In the following exercise, the student (or class) will distil from Scripture the exact nature of saving faith, including the object of saving faith, the content of saving faith, and any other responsibility which man must satisfy to be saved. (e.g. "repentance from sin," baptism by immersion, fasting on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, climbing the "sacred stairway" in Rome on one's knees, saying a prayer on each step, etc.). In the left hand column are a series of verses which are presented to the reader as "salvation formulas". The first part of the exercise is for the student (or class) to determine, on a scale of one to ten, whether a particular passage should be regarded as a "salvation formula."
For each verse, the first step of the student is to rate, on a scale of one to ten (1-10) how strongly the verse appears to be a "salvation formula." In this, we are not simply looking at whether the verse is teaching on the doctrine of salvation. We all agree that Jesus' death was necessary for our salvation. To be rated highly as a "salvation formula," a verse should:
1) Identify at least one benefit conferred to man through God's salvation. E.g., salvation, saved, eternal life, regeneration, atonement, justification, forgiveness, etc.
2) Identify what one must do to attain eternal life (e.g. believe or faith, repent from sins, be baptized, etc.
3) Identify the content of saving faith (what it is one must actually believe to be saved).
For example, Romans 3:21-28 speaks with unmistakable clarity on Jesus atoning death, His blood, his propitiation, man's justification, the freeness of the gift of eternal life apart from the works of the law, and the fact that the benefits of salvation are imparted to one who believes on Jesus. In fact, more information relating to the doctrine of salvation is probably set forth in this eight verse span than any other passage of the Bible of comparable length. However, this passage does not actually say: "And here are the specific things that you must believe: A, B, C, and D." For this reason, I personally would not give this verse a "10" as a salvation formula. Nevertheless, I would personally give it a very high rating as a salvation formula for the following reasons:
1) It is, perhaps, the most detailed summary of the doctrine of salvation in Scripture.
2) The passage not only teaches on what God has done, but what man must do, the responsibility to believe.
3) Faith, by its nature, must have an object and a content. You can not simply "believe" in a car. You must believe various propositional truths about a car. You may believe: That a particular car is black with a tan convertible roof. That it is a Toyota. That it is a 2003 model. That it is in running condition. That it is owned by your brother. That it has not been stolen, but is, in fact, in your brother's driveway. Even the belief that a particular car actually exists, and is not an invention of someone's imagination, is a propositional truth. These are examples of propositional truths that one might believe about a car. But there is no such thing as simply "believing" in a car. Without both an object of faith (e.g., a car, Jesus, the Pythagorean theorem) and some content of faith (some propositional truth about that object), the term "believe" is meaningless. Faith does not exist without an object and a content.
4) The propitiation of Jesus, his bloody death, His justification of sinners, and the freeness of Christ's offer of forgiveness (justifrication) are central features in the verse. Therefore, they are, therefore, the most reasonable candidates identifying the propositional content of the faith required by this passage.
5) The formula (faith alone), the object of faith (Jesus) and the content of faith set forth in Romans 3:21-28 bears a profound similarity to the content of saving faith in other salvation formulas throughout Scripture. That is, faith in Jesus as the one who forgives (justifies) us freely by his grace, which he has set forth in the propitiation for our sins (His atoning death). It is unlikely that this is mere coincidence. This thematic repetition of this salvation formula throughout Scripture, consistently describing the nature of mans responsibility before God, including both the object of faith, and the content of faith, strongly suggests that this passage is therefore more than just information about God's salvation. It constitutes an instructive formula, telling man in some detail how to be saved.
In view of these reasons, I would personally give Romans 3:21-29 a high rating as a salvation formula . . . somewhere in the range of 8 to 9. Whether you agree with the score I give this passage is not the point. The above arguments are offered simply to illustrate the reasoning process that should go into determining, on a scale of 1-10, whether a passage in the list below is a "salvation formula" detailing man's responsibility before God in relation to man's eternal salvation.
In a classroom setting, various students can advance arguments from the text to influence the class. The students should carefully weigh the strength of all arguments, and vote their conscience. This is not an exercise where the teacher tells the students the strength of arguments drawn from Scripture, because the purpose of this exercise is not to indoctrinate someone. It is to train the to think like theologians and reach theological conclusions through their own skills. It is also to instill in them a confidence that the view they hold on the gospel is derived from the weight of the evidence from Scripture, not from some beloved teacher whom they trust. This is real discipleship, the training-up of Christian leaders for future generations.