Sola Fide

12 06 2009

Truth Matters – Oct 2004 – Vol. 8 Issue 10 – Sola Fide – by Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Romans 5:1-2

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

It is fitting that this article appear in the October issue of Truth Matters, because October 31st is celebrated as “Reformation Sunday” by Lutheran bodies and other Reformed congregations. Luther’s message is as startling today as it was when he first taught it around 1515. I was surprised when I taught this message at my own church that one of the oldest members came up to me afterwards and after giving me a hearty handshake told me he had never heard such a message before! I was shocked because I assumed that the Presbyterian Church was still proclaiming the great “Solas” of the Reformation, apparently this is not the case. Then I looked back over my own somewhat checkered spiritual journey I have to admit I too had never heard any such messages within the charismatic movement or amongst the seeker-sensitive crowd.

Let us consider some of the historical background before we examine what the Bible has to teach regarding being justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

The Church of Rome taught, and teaches to this day that we can and must do something to merit favor in the eyes of God and moreover do certain works to remove the guilt and future punishment of our sins. How so? One can remove the guilt of their sin and escape the just punishment of them through the use of indulgences given by the Church of Rome to the sinner. Let me quote an Irish Reformed Presbyterian Pastor, Ian Paisley:

Indulgences were originally introduced in the eleventh century and arose in connection with the so-called sacrament of penance, which was claimed to asure the penitent sinner of the forgiveness of sins while making a distinction between (1)  the guilt  and  (2the punishment of the sin. According to the church of Rome, the former (the guilt of sin), was forgiven by God through the priest. The latter (the punishment of sin) however, had to be met through the performance of certain good works such as fasting, the recitation of certain prayers, pilgrimages, or alms. In the fourteenth century we find the partial substitution of money gifts for the Reformation. The practice of selling indulgences, with its falsification of Biblical truth as well as scandalous financial exploitation of the populace, thereafter increased significantly until in Luther’s time it led Europe to the brink of revolution and caused the mighty revolt against Rome in the form of the glorious protestant ReformationThe event that brought the latent crisis into the open was the public sale of indulgences by a notorious Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, in 1517. He was the Vatican’s “Apostolic Commissary for all Germany and Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity” during the popedom of Leo X (1513 -1521). His indulgence-brokering activities which soon aroused Luther’s righteous indignation, were part of a corrupt and ambitious ecclesiastical scheme by Leo to provide funds for the reconstruction of St. Peter’s in Rome, the most lavishly expensive mass house of Romanism. Some people may try to argue that indulgences were a thing of the past and that today’s modern Roman Catholic Church surely does not still offer indulgences. Nothing could be further from the truth. The following quote is referring to a dogmatic proclamation from the current pope starting with the year 2000:

The pope’s recent encyclical is not the only current document that proves the Roman Catholic Church still embraces and propagates doctrine that is incompatible with the Word of God. To mention the fact that Pope John Paul II is allowing Roman Catholics to obtain indulgences during the year 2000 often invokes a response characterized by astonishment – “I didn’t even know the church issued indulgences anymore!” Yet those who think indulgences bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church are only to be found in the annals of church history are sadly mistaken. Pope John Paul II’s latest papal bull highlights the Catholic Church’s plans for the celebration of the third millennium to begin in the year 2000, or the “Year of jubilee” as it has been called. According to the pope’s decree, the turn of the millennium not only promises unprecedented ecumenical activity on the part of all major world religions, but it also allows faithful Catholics the opportunity to gain indulgences either for themselves or for their deceased loved ones… Pope John Paul II’s papal bull expressly defines the history and doctrinal significance of the indulgence. In summary, the indulgence gives the repentant, forgiven sinner a remission of temporal punishment due for his sins. It is dispensed by the Church since the Church has “received from Christ the power to forgive in his name” and since the church “diffuses his mercy in the world, by means of that precious gift which from very ancient times has been called “indulgence.” The pope states in no uncertain terms that “no one can be separated from the love of God (cf. Romans 8:21-39) except through their own fault” and that since one can lose his salvation, the “Sacrament of Penance offers the sinner ‘a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification’ won by the sacrifice of Christ.” However, even though one can gain his salvation again, “every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.” So, while the Church can dispense the mercy and forgiveness on behalf of Christ, the one who sinned must still suffer punishment in Purgatory or on earth in order to be able to enter the presence of God in heaven. The indulgence is intended to shorten the individual’s time in Purgatory.  Today there are multitudes within the Roman Catholic Church doing certain works prescribed by the pope to somehow make themselves more acceptable to God and to shave some time off their pending sentence in purgatory. It appears that through the working of indulgences one can even decrease the time in purgatory for their departed loved ones.   (1)

