The following thoughts derive from my study and exposition concerning the doctrine of justification.
Paul never truly wavers in his assertion that the means of justification is indeed by faith (cf. Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:8). However, Faith is an interesting action for God to have chosen for the process of justification. Why faith, and not hope, joy, or love? The remarkable revelation of faith as the greatest of all virtues testifies to the necessity of man’s dependence, whereas man’s supreme good can only be found in surrendering to God’s goodness.
If one could give a one-word summation of faith as to simplify its concept, one should submit dependence. Humility, trust, and the like are gloriously true descriptions as well, and soak the pages of Scripture, but dependence exacts an encompassing connotation that may provide better cultural clarity. Culture, more so the Christian culture, has framed trust and humility around virtuous and emotive limitations. The ethic is only reserved for the frame of mind and easily subject to change. One can trust one for a moment, and then once again reserve to self-sufficiency. However, dependence is inescapable, and is internally as well as externally prevalent. It describes a sovereign law and force one must rightly and graciously abide by – e.g., clay in the hands of the potter (cf. Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21) or sheep under the provision of the shepherd (cf. Psalm 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:31). The clay must not merely trust or humble itself before the potter, and the sheep must not merely trust or humble itself before the shepherd; they must depend on him. Man cannot live without faith. He cannot be independent of it. Anything effectuated outside of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Yes, one cannot live without faith because only unrighteousness is left outside of it; and death is its wages. ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17) – only righteousness can live, and only faith can be its means.
Conclusively, faith pronounced as dependence provides this celebrated need for God in principles underscored in the modernized connoted verbiage of trust and humility. This is not to say that characterizing faith as humility and trust is wrong – certainly not, for these are biblical terms as well – rather the interest here is what ought to be communicated to our current culture. You should not merely trust or humble yourself before God because Christians tell you to, but you must, out of necessity, depend on God – have faith – for it is the only means of salvation. Calling for dependence drives it up to the head, incorporating both trust and humility (as both are necessary predecessors to dependence), and motions the unbeliever beyond momentary shifts. The church is not calling unbelievers to merely adapt their preferences or adhere to a creed. The church is calling for the clay to submit to the potter, the sheep to submit to the shepherd.