Is faith, strictly speaking, a condition of salvation? In other words, did Jesus die on the cross, doing 99%, and now leaves it up to us to believe, doing the last 1%? In still other words, did Jesus’ death make salvation possible, or did he actually efficaciously accomplish redemption? John Owen (1616–1683) puts it so well:
“Christ did not die for any upon condition, ‘if they do believe;’ but he died for all God’s elect, ‘that they should believe,’ and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principle effects and fruits of the death of Christ… It is nowhere said in Scripture, nor can it reasonably be affirmed, that if we believe, Christ died for us, as though our believing should make that to be which otherwise was not – the act create the object; but Christ died for us that we might believe. Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.”
– John Owen (1616–1683), The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p. 123
I especially love the line above where Owen says that faith is one of the greatest effects and fruits of Christ’s death – saving faith is “absolutely procured.” Jesus actually accomplished salvation for his people when he died on the cross. So we must believe to be saved, but if we have true faith, it is a gift given by God through the death of Christ by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.