October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther unintentionally sparking the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Not only did this movement revolutionize the church, it also dramatically changed the culture and the history of western civilization in areas such as government, education, the family, etc.
Last month I began writing the first of five articles on the five solas of the reformation, in order to help us better focus on this significant event. These five solas serve as pillars to the reformation and are still foundational to what we stand for today in the Lutheran church. This month we consider the second sola of the reformation, Sola Fide - Faith Alone.
In order to talk about this second pillar of the reformation we need to understand a little bit about the doctrine (teaching) of justification. Martin Luther once said that this doctrine is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” In other words, this is foundational for us all. Simply defined, justification is a legal declaration by God in which He declares a sinner to no longer be guilty of sin, or no longer deserving of punishment for sin. In other words, this is God’s work of salvation in us. Another way of explaining justification is that we are declared to be righteous before God.
The question that Sola Fide answers is how this all takes place. How are we declared righteous, innocent, or justified by God? Is it by something we do, or is it only in what God has done through Christ? That was the question that Martin Luther wrestled with in his life.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, which is what Luther was a part of during this time of wrestling, faith is necessary in order to be justified before God. However, faith is not sufficient. In other words, according to the Romans Catholic Church you need more than faith. To illustrate this the Roman Catholic Church teaches that faith+works=justification. Those works include participation in the sacraments, works of penance, etc.
Luther found that this teaching offered no comfort, no assurance of salvation. More than that, he came to realize that this teaching was not in accord with what God’s Word declared. Luther discovered that scripture pointed to something different. In Romans 3:28 he read, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” and Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” What Luther discovered from scripture was that faith alone in Jesus Christ is the means of justification, for by that faith the righteousness of Christ is imputed (given to us) and we are declared innocent before God. To illustrate this scriptural (protestant) view of justification, faith alone= justification+works that follow (sanctification).
To misunderstand the teaching of faith alone would cause us to misunderstand the doctrine of justification, and if we misunderstand the teaching of justification we will fail to see Christ as the our only way of salvation. We thank and praise the Lord for Dr. Martin Luther whom God used to unveil our eyes to this fundamental teaching from the Bible, that we are declared righteous before Him by nothing we have done or can do, but by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
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