Tuesday, April 13, 2010

By Faith Alone - Part I

When I was an Infantryman in the US Army, I went to Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA and earned my wings. It was exhilarating to jump out of a plane at 2,000 feet with nothing between me and the ground but air. I know from experience that when you jump from a plane, you are trusting the parachute to do what it is supposed to do. You have confidence in it.

Faith in God is a bit like that. Faith is not simply giving mental assent to something. It's not simply agreeing theoretically with an idea or concept. It is the kind of confidence you have when you jump from an airplane. You absolutely trust the parachute to do what it is supposed to do. You step out and take action to demonstrate your trust in the object of your faith.

Sola fide is a Latin phrase, meaning "by faith alone". The early reformers used it to describe the fact that our salvation is by faith alone. Some people disagree with that notion and say that a person is saved by his good works or by a combination of good works and faith. In this study, we’ll look at this controversial topic to see what the Bible says about it.

First of all, we know there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph 4:5) So in Part One of this series on Faith Alone, we’ll study that one and only faith, and we'll see what it actually is, whether we are saved by faith alone or not.

Faith Defined
In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1). Hope is the expectation that something good is going to happen. And faith is being sure of things hoped for. So faith is being sure that the good thing you are expecting to happen is actually going to happen. And it’s being sure about that before you can see it. So what’s that have to do with receiving forgiveness from God?

Saved by Faith
Faith has everything to do with receiving forgiveness from God. In fact it’s the key. In Luke’s gospel we read that a woman who was a sinner came to Jesus when she found out that he was reclining in a man’s house in that town. She began to pour perfume on his feet and kiss them, and wet them with her tears of repentance for her sin: “Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven’…And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ " (Luk 7:48-50). Jesus forgave the woman right there on the spot, and told her it was her faith that saved her. So Jesus Himself taught that we are saved by faith alone. He didn’t say, “Your faith will save you in the future, as long as you do the following things.” He didn’t say, “I will forgive you after you do this, this and this.” In fact, he put it in the past tense, when He said, “Your sins have been forgiven,” and “Your faith has saved you.”

Faith is from the Greek word pistis, which means persuasion, that is, credence; moral conviction, especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; assurance, belief, faith, fidelity. This word comes from peitho, pi'-tho, which means to convince; agree, assure, believe, have confidence, obey, persuade, trust, yield.

The apostle Paul taught the same thing like this: “But what does it say? ‘The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’” (Rom 10:8-11). So we need to believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord, and we shall be saved. That’s it. Nothing else added.

The word for believe here is from the Greek word πιστεύω, pisteuo, pist-yoo'-o, meaning to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), that is, credit; by implication to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being to Christ): - believe, commit (to trust).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8). There it is again that we are saved through faith. It’s all by grace, meaning a gift to you from God. Just believe it and it’s yours.

"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25). He taught that if we believe in Him, we shall live.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Ti 3:14-15). So it’s a salvation through faith.

“Obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1Pe 1:9). That’s easy to understand, too. When you have faith, the outcome or end result is your soul is saved.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’" (Rom 1:17). This is a key verse, so go back and read it again. It says that the righteous person shall live by faith. That means if you want to be a righteous person, you will live your life by trusting the Lord for that righteousness. How do I know? Because it says that God’s righteousness, which is perfect, is revealed from faith to faith.

"By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20)

“Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” (Rom 3:22). Here again, all those who believe receive the righteousness of God.

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Rom 3:28)

“And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phi 3:9). Which one would you rather have – a righteousness of your own or the righteousness that comes from God? I think I’d rather have God’s righteousness. Well, it comes on the basis of faith, not faith plus something else.

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Gal 2:16). Just in case you still thought there must be some mistake, we see here that we are not justified by doing everything written in God’s Law. Rather it is through faith alone. In fact, it’s impossible to be made righteous by the works of the Law.

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (Gal 3:11)

Let me ask a question: Who are the sons of Abraham? “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal 3:7) Did you see anything there besides faith?

“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.’” (Gal 3:8). Here it says that God justifies the Gentiles by faith – period.

“But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (Gal 3:22). There’s a promise from God in Scripture that was given to Abraham. That promise is given by faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe.

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal 3:24-25). The Law is pictured metaphorically as a tutor. A tutor usually helps you learn things. So the Law helps you learn that you are a sinner and need to be saved by Christ. Once you get that, you don’t need the Law to do anything else for you. You simply need to put your faith in Christ and He justifies you.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26) This really needs no explanation. Jesus is God’s Son, and you become a son of God, too, through your faith in Jesus.

