1 Cor. 15:1-11; Eph. 2:1-10; Heb. 11:1-7
Once again, we are working through the 5 “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation on the occasion of this month being the 500th anniversary of it’s spark. The tipping point was Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door to protest many of the corruptions that had crept into the Catholic Church, and calling for Reform.
Luther himself was a powerful, complex, controversial, brilliant and polarizing man.
He didn’t come from noble stock. His parents had both been domestic servants. With some help from relatives, Martin’s parents moved to a mining town where the elder Luther got work in a copper mine. He worked his way up and eventually became part owner and a citizen of some standing. But Luther notes both of his parents were severely physically abusive.
Luther’s Dad wanted him to go into law, and in fact he completed 2 law degrees in record time. But being frightened of death in a lightening storm at the age of 21, he promised St. Anne that if he survived he’d become a monk. Which promise he kept much to his father’s everlasting consternation. Monks don’t earn much money nor have standing in the community.
Luther again excelled in his education, took a doctorate and eventually became head over 10 monasteries at the same time. All without yet being a true Believer in Christ – a serious, but albeit lost religionist.
Luther was plagued by the Church’s insistence that one had to be completely righteous before God. As one writer put it “As a beginning theology student, Luther was taught the prevailing orthodoxy, and parts of his early lectures as a professor show he believed it. His teachers, following the Bible, taught that God demanded absolute righteousness, as in the passage “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” People needed to love God absolutely and their neighbors as themselves. They should have the unshakable faith of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son.”
I.e. The individual had to bring their own righteousness to God BEFORE they could receive grace for salvation.
Last time, when we looked at Sola Gratia (grace alone), we dealt with that very question – how can I BE good enough, worthy enough to have eternal life?
But it was in returning to God’s Word as the final authority over these matters – Sola Scriptura – above the then teaching of the church, that Luther’s dilemma was solved at last. Yet not without years of agonizing struggle, and keen guilt for his sins. The more he came to know himself, as an honest man, the more he knew he wasn’t righteous, and certainly not as holy as God! So if that was required, he was doomed.
In fact, this is what secured the power base of the Church. Since one could not be as holy as they needed to be, the Church alone could dispense the rites, rituals and other means to help make up the gap. So it was indulgences became a major part of the landscape. For giving sums of money to the church, one could purchase for themselves and others, years taken off their time spent in purgatory after death. They could purchase grace to some extent, a part of their own salvation.
Not only could money purchase grace to help in salvation, so could good works. Especially certain works the Church dreamt up for themselves.
One of these which Luther himself experienced is still active today. It is called “The Pontifical Shrine of the Scala Santa” or the Holy Stairs.”
These stairs found in the Vatican are 28 marble steps which they claim were the steps Jesus walked up to stand before Pilate. The Church claims that Constantine’s Mother Saint Helena brought the stairs from Jerusalem in the 300’s.
It is taught that when one climbs them, and stops at each step “meditating on the Passion of Jesus and recite the Creed, one Our Father, one Hail Mary, one Glory be and a prayer for the intention of the Pope, and also go to Confession and received Holy Communion.” This slide is from their current official site.
In 1510, Luther performed this work being promised that for each step, 9 years would be taken off of his time in Purgatory – or of someone else he specified.
Such good works were part and parcel of one’s ultimate salvation.
And whether or not one buys into the Romanist teaching on this subject, the truth is many people have a superstitious view of good works they’ve invented for themselves to soothe their consciences into believing that being a church goer, a tither, a Bible reader, serving as a deacon or doing other good things somehow make them fit for Heaven as well.
Be it institutional or personal, the notion of good works contributing to one’s justification – one’s standing before God – is a lie.
It is both a direct contradiction of the Bible’s teaching about how one becomes right with God, and, it implies that Jesus’ sacrificial death was not sufficient to save us, and that we can supply what is missing in His salvific work. It is both the demeaning of the Cross, and the elevation of human ability – it is arrogance.
But it was in Romans 1:17 where Luther encountered Paul’s words as quoted from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk 2:4 – “the just (or righteous) shall live by faith.” That offered the key to unlock the dungeon of his tortured conscience, and the recovery of the Gospel to the Church.
You see part of the problem was the church then using the Latin Vulgate – an ancient Latin translation of the Bible – as the only official translation of the Bible. And in it, the word “righteous” in Romans 1:17 was translated “justificari” meaning it is the person who is themselves righteous or just who can therefore live by faith. One who was intrinsically righteous – having a righteous nature.
But as Luther was now reading the original Greek for the first time, he realized the meaning of δίκαιος (righteous or just) was that it is those who live by faith God pronounces just or righteous. They do not bring their righteousness to the table, but are declared righteous by God as they believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – and His dying as their substitute! It is an imputed righteousness. God counts the Believer as righteous and treats him or her as righteous as they have faith in Jesus. Even while they themselves still have indwelling sin! It is a FORENSIC or legal righteousness – a pronouncement, not a state of being.
