I'm going to take a slight bit of liberty here and add to my original outline. :-) In this article, I will discuss Romans chapters 3 and 4, and explain how these chapters show us that saving faith includes belief in Jesus' substitutionary death (and acknowledgement of our sin by strong implication), as well as faith in Jesus apart from any works.
First, let's again get a brief overview of Paul's argument up to now. Paul is in the process of showing that all the world is guilty before God. In chapter 1 he shows that the Gentiles/heathens are guilty of sin. In chapter 2 he shows that the Jews are also guilty of sin. In chapter 3 he is concluding and reiterating that all the world stands guilty of sin before God and deserving of justice and punishment.
These 2 chapters are pretty clear regarding the need for faith in Jesus alone and apart from works. I will just list them here and provide any comment as needed, since this is not generally a point of contention in this "crossless" debate (although it is vital, thus I have included it in my series, and certainly if anyone has any challenges on this point, bring them up in the comments thread).
3:20 - "...because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." Clearly works do not enable anyone to be justified.
3:21-22 - "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe..." The righteousness of God (i.e. justification) comes apart from the Law and is through faith in Jesus.
3:24 - "...being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus..." - Justification is a gift, thus not something that could be earned or gained through works.
3:28 - "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." - Self-evident.
4:2-5 - "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.' Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness..." - Lots of good stuff in this section. Paul uses the beloved and revered OT story of Abraham to show that he was justified NOT by works, but only by his faith in God. Paul also strongly rejects that works can possibly contribute to our salvation. He states that if you're counting on your works, then you'll get whatever they're worth (i.e. not much). But if you don't rely on your works, but instead simply believe in Jesus, your faith in Jesus results in His righteousness being transferred to your account, allowing God to remain just while justifying sinners.
There is more here, but I think that is sufficient to prove that salvation/justification is by faith alone in Jesus and completely apart from works.
Do we see any other content of saving faith here in these chapters? I believe so. Romans 3:25 says of Jesus, "God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed..." (HCSB) I have previously discussed this verse on my group blog. I have edited it and reproduced it here. This verse seems pretty clear that we are to have faith "in His blood". Here is an article by Zane Hodges in which he addresses this verse from the "crossless" perspective. In the article, Hodges notes that the word for "propitiation" here is "hilasterion", which refers to the mercy seat. However, I don't see how this makes a difference. My point is that Romans 3:25 clearly states that Jesus’ propitiation of our sin is applied through faith in the propitiation (the blood of Jesus). It seems to me that Hodges is claiming that “propitiation” is actually two steps, the first step being the actual payment of our sins (Jesus’ death), and the second step being where Jesus “introduces” us to God or mediates between us and God. He then seems to be claiming that the “propitiation” in Romans 3:25 ONLY refers to the “second step”, due to the use of the word for mercy seat (hilasterion), and that God said he would “meet” with his people at the mercy seat.
I first want to point out a quote by Hodges from that article:
“Without at all criticizing the choice of word order by NKJV and NASV, it nevertheless remains true that the Greek word order is significant. Paul is basically connecting the words 'through faith' with the word for mercy seat (hilasterion). That is to say, Jesus Christ becomes the New Covenant equivalent of the mercy seat through faith.”
This is important because Hodges here is acknowledging that Romans 3:25 clearly states that Jesus becomes our propitiation (or “mercy seat”) through faith. Which leads to the question, faith in what? The verse tells us plainly, faith in His blood. Hodges goes on to say that he thinks this refers to a specific aspect of propitiation (which I explain further below), but I will also refute that idea. The point to remember here is that even Hodges concedes that Romans 3:25 is clear in that whatever the verse means by “propitiation”, Jesus only becomes such propitiation by faith (and I would further say it is faith “in His blood”).
First, I don’t think such a bifurcation of propitiation is warranted. The separation seems artificial, and solely to bolster Hodges’ already-held view. I don’t think such a distinction would ever be set forth if the theology that requires it wasn’t already in place.