Most of you know Martin Luther was originally a Roman Catholic monk and he labored mightily following the dogma’s Rome to the utmost. He did this in an attempt to make himself acceptable before a Holy God. After all, this is what the Church taught. If an individual did the works of penance prescribed then they would be absolved of the guilt and punishment of their sins. How did the person know of a certainty that they were forgiven? They could look to their works and place their trust in them!

Luther fasted and prayed; he carried out the various forms of penance given to him by his confessor only to realize that afterwards he still fell into some form of sin. You see Luther was originally trained as a lawyer and his mind was very sharp and it appears that his conscience was equally aware of the slightest sin in word, thought or deed which drove him back to the confessional on a daily basis. Luther’s mind was alive with the reality of the holiness of God and the utter sinfulness within himself. He was smart enough to know after arduously working the system that Rome presented that he still fell short of God’s law, which demanded (and still does demand) utter and complete perfection.

Galatians 3:10

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (KJV).

While Luther was a professor of theology at Wittenberg in 1515 he gave a series of lectures on the book of Romans. This time is characterized by Luther’s grappling with religious understanding. His decisive religious enlightenment is said to have come during his intensive study of the Letter to the Romans during which time he realized that people receive justice through the grace of God, not through good works:  “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)  { obtained from http://www.luther.de/en/moench.html } (2)

As Luther worked through what it meant to be declared righteous in God’s eyes by faith and not works. He began to criticize the theology of indulgences in some of his sermons. His displeasure increased noticeably during 1517, when the Dominican John Tetzel was preaching throughout much of Germany on behalf of a papal fund-raising campaign to complete the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. In exchange for a contribution, Tetzel boasted, he would provide donors with an indulgence that would even apply beyond the grave and free souls from purgatory. Tetzel is said to have had a little “jingle” to go along with his fundraising: “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” That sounds fairly innocuous, but Tetzel also preached a message aimed at tugging at the heartstrings of his hearers:

Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, “Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us fro a pittance.” Do you not wish to? Open your ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, “We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory?” Remember that you are able to release them, for as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs. Will you not for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgences though which you are able to lead a divine and immortal soul into the fatherland of paradise? (3)

Upon hearing such blasphemy and the diminution of the work of Christ on the cross Luther promptly drew up 95 propositions for theological debate and on 31 October 1517, following university custom; he posted them on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg.

October 31st has become know as “Reformation Day” on that day our Lord Jesus began a process of a genuine restoration to the Church. What Luther and the other Reformers taught was not some “new” doctrine, but simply a re-affirming of what the Bible actually taught. With Luther, the Reformers saw ALL Scripture as being, in the last analysis, either LAW or GOSPEL—meaning by “law” all that exposes our ruin through sin and by “gospel” everything that displays our restoration by grace through faith—and the heart of the biblical gospel was to them (and to us) is God’s FREE GIFT of righteousness and justification. These 5 “SOLAS” which true evangelicals proclaim are not anything new. They are the Gospel itself. The battle has raged over them since the time of Paul when he dealt with the Judaizers. The battle continued on with Augustine’s dealings with the Pelagians, not to mention the Church of Rome both before and after the Reformation. Even within the Reformed camp the Reformers had to battle the Arminians. It seems that the eternal question of humanity regarding redemption can be crystallized in the question posed to Jesus by the Rich Young Ruler in:

Matthew 19: 16,17

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

This man wanted to know what he can do, what works he can perform to merit eternal life. Jesus simply points him to the law and says: keep the commandments.” The disciples are amazed at Jesus comments and respond with great concern:

Matthew 19:25,26

When his disciples heard [it] they were exceedingly amazed, saying Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

What is impossible with man is possible with God. Mankind cannot save itself, only God can save.

