“By Faith Alone”
July 9, 2017
On October 31 this year, we will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses (topics for debate) on the door of the Wittenberg (Castle) Church. Historians typically interpret that event as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. And the Reformation is vital to us for in it we saw the protection and preservation of the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Luther came slowly to this truth, but his conversion was profound, as he recounts —
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.…
If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.
The passage that particularly transfixed and transformed Luther was Romans 1:18; but the passage that perhaps expounds and defends most eloquently the doctrine of justification through faith is the passage before us today — Romans 4:17-22. Having demonstrated that justification by grace through faith is an OT teaching (vv. 1-8) and that justification cannot be by circumcision (vv. 9-12) or law (vv. 13-16), he now reiterates that justification is by grace through faith alone, and uses the life of Abraham to demonstrate what that kind of faith looks like.
As in the last passage, Paul’s theme in these verses is that —
Justification is received only by grace through faith.
In these verses we will find 7 attributes of justifying faith — the kind of faith that leads to justification:
- Justifying Faith Trusts in the Character of God (v. 17)
- Justifying Faith Persists in Hope (v. 18)
- Justifying Faith Trusts God in Spite of Circumstances (v. 19)
- Justifying Faith Does Not Doubt God (v. 20a)
- Justifying Faith Endures (v. 20b)
- Justifying Faith Glorifies God (v. 20c)
- Justifying Faith is Confident in God’s Character and Ability (v. 21)
- Conclusion: This kind of faith (and only this kind) produces justification (v. 22)
It should be noted that in these verses, Paul is looking at the life of Abraham and Abraham’s faith. But he has already said that Abraham is the spiritual father of all who believe in Christ for salvation (vv. 12, 16) and he will say that the things written about Abraham were “for our sake also” (v. 24) — that is, the way that Abraham came to be justified by God is the same way that we come to be justified.
So if we want to understand the doctrine of sola fide — justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone — then we must understand the life of Abraham. Nothing about how people are justified has changed from the Old Testament until now; it’s always been by grace through faith. It was that way for Abraham and it is that way for us as well.
So how is one justified?
Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 4:17-22.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website tomorrow morning.