Second, I don’t see the focus of the mercy seat as the place where anyone is “introduced” to God. When Paul’s readers saw the word and thought of “mercy seat”, I don’t think they separated in their minds the payment (or passing over, as was the case in the OT) of their sins from the ability to meet with God. The mercy seat contained all of those aspects in one. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat, at once covering their sins AND allowing God to meet with them. I just do not see how the use of the word for “mercy seat” somehow means ONLY God meeting with the believer and not ALSO the payment of sins.
Third, and I think this point is more pertinent, Hodges quotes Exodus 25 (although the article says “Exodus 5″), when God is giving instructions to Moses on how to build the tabernacle, what all should be in it, and how it all should be constructed. God tells Moses specifically, “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” This seems to indicate a special, non-routine occurrence of God meeting with Moses specifically, in order to give him commandments for the nation of Israel. In contrast, when God prescribes the Law of Atonement, or sin offering, that the Israelites were to do each year (in Lev. 16), God says nothing at all about meeting the priest at the mercy seat. All that is said is the instructions on how to sprinkle the blood on the seat, the scapegoat, the cleaning up of the priest doing the killing, and what to do with the animal after the offering was made. There is NO indication that God “met with” the priest each and every year that he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, I think we see that the “meeting” God planned in Exodus 25 was a unique meeting with Moses specifically, in order to give him information that he was to pass on to Israel. Thus my second point above is further solidified, in that the readers of Romans, when they saw the word hilasterion (”mercy seat”), would have thought of the atonement in general. There is no evidence that the mercy seat was considered or even intended as some sort of annual meeting place between God and man. So it’s not just that Paul’s readers wouldn’t have separated the “meeting with God” aspect from the “atonement for sins” aspect, it’s that they never would have thought of a “meeting with God” aspect in the first place, because that’s simply not what happened at the mercy seat.
Now, it is true that a few translations render this verse, "in His blood, through faith", or "by His blood, through faith". But the vast majority of translations have it "through faith in his blood". I don't know Greek, but thankfully people who do have put together some wonderful tools so that I can still see what the original Greek was for this verse. Literally this reads, "through faith in this His blood". The strong consensus is that the verse does say "through faith in His blood".
One final thought on these chapters. As I stated earlier, in Romans 3 Paul is concluding his argument that the entire world stands guilty of sin before a just and holy God. Since Paul has just got done explaining in detail all about our sin problem and the fact that it separates us from God, it seems patently obvious that for someone to appropriate Christ's sacrifice and obtain forgiveness of sins, that that person must be aware of and acknowledge (i.e. agree with God about) their sins. If we are to have "faith in His blood", what would we be having such faith for? Why would Jesus need to die, and why do we need His blood to fix anything? It must be that we need forgiveness for our sins. Some will say that this is merely a psychological step rather than a salvific step. But I contend that it is actually a psychological requirement (and Scriptural too), rather than simply a "most likely" or "usually" or "pretty much all the time" step that most people will go through. When we consider the OT sacrifices were all done because of sin, and that Paul is writing these words about faith in the context of proving that all are guilty of sin (and remembering the high-context ANE society he is writing in), I think it becomes quite clear that a person must acknowledge their sin in order to put their faith for forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus. How could someone receive forgiveness of their sins if they don't even acknowledge their sins, and/or they don't believe in and accept the payment that Jesus made in order to forgive their sins? This is not merely psychological, it is salvific. You cannot receive forgiveness of your sins if you don't ask for it and accept the payment for your sins.
Romans chapters 3 and 4 teach very plainly that saving faith must be placed in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works. But what does it mean to place your faith in Jesus? What must we believe in Him for? Chapter 3 makes it evident that we need to acknowledge our sin, and place our faith in Jesus and His substitutionary sacrifice - the blood that He shed to provide for our forgiveness.