“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
George Michael of Wham! fame told us back in 1987 “…I gotta have faith.” There is hardly a person alive who doesn’t equate faith with religion, regardless of the flavor in which you partake. But too often, it is has little to do with the faith of the Bible, and more in our own abilities, or perhaps the team for which I root (yes, Saturday’s in the South are a religious experience when it comes to college football).
Notice to what Paul connects faith in the verse above – justification. Again, there are very few people who are not concerned at some level with how I might be “right” (justified) before God. Death has a way of intruding in all of our lives, and we find it unsavory to think that this is all there is. What about a life to come? Is there any hope for me?
When we come to the second of the “solas,” “sola fide,” we begin to understand that that whether it is “by faith” or “through faith,” this is the only means of receiving the promise of the Gospel, that good news that Christ Jesus came to save sinners. It completes the picture of God’s justification of sinners. Faith is the means by which Christ (through the Spirit) presents the person to God reconciled, clean and holy, blameless and without blemish, without fault and above reproach in the sight of God, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
You say you have faith and yet you feel guilty or you feel worthless. This is where we must learn again what justifying faith is. It is not simply, “Do you believe?” It is about having confidence before God. It is about having a good conscience. Too often, our confidence is based not upon the solid foundation of Jesus’ work for us, but upon our own achievements, progress, or recognition from others.
What we want to do about it is usually to work harder, try harder, or find measurable improvement. A troubled conscience is knowing we have failed. A terrified conscience is knowing that we will be judged by God to be lacking. Yet it seems we hardly ever seek rest for our conscience in God’s promises. We seek everywhere else.
Here is where we get things upside down. We think that God saves me because of my faith. But faith is merely the instrument that God uses. It is really the object of my faith that brings salvation. It is this faith alone that saves. If that object of my faith is not the Lord Jesus Christ, then I cannot be saved. This is why Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls.
As R.C. Sproul notes, “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. The article that is so important that he said, that if we lose it, we lose Christianity. If you don’t have the doctrine of justification by faith alone, you don’t have the gospel, and if you don’t have the gospel, the church has no reason to exist. The church itself ceases to be a church and falls into apostasy because it is the article that answers the question, what must I do to be saved?”
My task as a minister of the gospel is this: to impart the clear message that Christ Jesus came to save sinners. Here is the grace of God to sinners – that we are without hope unless God himself saves us. And the good news is this, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:8-9).
So look in faith alone to Jesus, for “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).