Since the fall of Adam humanity has sought ways to justify themselves before a holy God (just like the Rich Young Ruler). Every religion in the world apart from Orthodox Biblical Christianity is based on some form of works to merit salvation or favor with God. Yet the Bible is very clear on the value of even our best efforts to meet the demands of God’s law

Isaiah 64:6,7

But we are all as an unclean [thing] and all our righteousness [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And [there is ] none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

In the light of the perfection of God Isaiah rightly noted that our best works are as filthy rags and they have no merit before God regarding salvation. Religious man always points to his “good works” and boastfully declares before God and man “what a good boy am I.”

Romans 3:19-26

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as an expiration by his blood, to be received by faith.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Notice a few key points in this text:

1. No human being will be justified in the sight of God by doing the works of the law. In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans Paul shows the total depravity of man and the wrath of God towards those who have suppressed the knowledge of God.  So we are left with the eternal question: how are we to become acceptable in the eyes of a holy God?

2. God’s righteousness is available to all who believe through faith in Jesus Christ.

3. We are made just by His grace which the Father gives freely because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Paul goes on in his letter in the next chapter to say in

Romans 4:1-5

What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

The Scripture teaches justification by Faith Alone, Sola Fide in at least 6 ways in the passage:

1. The justified one does “not work.”

2. The justified one “trusts” not in the merit of his works, but in God.

3. The justified one confesses himself to be “wicked.”

4. The justified one does not have faith in his faith.

5. The justified one see his faith only as “credited” to him.

6. The justified one sees his faith credited as “righteousness” to his account.

Some may ask, and it is a legitimate question: “where do our works come into the picture?” The Roman Catholic’s and many Arminians charge that the Evangelical and Reformed Churches are teaching lawlessness. They wrongly declare that we teach that works do not matter at all in the life of a professing believer.   (some people even try to make a dichotomy between what Paul taught and what James taught when there is actually no difference between their comments, since both were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and God is NOT confused).

Luther and the Reformers agree that faith is not a work in and of itself, but the faith is never without work.   As we saw in last month’s issue on Sola Gratia,  that even the faith to believe in Jesus Christ is given to us as a gift and not of works lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:9).

Justification  is by faith alone; make no mistake about this, but not by a faith that is alone. Justification is by a working faith.  People who get confused about this do not seem to understand us when we say that : we are justified apart from the presence of works. Paul and James agree that faith without the presence of works is dead.  Saving faith is a productive working faith in the life of a Christian.

The works in a Christian’s life are necessary to  prove  the genuineness of their professed faith but they are not necessary for “earning” heaven. Anyone who goes to heaven does so by the merit of Christ’s work alone, apart from any merit in any and all of his own works of obedience.

However, EVERY  post-justification good work we do will merit, deserve, and receive its reward in heaven.

Let me close this section with another inspired comment by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians:

Galatians 2:15,16

We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Works will never save us. Only faith in the work of Jesus Christ, who perfectly kept the law, can save. Pease understand that it is not “faith” itself that saves us —The saving power of faith resides not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests.

So what is the answer to the eternal quest of lost humanity? It is not found in their works. To receive forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God what must we do?

Jesus was asked this question in John 6:28 “what must we do to do the works of God?” Our Master replied “this is the work of God that you believe (have faith) in the One He has sent.”

It really is quite simple. To do what God requires we must believe in His Son and as we have seen the Father is so gracious He even grants to us the ability to believe to have faith in Christ and in His works alone!! The Westminister Confession of Faith (1646) sums the doctrine of Justification by faith alone very nicely:

XI of Justification

I. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith insself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (4)

(Scriptural texts: # I Rom, viii. 30; Rom iii, 24; Rom, iv. 5,6,7,8; 2 Cor. V.19, 21; Rom. Iii. 22,24,25,27,28; Tit. Iii 5,7; Eph. I. 7; Jer. Xxiii 6; 1 Cor. I. 30,

Rom v. 17,18,19; Acts x. 43; Gal. ii 16; Phil iii 9; Acts xiii 38, 39; Eph. Ii 7,

8. #II John I. 12 Rom iii. 28; Rom. V.1; James ii. 17,22,26; Gal. v.6.)  ♦

copyright 2004  Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Foot Notes

1. Obtained from http://www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?Artkey=indulgences.

2. www.fundamentalbiblechurch.org/Tracks/fbchsro2.htm  (bold type added for emphasis)

3. Roland H. Bainton,  Here I stand, Nashville;  Abingdon Press.  1950 pp. – 59-60. )

4. obtained from http://www.the-highway.com/Justification_Packer.html.

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