Every religious ideology would say that faith is required for salvation
So there is no issue - we can just pack up tonight and I’ll see you next week
In truth this is not as simple as it might sound
The battle is over justification - how are we deemed justified by God?
And it is this point that made this specific issue the most hotly contested issue during the Reformation (and even up until today)
It has been said that Scripture alone was the formal principle of the Reformation - the big grand idea
Faith alone is the material principle - the fundamental, dirty issue over which the Reformation was contested
God’s Righteousness understood in three ways
That God is righteous because He keeps His promises to Israel - God demonstrates His righteousness by His actions
That God demonstrates His righteousness by giving righteousness to sinners who trust in Christ
God is righteous in rewarding people in accordance with their actions
God is required to grant grace to those who do their best - this is the concept we looked at last week
Shutters on a house - God’s light can’t shine into our lives unless we remove the shutters that impede the light
Sails on a ship - God’s grace is the wind, we have to raise the sails in order to catch the wind
We are justified by our works and God’s righteousness being added on to those works
Justification has three main points
Justification is forensic rather than transformative
Justification is a one time moment at which we receive Christ’s righteousness and are made at peace with God
a change in status rather than in nature
Justification and sanctification are separate processes
While justification happens in an instant, sanctification is a life-long process
a change in nature rather than status
Justification denotes an alien righteousness
2 Corinthians 5:21
We have to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us in order to be righteous
It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognize the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent, just as we cannot exist without food and drink and all the functions of this mortal body.
Simul Iustus et Peccator
“Justified and at the same time sinners”
This concept is crucial to Luther’s teachings and concept of justification
“We are in truth and totally sinners, with regard to ourselves and our first birth. Contrariwise, in so far as Christ has been given for us, we are holy and just totally. Hence from different aspects we are said to be just and sinners at one and the same time.”
This is crucial to our understanding of both justification as well as assurance
What Luther is positing is that despite the fact that we may still sin, we can have faith in the alien righteousness of Christ applied to our life - 2 Corinthians 5:21
This is contrary to the infused righteousness that was (and is) being taught by the Catholic church
You receive an inoculation of righteousness, an infusion of Christ’s righteousness, which makes you holy but then you must keep yourself righteous through your own works and the practice of the sacraments
We are still weak and frail
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
“The words freedom from the wrath of God, from the Law, sin, death, etc. are easy to say but to feel the greatness of the freedom and to apply its results to oneself in a struggle, in the agony of conscience, and in practice - this is more difficult than anyone can say”
This is not to say that Luther thought no works were necessary
He was primarily worried that Roman Catholic doctrine had exalted love over faith and thereby subverted the Biblical order
He believed that if we concentrate on our works, the focus easily shifts from Christ and His sacrifice to our love, efforts and ultimately works
This is where Luther’s theology gets interesting
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
If in the instance of salvation Luther subjugates love under faith, how then does faith work through love and how is love the greatest?
The key point is to understand that love does not justify us
Commenting on Galatians 5:6 Luther says “works are done on the basis of faith through love, not that a man is justified through love.”
The testimony of the rest of the New Testament will also support that it is faith that leads to justification
You can love something dearly without having much faith in it
It is even possible to love Christ without placing your faith in Him for salvation
The Council of Trent
The response of the Catholic church to the Reformer’s teachings
Took place from 1545-1563
The Council directly refuted the idea of faith alone
“faith cooperates with good works and increases our justification, and that this proves that justification is not by faith alone.”
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”
This declaration by the Council is a major sticking point in the efforts to reconcile the Catholic and Protestant churches
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abraham wasn’t deemed righteous because he left his home or rescued his nephew
He was deemed righteous because He believed in God and the promise of an heir
Because of his faith
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised;
The Lord then establishes His covenant with Abraham - a one sided covenant that foreshadows the one sided work of Christ in redemption
Abraham is the picture of faith that we get in the Old Testament
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
Paul points us to Abraham as an example of faith that leads to righteousness
Here he even says - to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due
If you place that statement next to Romans 6:23 and Isaiah 64:6 you see that we could never merit salvation through our own works
Several attempts have been made (and are being made) by both Catholics and Protestants to reconcile
The Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification (1999)
Signed by Lutherans and Catholic scholars
Removes the forensic nature of justification
Language is ambiguous enough that both sides can claim that it supports their doctrinal stance
New Perspective on Paul
Teaching that started around 1977
Biggest proponent is N.T. Wright
Claims that Paul was more concerned with ethnocentric issues (read racism) than failings in the Jewish religious system to provide redemption
The biggest opponent to faith (and justification by faith) in the 21st Century stares each of us back in the face every morning
We think that we can earn salvation or good graces by our efforts - even positive spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, giving an offering, prayer
We judge our standing with Christ based on how we feel about our own efforts and works and this is wrong.
We teach our kids that any transgression will be met with punishment, and any good action will be met with reward
We as a church need to get back to the idea that we are justified, that we have an alien righteousness and that nothing we can do would ever remove that from us.