Over the next 5 weeks on Theology Tuesday and from the pulpit, we will be going over the "5 solas" of the Christian faith.
TODAY, we look at "sola fide" -- and if you are looking for a sermon on this, here is one we did way back in 2017:
Remember: "Sola" just means "alone" or "only."
The five solas of the Reformation, which distinguished the Reformers from the teachings of Rome, include sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).
These five statements of the evangelical faith lay at the center of what distinguished the theology of the Reformation from the theology of the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century.
--Sola scriptura is the belief that because Scripture is God’s inspired Word, it is the only inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church.
--Solus Christus is the assertion that Christ alone is the basis on which the ungodly are justified in God’s sight.
--Sola fide maintains that the believer receives the redemption Christ has accomplished only through faith.
--Sola gratia proclaims that all of our salvation, from beginning to end, is by grace and grace alone.
--Because of these things, the Reformers held fast to the phrase soli Deo gloria--that only God receives glory for our salvation.
If we are honest, most folks, including myself, greatly dislike any debate, controversy, or fighting within the church.
Yet, in his letter to the church at Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes some things that are worth fighting for. Why? Because it was, literally, a matter of spiritual life and death. So strong was his language that he said the following:
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9 ESV)
Martin Luther, the church Reformer of the 1500s, also got this. He believed it so much that he was willing to risk a split of the known church of the time because of it.
Specifically, in 1501, Luther was a German law student. As he was walking home one day, he was caught in a crazy lightning storm. And he honestly thought that he was going to die there on the spot.
So, what did he do? He yelled out in terror to St. Anne, which his family (being Catholic) had as its patron saint. Luther told her that if she could help spare his life, he would become a monk.
Well, as God’s providence had it, Luther did survive that terrible storm. And, to his credit, he left law school and became a monk, enrolling in a monastery.
After this, his life’s obsession became knowing (and maximizing to his benefit) what would happen to him after he died. Luther wanted to know assuredly that he was right with God and wouldn’t go to hell. He did everything he could:
--Fasted for days on end;
--Slept on the floor;
--Confessed his sin for hours at a time;
--Beat himself with a whip, etc.
Why did he do all this? To show God that he was truly, truly sorry and repentant.
The church of the day taught that participating in these things could make you right with God. But one thing Luther didn’t know was whether it was enough. Had he crossed the line? Had the balances tipped in his favor? Was there a special bell that went off?
After pouring out his heart to his mentor, his mentor told Luther that he should start teaching the Bible at a local university. Not happy with this but not knowing what else to do, he did this. Through this study of Scripture, God began to open his eyes to what the Bible actually said. Yes, he might have been confused at first – but, by God’s grace, these hard truths delighted him and he couldn’t get enough, nor stop telling people about them!
As he taught through the book of Romans, Dr. Luther could not shake Romans 1:17:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
He later recounted:
I hated that phrase “righteousness of God,” which I had been taught to understand is the righteousness with which God punishes the unrighteous sinner. Thus, I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat relentlessly upon Paul at that verse, most earnestly desiring to know what St. Paul wanted from me.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith.
Source: Luther's Works Volume 34, Career of the Reformer IV (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1960), pp. 336-337.
In very simple language, God illuminated Luther’s eyes to see that the righteousness of God that Paul speaks of in Romans 1:17 is not a standard we can live up to. Rather, righteousness that God gives us is a free gift in Christ when we repent of our sins and receive him as Lord and Savior.
Luther now saw that salvation is defined by prepositional phrases. We are saved BY grace alone, THROUGH faith alone, IN Christ alone, FOR good works.
So, nothing Luther did (confessing, beating himself, sleeping on the floor, etc.) was ever going to be enough. No, Jesus’ once-for-all death was enough! The risen Savior did all necessary for salvation. Simply putting faith in him is what saves a person.
This is where Luther developed the phrase sola fide, or “faith alone.” In the coming years, the Reformation—built on the biblical idea that we are saved by faith alone by God’s grace alone in Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone to God’s glory alone (known as the “5 Solas”)—spread like wildfire around Europe. Bibles were also being translated for the first time into the common language of the people.
Yet, in the coming years, as the Bible began to be opened for countless millions without biblical truth (remember, only priests and other church leaders were able to read or interpret the Bible), much blood was shed. Some have estimated that more Protestants died during that time than all the early Christians in Rome.
Bottom-line: Some things are worth fighting for. Paul knew it when he wrote Galatians. Luther knew it when God showed him, amongst other things, that faith alone saves.
The power and purity of the Gospel they fought for in the Reformation is still worth fighting for in 2022 and beyond. The doctrine of justification (by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) is the secret of the universe. It is not a thing to yawn at. You see, without it, we remove ourselves from the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ or muddy God’s true, saving power.
There is nothing more freeing, revolutionary, and precious than to be justified by faith alone through the satisfaction and perfect righteousness of Christ alone. Let us never tire of such great a salvation.