At one point, this issue of circumcision arose in the first century church. Up to that point, disciples of Christ were mostly all Jewish, so they had all been circumcised. But as more Gentiles became believers, some Jewish leaders taught that they must be circumcised. In other words, they taught that salvation was by faith in Jesus plus circumcision. So this matter was brought before the Church elders in Jerusalem. They concluded that circumcision was unnecessary, saying, “And He [the Lord] made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” (Act 15:9) They acknowledged that God cleansed the hearts of Gentiles the same way He cleansed the hearts of Jews, and it was by faith.

Paul had been a Jewish Pharisee who persecuted Christians. And on the day he came to know Jesus, the Lord spoke to him directly about his mission to the Gentiles, which was “To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” (Act 26:18). This is powerful. It means the Gentiles have an inheritance among all those who have been sanctified or made holy. So how are those people sanctified? The Lord told Paul they were sanctified by faith in Jesus Himself.

Paul described his ministry as one where he was “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Act 20:21). That was his mission. He told people to repent toward God and put their faith in Jesus Christ. He did not preach that they must join a certain religion or that they must do certain works to be saved. The message was simply repent and believe.

While Paul was held as a prisoner, he had a chance to share the gospel with rulers. “But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.” (Act 24:24). As we see here, the message he shared with Governor Felix and his wife was one of faith in Christ Jesus.

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” (Rom 3:21-22). Has a righteousness apart from the Law been manifested? Yes! We get credit for the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus – whether we are Jews or Gentiles. “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Rom 3:28)

In all of these passages, notice one very consistent thing: God is the Justifier. It’s all possible through Jesus, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26).

“Since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.” (Rom 3:30) One and the same God justifies both the circumcised and uncircumcised the same way – through faith.

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom 3:31). Our faith does not nullify the Law. Instead it establishes the Law.

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited 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 credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.’" (Rom 4:3-8). Why not be like Abraham? Believe God and He will give you credit for His righteousness. Not a bad deal! Simply believe in Him who justifies the ungodly, and your faith is credited as righteousness.

“Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’" (Rom 4:9). Paul is saying here is that it was not because of circumcision that Abraham was considered righteous. It was because of his faith.

“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.” (Rom 4:11). Paul speaks here of the faith which Abraham had while uncircumcised, and he calls Abraham the father of all who believe without being circumcised.

“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom 4:13). So when God promised Abraham descendant as numerous as the sand of the seashore, it was not through the Law but through the righteousness Abraham had by faith alone.

“For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” (Rom 4:14). It would, in fact, make our faith void and cancel out the promise of God to Abraham, if the only way to inherit the promise to Abraham was by obedience to the Law.

“For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” (Rom 4:16). The promise of God to Abraham is guaranteed to all who are of the same faith as Abraham. It’s one and the same faith.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) This is as clear as it can be. We have been justified by faith. As a result, we enjoy peace with God and He is no longer angry with us who believe in Jesus.

“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.” (Rom 9:30). It’s a righteousness that is by faith, and Gentiles attained it. In fact, the Gentiles attained it without seeking it through any kind of attempt to observe the Law.

“Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” (Rom 9:32). Paul explains why the Jew did not receive righteousness, even though they did seek to attain it. It’s because they pursued it by works, not by faith. This means anyone who pursues righteousness by works will not attain it.

The Jews were the original olive braches growing from God’s vine. But God removed them. “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear.” (Rom 11:20). The reason they were broken off was they did not have faith. And since Gentiles are enjoying God’s righteousness completely by faith, it should humble us and cause us to stand in the fear of God, because we could be removed from God’s vine for the same reason.

When you hear the good news, you have to mix it together with faith. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” (Heb 4:2)

Putting it All Together
From the Scriptures, it is abundantly clear that we are saved by faith alone. It's so crucial that we understand this, because so many people think they need to add something else to be saved. For some it is faith in Jesus plus circumcision. And for others it is faith plus their good works. But if we add anything to faith in order to be saved, we nullify our faith. Then it is no longer by grace.

As the apostle Paul wrote: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you." (Gal 5:1-2). If you add anything to faith in Jesus alone, then Christ is of no benefit to you.

Some people think that they simply give mental assent to the gospel. But true faith is more than that. It is the same kind of trust you have when you jump out of a plane or fly across the ocean, or ride an elevator to the top of a tall building. You have absolute confidence in Jesus Christ to save your soul.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: We'll study more about faith in the rest of this series. So I hope you will follow it at the following links:

By Faith Alone - Part II
By Faith Alone - Part III
By Faith Alone - Part IV

You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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