Sola Fide: Justification by Faith Alone
Don’t let anyone tell you that doctrine isn’t important. The doctrine of justification by faith alone has everything to do with your relationship with God. It has everything to do with that peace of heart and mind that we all so desperately want and need.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
What is the doctrine of justification by faith alone?
- The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q 33) says, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, where he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
- In other words, justification is God’s legal declaration that we are not only “not guilty” in his sight, but that we have the very righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed or credited to our account to us by faith alone. So there is a negative and a positive element to our justification. Negatively, we are forgiven of all of our sins. They are removed from us. But if that was all, we would only have a clean slate. But that’s not all, positively, God gives us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
- The Heidelberg Catechism spells this out in more detail. Listen carefully. This is rich. Question 60 asks, “How are you righteous before God?” And it answers, “Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all of the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” So that’s what we mean when we say sola fide or that we are justified by faith alone. We are declared righteous before God by believing in Jesus
Why Do We Need to be Justified?
We need to be justified because we come into this world having a huge problem with God. A problem we can’t ignore because God won’t ignore it. We are born sinful. The Bible describes our condition as dead in our trespasses and sins and that we are by nature objects of God’s wrath. And we act in accordance with our sinful nature and daily we add to our original guilt by sinning again and again and again.
How are we justified?
We are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ
What is faith?
So what does it mean to believe? What is faith? The reformers spoke of faith as having three aspects: knowledge, assent, and trust. So, faith is first of all an intellectual understanding of the gospel. Secondly, it is an assent that the gospel is true. And thirdly, it is a resting and trusting in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the truth and faithfulness of God’s promises in the gospel - and not just that they are true, but that they are true for you personally.
- Degrees of Faith - How much faith do I have to have?
In other words, faith is not introspective, looking at itself. It is by nature extrospective. It is turning away from ourselves and our resources and trusting Jesus Christ to save us. We are not saved by the quality of our faith - only the object of our faith. Jesus Christ saves us through faith - even weak faith.
- How do we get faith? How can my weak faith be strengthened? God creates faith in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel. Romans 10:17 tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
And we are saved by faith alone.
Romans 4:4-5 contrasts these two paths. It contrasts the way of works with the way of faith. He says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
Paul essentially tells us that people who work get what they deserve. And that’s exactly what some people want. They want what they deserve. They want to earn what they get. They want to have done something that makes them better than someone else. And people who depend on their own good works will get what they deserve, but it’s not what they think. They will get a paycheck that reads, “The wages of sin is death.”
But God has made another way - the way of grace. He devised a plan to give us what we don’t deserve. He made a way to give us the righteousness he requires as a gift. And to receive this gift, we simply need to receive it by faith. The road less traveled is the path of God’s grace where we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ by simply trusting in him. And it’s from these passages that contrast faith and works, where we get our doctrine of justification by faith alone. The “one who does not work, but believes” is the one who is justified by faith alone.
Walk it Out:
- Why is an understanding of justification by faith alone important? Why do we need to be justified? How does it affect your everyday life? How does it affect the way you relate to God?
- How would you define faith? How did the Reformers define it? How does the Bible define it?
- God used extraordinary circumstances in Luther’s and the Philippian jailer’s life to get their attention to help them think about what really matters in this life. How has God gotten your attention to help you think more deeply about life, death, eternity and the state of your soul?
- What are the two paths to salvation?
- Now that we are justified, what is our relationship to sin? How are we to view it, deal with it?
- If we are saved by faith alone, then why does it matter how we live?
- What’s the result of justification?