The first blog in this series dealt with the source of truth Christians must agree on for unity and the last blog with why it is we need a savior and why Jesus Christ is our only savior. This blog will deal with how it is that the work of Jesus is applied to us. We are saved Sola Fide, through faith alone.
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.
Whether or not they would admit it, most in our culture, even many professing Christians, believe that we are saved not by faith alone, not even by works, but rather by death. If you’ve ever been to a funeral, the heavy implication given is that since the individual died, they are in heaven. They are justified by death. It’s like death is the magical wand that washes away all their misdeeds and all their sins are forgotten when they pass away- but this is simply not true according to the Bible.
Moses, David, and the Apostle Paul: these three men combined wrote almost half of the Bible, and all three of them were murderers. Yes they did a lot of good things too but the fact is they were guilty. What just court of law would pardon the guilty because they also did something “good” at another time? What just police officer would pull you over for doing twenty over and then let you off the hook when you insist that you had been driving the speed limit most of the day, and he just happened to catch you at a bad time? That’s not how it works! You break the law you pay the price. What Moses, David, and Paul all had was, as it turns out, the thing that matters most- faith in God and his promises.
What is faith?
Webster’s Dictionary defines faith “allegiance to duty or a person”, Google defines it “complete trust or confidence in someone or something” and the book of Hebrews defines it “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Biblical faith or saving faith is not a capricious intellectual ascent or a team we arbitrarily decide to join, rather it is something that we bet all we have on, it’s a life changing and binding allegiance and it is this faith that we are saved through.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Faith is our metaphorical super bowl ticket- as long as we have that ticket we are guaranteed admission and a seat, it doesn’t matter where we’re from, what color or skin is, how ugly or good looking we are, or how full or empty our bank account is- the ticket alone gives us admission. Likewise faith is our ticket to salvation and the righteousness in Christ that accompanies it.
What about works?
‘We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.’ -Martin Luther
Works play an important role in the Christian life but they are independent from saving faith. When Martin Luther and the reformers cried “Sola Fide!”, this was both offensive and scary to the religious authorities. They did indeed believe that we are saved by faith but not faith alone, they believed faith was necessary but that works must to be added to it in order to perfect or actualize it. On top of that, there was still room for human achievement and with achievement, pride in earning a status of righteousness- contrary to the Biblical teaching that the righteousness of Christ is imputed or credited to the believer by faith. It was scary because the religious authorities could lose their element of control if the people’s eternal damnation or salvation was not dependant on moral or lawful behavior. Early in his career, Luther rejected the book of James and even went so far as to call it an “epistle of straw” as he believed that James contradicted Paul. James 2:24 reads:
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Later on in his career however Luther made peace with James and understood that passage in light of the rest of scripture, that faith is evidenced by works. As we’ve already seen, biblical faith never stops in the mind- where it is genuine, it is evidenced by a changed life and changed actions. Ephesians 2 tells us we are saved by faith alone, but then immediately goes on to tell us that we are saved for specific works. Pertaining to the application of faith for salvation, Luther coined the term “the great exchange”. On the cross, the sin of all who believe was placed upon Christ, and by faith and our sin is exchanged for His righteousness. By faith our wickedness is exchanged for Christ’s goodness. When God the Father looked upon God the Son on the cross, He saw the sin of those who believe, when God the Father looks upon those who believe he sees the righteousness of Christ. This substitution is how God is both just and the justifier of the wicked- we are guilty of cosmic treason against The Almighty, but for we who are in Christ, our debt has been paid and our sentence has been served.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Throughout the Bible, belief and obedience go hand in hand and belief empowers obedience. If we believe and have saving faith then we will also be obedient. By Faith Abraham obeyed, by faith Moses obeyed, by faith Rahab obeyed and on and on and on (Hebrews 11). The obedience and works don’t do the saving but they spring from and accompany it.
“To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Romans 5:5
We are not saved through works or through death but through faith and faith alone. If we are to call ourselves Christians we must affirm Sola Fide, we are justified through faith alone, Solus Christus, in Christ alone, and Sola Scriptura, according to Scripture alone.
“We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” Romans 3:28