Romans 4:4-8 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Philippians 3:8-9 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
Whereas the issue in Sola Gratia is how can I be good enough in myself to merit eternal life, in Sola Fide the question is how can I do enough righteous things to earn eternal life?
And the answer to both is – you can do neither!
Rom. 4:5 – God justifies the ungodly and undeserving, and grants salvation as a gift and not a wage for doing good things or having lived a righteous life – through FAITH alone.
As Eph. 2:8-10 unpacks it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Yes, it is true, good works will FOLLOW salvation, but they are not the cause of salvation.
All of this begs 3 more all important questions which we must investigate in order to put this all together – If the Scripture is true and a person is justified by grace through faith as a gift – what then is this faith that is being talked about?
How does it work?
And how do I get it?
What is the faith which the Bible is referring to here?
To answer that we need to see how the Bible itself uses the word, and not come to it with our own definition.
As the Church in Luther’s day had redefined grace to be something you earn, and had mis-defined justification as something you were – righteous yourself – so today, faith has taken on all kinds of uses and meanings which are foreign to the Bible. And if we pour those meanings into the text, we mutilate the text and make it say what it not only doesn’t, but can’t!
Perhaps it is best to start with what faith isn’t? For the Bile uses the word quite specifically.
1. No such thing as generic faith.
The idea that someone is a person of faith without respect to the revelation of God in His Word or His stated promises, is not present in the Bible.
The idea that someone is just a person of “faith” – meaning they simply trust that somehow everything will turn out all right or for the good or that they are simply optimistic is totally absent from Scripture.
No one is said to have faith in the Bible, but those who have believed God – believed the message of the Gospel – believed what God has revealed.
2. Nor are there other “faiths” in the Bible.
Those who hold to religious beliefs which are not given by God or originate in the Bible are never referred to as “faiths” but as idolatry, false religion or superstition. The modern notion of people of other faiths again, is simply foreign to Scripture.
Defining faith: Faith is believing what God has revealed as true, and ordering one’s life accordingly.
This is the unbroken pattern of Scripture. And we can see it demonstrated for us in that amazing chapter on faith – Heb. 11.
Let’s look at one example and then you can see that this pattern is noted in every single case.
Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
- God revealed to Noah the flood was coming.
- Noah believed what was revealed.
- Noah acted in accordance with that revelation.
It is this simple 3-fold pattern that Bible repeats over and over that shows us what Biblical saving faith looks like.
So how does it work?
In Luther’s day, Phillip Melancthon, Luther’s younger associate layed it out this way to help us understand the necessary elements of saving faith. He noted 3 components to saving faith: Noticia, Assensus, Fiducia
Noticia – A message. There is information given – revelation by God. Information which must be understood. In the case of salvation, the message is the Gospel. What Paul says in 1 Cor. 15. 1–4 “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Assensus – Agreement. There is a reception of the message as true. One says “yes! I believe this! Christ died for my sins according to the plan of God revealed in the Scriptures. And He was buried, and He rose again the 3rd day – again, all in accordance with what was revealed in the Scriptures. I believe this is true.”
Fiducia – Acting in trust. Having believed it is true, I now must commit myself to trusting in the truth of it for my salvation – abandoning hope in anything else. I will trust Christ and His substitutionary atoning death on my behalf – as all that is needed to be reconciled to God the Father. I must trust that He bore my guilt, took the penalty for my sin, and set me free.
We must hear and understand the Gospel.
We must believe the Gospel.
We must lay the whole of our weight upon the truth of it for the forgiveness of sins – and reconciliation to God the Father.
How do obtain this faith? Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
By hearing God’s Word, the message of the Gospel itself generates faith in the heart. This is why it is so important to attend to the hearing of God’s Word. This is God’s method and means.
Salvation, being made just in God’s eyes comes –
- By understanding God’s message of Christ dying for our sins, being buried, and resurrected the 3rd day according to the Scriptures as God’s perfect sacrifice offered up in our place –
- By consenting to the truth of both our need of salvation due to our sin and Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the only means of dealing with our sin –
- By actually trusting ourselves to Christ as our substitute – abandoning all other means of trying to be made right with and reconciled to – God. His sacrifice is propitiation, a satisfaction for our sins, held out to us the be received by faith alone – apart from any worthiness or good works of our own.
And we must always fight the tendency to draw back from faith to trust in rites, ceremonies and law keeping. Sola fide!
One last observation. Why does faith play this absolutely central role?
Because it is an absolute repudiation of what caused the Fall.
In the Garden, our first parents failed to believe God, and believed a lie instead.
In salvation, each of us is placed right at the same place once more. Will we believe, the lies of the World, the lies of the Devil, or the lies we create ourselves? Or will we believe the Word of God – what He has spoken, and cast ourselves completely on the finished work of Christ?
And so I ask you today – are you trusting Christ alone for your salvation? Are you putting all your eggs into the one basket of believing the Gospel, and looking nowhere else?
Ephesians 2:8–10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”