Posts Tagged ‘justification by faith alone’

Sermon 08-27-17: “Faith Alone, Part 1”

September 21, 2017

Five hundred years ago this October 31, Martin Luther inadvertently launched the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg. One of his core convictions, derived from scripture, is that we are justified by faith alone. We Methodists share his conviction that we can do nothing to earn or merit God’s saving grace. It is only on the basis of what Christ has done through his life, death, and resurrection that we’re saved. Why does this doctrine remain relevant today? Why do we still need to hear this message? That’s what this sermon is about.

Sermon Text: Galatians 2:11-14; 3:1-6

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Nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk and theology professor named Martin Luther nailed a document, now known as the Ninety-five Theses, to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It wasn’t unusual to nail things to that door; it was the equivalent of a community bulletin board—a way of making announcements, or in this case inviting church officials to debate him. In this document, he took issue with a particular practice in his church—the Roman Catholic church—that he believed was unbiblical, un-Christian, and needed to be reformed. Little did he know that this action would launch what would become the Protestant Reformation.

A couple of centuries later, in England, it would even enable the establishment of our own Methodist church.

As Methodists, we are Protestants. And I know that’s just a label, and we probably haven’t thought much about what it means aside from knowing that it means, “Not Catholic.” But in this new sermon series, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Protestantism, I want to talk about the five core convictions that nearly all of us Protestants have in common. Because I believe they’re still relevant today. And I believe if we take each of them to heart they will help us fall in love with and glorify our Lord Jesus more and become more faithful followers of him.

So let’s begin today with the Protestant conviction that in Latin is known as Sola Fide: that we are justified by faith alone. Read the rest of this entry »

When the apostle Paul steps on my toes

February 9, 2017

Rembrandt's Paul. He wouldn't really have been writing in a book.

Rembrandt’s Paul. He wouldn’t really have been writing in a book.

I’m currently teaching a Bible study on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. At last night’s study, we looked at Galatians 1:6-9.

Paul’s main concern here is that false teachers had infiltrated the Galatian churches, which Paul established on his first missionary journey, and were distorting the gospel he preached to them. These teachers, often called “Judaizers,” insisted that the Galatian Christians, many of whom were Gentiles, needed to observe Jewish ceremonial law in order to be fully Christian.

Keep in mind: the Judaizers’ error was subtle. As one Reformation-era theologian, Heinrich Bullinger, put it, they could affirm everything in the Apostles’ Creed. “What they denied,” however, “was that everything related to salvation was given by Christ alone.”

As you can see in Paul’s response, this seemingly small error was spiritually deadly.

In his Galatians for You commentary, Tim Keller asks us to consider ways in which contemporary Christians and churches make the same mistake. As I told the class, I see in my own preaching a tendency toward this error when I emphasize the necessity of “surrendering” our lives to Christ. While I like the language of surrender, the problem, as Keller describes it, is that we can overemphasize our human action at the expense of God’s grace.

Surrendering to Christ, in other words, can become more about us than Jesus ChristIt can become a measure of the strength and purity of our faith, or the thoroughness of our repentance. We can turn “faith” itself into a kind of meritorious work that we must perform for God before he saves us the “rest of the way.”

In which case, what we do is very small, but it’s hardly nothing. And contrary to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, our efforts would be something about which we could boast.

No. Paul would remind us that saving faith and repentance are not something that we muster on our own, apart from the prevenient grace of God. The biblical kind of surrender that we need to make to God is one that says, “I give up! I am helpless. I can do nothing to earn this gift of salvation. If I’m going to be saved, it’s going to be through Christ’s merit alone. Enable me depend on him completely for my salvation.”

Are you already a Christian? That means that you’re “in the process” of being saved—i.e., you’re being sanctified. God is enabling you to become more Christlike. Paul’s warning still applies: Sanctification is not self-improvement. It is God alone who sanctifies. Surrendering in this case would mean, just as before, trusting in Christ completely to do this good work within us.

But do we have to do anything? Well, yes—if you insist on looking at it from the human side of the equation. But, but, but… I can hardly say that without the legalist within puffing his chest out—or, depending on the day of the week, hanging his head in shame. 

I’ll leave it to John Piper to say the rest. This comes from his post, “Should We Teach that Good Works Come with Saving Faith?”:

I don’t think that question will ever be settled at the experiential level… because human beings are wired to be legalists. We are wired to trust in what we do as the ground of our assurance.

Now along comes a gospel preacher who says, “Christ died for your sins and he provided a righteousness, so that all of your guilt can be taken away and all the righteousness that God requires of you can be provided totally by another. And this forgiveness and righteousness is received totally by faith alone.” Then he follows it up in a subsequent message, saying, “The faith that justifies justifies by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. It will always be accompanied by graces like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

And as soon as you say that this faith is going to bear fruit, people shift back into their legalistic mode of “Oh, I see. We’re really justified by our works.” And it takes a lifetime of fighting that battle…