Romans and the Reformation Day 3 – Sola Fide “Faith Alone”
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV)
Have you ever found yourself struggling to believe “hard enough” or “well enough” in order to be reconciled to God? Have you ever quietly wondered about whether you really have the faith you claim to have? Particularly when we are raised in environments filled with continual gospel preaching and Bible reading, it is very easy for us to overcomplicate the simplicity of God’s Word when it comes to faith. The very word itself seems too abstract and hard to pin down because, quite frankly, we would rather it be a physical act that we can simply check off a list to ensure and prove it is completed. Faith, however, does not work this way.
When the reformers taught about salvation “through faith alone,” they were not speaking about some sort of feeling that was mustered up after a long period of conflict. Instead, they understood that true faith comes to life when the revelation of the truth of Jesus Christ becomes clearly evident to and embraced by the human soul. We do not gradually conjure up belief in something. When we examine it, we either believe it to be true or we do not; we either base our lives on the reality of a claim or we do not. When we discover truth, receive that truth, and reshape our lives around that truth, we exercise faith. But is our very belief in such a truth anything for which to claim credit? Or, is it simply a humble recognition of reality which we then want to share with anyone who has not yet heard it?
Let’s bring this down to daily life for a moment. A few weeks ago, my extended family and I were on our way to a faraway cottage for vacation and needed to follow one another to get there. Along the route, my 2-year-old son started screaming and we ran into a horrible downpour on the heavily pot-holed gravel roads of northern Ontario. It struck me that following my brother-in-law in his car took faith. He told us he had reliable directions and we followed him, trusting that he knew the way even though he also had never been there himself. We know him to be a methodical planner and good driver with more updated technology than ours. When our cell phones and GPS were out of range and we had no way to get where we needed to go, we let him lead and arrived safely. But was it our own faith in him that we were grateful for when we got there? Certainly not. Instead, we thanked him for leading the way and investigated the source of his more accurate directions.
This is similar to our faith in Christ, the faith that saves and the faith that grows as we are sanctified. Faith trusts the guide and understands that we cannot get there on our own. Faith listens to the messenger, believes the message, and trusts in the source of the message. Even when the road is treacherous, when the path is not what we envisioned, and when distractions are overwhelming, faith clings to truth and will not let go.
When as Christians we say that we are “justified by faith alone,” we assert that we bring nothing to the table in order to be made right before God. We assert that the open hand of faith which receives God’s incredible gift of salvation is entirely empty. No elevated position, no good works, and no merits of any kind enter into the equation. Faith has absolutely nothing to do with what we can bring. Instead, we see a God who willingly offers us everything, stooping down to us while we are dead in our sins and then graciously drawing us up to Himself. Then, once we are saved, it is in that closeness to Him that our faith begins to deepen and strengthen.
I love the robust description of faith that C.H. Spurgeon offers in his book, All of Grace:
“Faith is made up of three things: knowledge, belief, and trust…. Faith is not a blind thing, for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing, for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an impractical, dreamy thing, for faith trusts and stakes its destiny on the truth of revelation…. Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be and that He will do what He has promised to do…. Then comes the next necessary step. Jesus is what He is said to be. Jesus will do what He says He will do. Therefore, we must each trust Him, saying, “He will be to me what He says He is, and He will do to me what He has promised to do. I leave myself in the hands of Him who is appointed to save, so that He may save me. I rest on His promise that He will do even as He has said.” This is saving faith, and he who has it has everlasting life. Whatever his dangers or difficulties, whatever his darkness and depression, whatever his infirmities and sins, he who believes thus on Christ Jesus is not condemned and will never come into condemnation” (pgs. 59,62-64).
As a people-pleaser and recovering perfectionist, I find unbelievable comfort in those words. I am not counting on myself—I am counting on Jesus! Resting in the finished work of Christ really is resting; it is leaning the full weight of our inadequacies and failures on a Saviour whom we know can bear them and still present us to God spotless.
Though we often complicate it needlessly, we can see through God’s Word that faith is ultimately made up of three components: a revelation of the truth, a reception of that truth in repentance, and a growing reliance on God in obedience and trust. It is not the size of our faith that saves, only the presence of it. As we walk with the Lord and learn more of Him, we can pray that God will continue to grow our faith as we continue to find Him faithful. And we absolutely will find Him faithful—even when we are not.
“Faith Is Wisdom From on High”
Faith is wisdom from on high,
Hearing ear and seeing eye…
Vivid trust in hope serene,
Evidence of things not seen…
Faith is sure where sight is blind:
While lost sense may nowhere find
Hope, to stay a sinking soul
When the billows o’er it roll,
Faith directs its saving quest
To the cross, and there finds rest.
Faith, in childlike trust, is wise:
Trusting Him who never lies;
By whose grace the weak grow strong,
Change their sighing into song.
Praise be Thine, O Lord of might;
Faith shall end in glorious sight.
–Emanuel Cronenwett (1841-1931)