation, and that without faith, good conduct and sacraments are pointless, unable to save for themselves.
The Bible teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Since Christianity has as a pillar of faith the belief that all humans come into existence destitute of Salvation due to Original Sin, it is understood that good behaviour alone could not attain this salvation, let alone the fact that no human is totally free of personal sin during a lifetime, making therefore all men and women always guilty of something, which will contributes to their eternal damnation. To be open to God’s grace and to the benefits of the atonement provided in Jesus Christ, it is of logical consequence to think that only those who believe in God, in Jesus Christ and in his work, would have access to it, those who don’t believe in it, won’t.
Even in the case that the performance of Sacraments were necessary for salvation and that our personal conduct would be taken into account at the Last Judgement, without faith, neither sacrament nor good conduct will save anyone. Ordinances can be performed under personal faith or under the faith of the community, as in the case of infant baptism; and good conduct, charity and other meritorious actions can be done, but without the belief that God exists, these ceremonies and actions could not possibly be counted as being done in obedience to God, and as a consequence, lose all kind of transcendental value.
For this reason Jesus said to his disciples in the Great Commission:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16).
In this verse, even when water Baptism is suggested as necessary for salvation, the lack of faith is counted as enough to condemn the person. Here Baptism is a second requirement as an addition to an initial faith, but without that faith, Baptism becomes irrelevant.
Another element where faith plays a crucial role is in forgiveness of sins.
Even in the case where our personal conduct, good and bad, would be assessed at the Last Judgement, all humans, even the best of us, would at certain moment in life, fall into sin, which will stain that clean record we had hoped to present before God at the Last Day. Only through faith we can repent and ask God for forgiveness to be cleaned of all our sins and continue to hope for eternal life in Glory. Without that faith in Jesus and his power to forgive, this would be impossible.
Faith is the root of all justification and salvation. Faith vivifies sacraments and opens the way to forgiveness. Faith is the initial element that brings a human being into a relationship with God; without faith, every religious performance loses purpose, and forgiveness becomes unable to be attained at all.
Certainly some Sacraments are necessary for salvation (Jn. 3:5), and it is also true that our personal conduct will be examined and taken into account during our judgement (Mt. 7:21), but there will be times when the performance of Sacraments will not be possible, and times when our personal conduct will be stained with various sins. Only through faith, justification will be possible without Sacraments, and only through faith, we will be absolved from our sins before God.
Faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in the Gospel, is what vivifies everything else in Christianity, but without that faith, everything else loses all purpose. Faith is the only key that ultimately opens the door to Heaven. Without that key, the door cannot be open.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God”.