Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on October 1, 2017
“Sola Fide: Faith Alone”
Second of five sermons on the Reformation’s Principles
Scriptures: Ephesians 2:8-10 and Romans 3:23-28
Upon engaging a young man in a conversation about salvation, I asked whether or not he would go to Heaven. He replied that he hoped so, but did not know for sure. “Then how can a person know whether or not they are saved,” I inquired.
“I suppose, you just have to be good,” he replied.
“How good do you have to be?” I asked.
“Awful good,” he answered.
Probing deeper I asked, “So, are you that good?” He admitted that he was not. “Then I suppose you are not saved,” I responded. He reluctantly admitted he was not. I let him know I shared his moral dilemma about not being good enough. I will never forget how his jaw dropped and the words stumbled out of his mouth, “Well, if you’re the preacher and you are not good enough, then, who can be saved?” What a joy it was to tell him of God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is only received by faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24-25).
“Sola Fide: Faith Alone!” Justification by faith was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. So important is this idea to the Christian faith that Martin Luther called it the doctrine by which the Church stands for falls. When Luther wrote his translation of the book of Romans, he created considerable controversy by adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, which reads in our English versions, “…a person is justified by faith apart (“alone” in German) from the works of the law.” When Roman Catholic theologians objected to the word “alone” after “faith,” Luther replied that it was necessary to add the word in order to make the sense of the passage clear. Since then, Protestants have agreed with him that Romans 3:28 does indeed teach sola fide – faith alone.
In our examination of the five great principles of the Protestant Reformation, we must understand what “justification by faith” means and how it applies to our life and eternal salvation. The word “justify,” as used by Paul (Rom. 3:24,26,28) means to declare righteous. The term comes from the courtroom of the first century. After listening to all the evidence, a judge would pronounce his verdict. To ”justify” a person meant declaring them not guilty of the charge.
A more contemporary way to understand the term involves your computer. When you hit the key to “justify” the margins, the computer arranges the words and spaces so that all the lines end up exactly at the same place. In that sense, to “justify” means to make straight that which would otherwise be crooked.
Now take both those concepts and put them together: When you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, God declares you not guilty of sin and straight instead of crooked in God’s eyes (Rom. 3:25-26, 5:1; Galatians 2:16, 3:10-14, 24-26). Your “justification” is entirely the act of God on the basis of Jesus’ death on the Cross. It is received by us through the instrumentality of faith. There is nothing you can do to contribute to your own justification. God declares the sinner “Not guilty,” and imputes the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ to you (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 1:7)!
This was the rediscovery by Martin Luther which radically changed his life. Listen to his story, told in his own words:
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise… “Whereas before “the justice of God” had filled me with hate, now ,it became inexpressibly sweet in greater love. (Here I Stand, R. Bainton, pp. 49-50)
However, some will protest that justice demands God determine one’s eternal destiny based on their good works. Let me offer two reasons why your “good works” cannot save you. First, your good works do not cancel out your sin, but sin ruins your good works. How is that, you ask? Suppose you invite me over for breakfast and offer to fix a three-egg omelet. “Ummm, sounds delicious,” I respond. As you are cooking, I smell a putrid odor coming from the kitchen. “What’s that awful smell,” I inquire.
“Oh, it’s just a rotten egg. But don’t worry, I’ve added a two good eggs that will cancel out the rotten one.” Do you think I’m going to eat your omelet? Why not? Because goodness doesn’t cancel out rottenness – but rottenness ruins goodness. The same is true in the spiritual realm. You cannot be good enough to cancel out the putrid effect of your own sins.
The second reason your good works cannot be your argument for why God should let you into Heaven is that God doesn’t grade on a curve. God requires absolute perfection. If you understand the Bible, you know that it only takes one sin to send you to hell (Deut. 24:16; 1 Kings 8:46; Jer. 31:30; Rom.3:23, 6:23, 7:25).
Let’s suppose that you are an outstanding, moral person and you have committed only three sins a day your entire life. How many sins would that be over a year? (365 x 3 = 1,095) Now let’s say you live 80 years. How many sins have you committed during your lifetime? (1,095 x 80 = 87,600) When you stand before God, will your defense be, “Look, I’m under the 100,000 sins penalty starting point?” Or, will you try the defense, “Sure, its 87,600 sins. But my were trite and insignificant.” I doubt either defense will be effective in the Heavenly Judgment room!
Asserting a defense of your righteousness fails because we commit far more than three sins a day. Our sins are like a mountain so high we cannot climb over it; so wide we cannot walk around it; so great our good works will never save us.
If it is not by our good works, how will we ever get to Heaven? The answer to that question is a term coined by the Protestant Reformers: we are saved by the application of an “alien righteousness.” The word “alien” conjures up images of strange little creatures with no hair and bulging eyes who crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico. That is not what the Reformers meant! Declaring that we are saved by an “alien righteousness” means we are saved by a “righteousness which comes from another place.” Righteousness does not come from within us. Jesus Christ offers the righteousness which saves sinners. As Paul writes in Romans 3:25-26, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement…to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
That is the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. It means there is nothing you can do to add to the work of Christ. You either accept it or reject it – there is nothing in between. It is the one doctrine which sets Christianity apart from the other religions of the world. The difference between Christianity and other religions can be summarized by two letters. Religion is spelled with two letters: D – O. Religion is a list of things people must DO to be accepted by God. Go to the worship center; offer prayers; give money; make sacrifices. The list is endless because you can never be certain you have done enough.
Christianity is spelled with four letters: D-O-N-E. If you want to go to Heaven you must trust in what Jesus Christ has done for you on the Cross. DO or DONE – that is the difference. Where would you go – if Christ did not justify the ungodly by faith?