For the past few weeks we’ve been studying scripture, examining The Five Solas of the Reformation.
The question that was at the core of the Reformation is still as relevant and important as it was 500 years ago. The Reformers wanted to know: How does a person get right with God?
As we begin our time in God’s Word today, I’d like to share a story with you. It’s not a new story, because Jesus was the one who first told it. It’s found in Luke 18-9-14:
Luke 18:9-14 (ESV) - 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
These two men could not have been perceived as more different by their community. One was a Pharisee, a highly religious man who belonged to a group of Jews known for their highly developed theology and rigid lifestyle. They were well respected.
The other was a Tax Collector, a man who belonged to a group of people known for greed and excess. They were seen as collaborators, serving the Romans who occupied Israel, and quite frankly, were considered scum.
But, which one of these men was God pleased with? […] Why?
The way they prayed at the Temple shows they WERE different. The focus of their hearts and minds were like night and day, set on very different things.
When the Pharisee prayed, everything he said was offered up with the goal of making himself look good. Can you even imagine? Think of the heart someone must have to pray to the creator of the universe and trash other people! “Dear God, I’m such a good person. Well, at least I’m not like that guy over there! And you know I’m better than this woman over here. I do all the churchy things I’m supposed to, so you know I’m good!”
It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet at times, those who claim to belong to God say those very kinds of things.
On the other hand, the Tax Collector didn’t seek to build himself up. He prayed to God, in humility. He recognized his condition as a sinner, and his need for the mercy of God. In short, he prayed a prayer of simple faith.
In verse 14, Jesus said this man was justified, and I would submit to you that is was through his faith.
SOLA FIDE, faith alone, is what we’re discussing today. But first, let’s talk about what it meant when Jesus said the tax collector was justified.
The words “justified” or “justification” are the Bible’s ways of answering the question that has been woven throughout this series: How does a person get right with God?
In short, a person must be “justified” to be right with God. In fact, justification is a legal term in which someone is ONCE and FOR ALL, “declared righteous” by God himself.
Most of you are probably more familiar with the concept of a pardon than the term justification. In the United States of America, certain governmental authorities such as the President or a State Governor have the right to grant a pardon which erases guilt for any crimes committed from a person’s record. Each President has done this, including President Trump. And some pardons have been more controversial than others. For example, President Ford pardoned President Nixon for crimes he “may have committed” during the Watergate Scandal. And President Clinton pardoned his own brother for a drug charge.
Justification, just like with a pardon, does not mean a person has done no wrong. It also doesn’t mean they will never do wrong again.
It doesn’t change history (or the future), rather it removes the consequence—the punishment otherwise prescribed by the law.
God CONSIDERS them righteous despite their sin. Take a look at Romans 8:1:
Romans 8:1 (ESV) - There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The essence of justification is that there is no longer condemnation or guilt. Instead of these things, there is peace between God and man.
So, HOW do we who are guilty before God – and all have sinned and fallen short – receive the eternal pardon of justification? How does a person get right with God?
There is a clue in Romans 8:1: there’s no condemnation for those IN CHRIST JESUS!
To get a fuller picture of this, let’s take a look at Galatians 2:15-16.
In Galatians 2, Paul is writing to the church in Galatia, located in the highlands of what is now central Turkey.
Galatians 2:15-16 (ESV) - 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
The general understanding of the Jewish people in Paul’s time was that they alone were God’s covenantal people, and that their salvation came through strict adherence to the law of God. This is why the Pharisee in the parable we read earlier made such a big deal out of fasting and tithing and not being breaking the laws that others had.
However, God’s redemptive plan extends beyond Israel, and is expressed through a Covenant of Grace, the New Covenant, found in Jesus Christ. Paul says here that justification (and ultimately salvation), is not contingent upon keeping the law perfectly, but rather it’s based on faith (and faith in Christ, specifically).
We call this truth SOLA FIDE, justification by faith alone.
Just as we discussed last week when we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9, we cannot be saved or justified by works. You don’t have to turn to Ephesians, but I want to reiterate what it said:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) - 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We’re saved BY grace, THROUGH faith, IN Jesus Christ.
Each of those three pieces are tied together in the Five Solas, SOLA GRATIA, SOLA FIDE, and as we’ll see next week, SOLUS CHRISTUS. Without any one piece, we miss the fullness of the Gospel.
GRACE empowers us to respond in humble FAITH to the person and work of JESUS.
So far, we’ve spent a fair amount of our time together explaining the concept of Justification, and how it is applied to the believer through faith. As we learned earlier, justification is a once-and-for-all declaration of righteousness. Romans 5:1 explains it clearly:
Romans 5:1 (ESV) - Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those are all in the past tense. That’s because justification takes place at a singular moment in time, when we profess saving faith in Jesus. From that point forward, God sees us as perfectly righteous.
Even though we aren’t.
See, just because we’ve been declared righteous in an eternal legal sense, doesn’t mean something has changed in our actions day-to-day. Thanks to our sin nature, we still fall short of God’s standard. We aren’t perfect.
But if we’ve truly trusted in Jesus – if we have genuine faith – then our hearts are renewed, and we should DESIRE to see changes, rather than being content in our sin.
It’s like the person struggling with an addiction or some other habitual sin. You’re sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand. And as long as you’re fully given over to that desire, you don’t even care that you’re sinking and the earth is closing in around you. However, when our hearts are renewed in Christ, we face conviction. Our affections shift. We DESIRE to see changes. We may NOT have the strength within our self to get out of that pit (in fact, we don’t). But we WANT out. We WANT deliverance. And we’re willing to cry out for help and strength.
Unlike justification which happens once, there is a life-long process of putting sin to death and growing more holy. We call this process sanctification, and it’s incredibly important for the Christian life, because it’s a slow but steady change of heart as we DESIRE and WANT the things of God.
Paul describes it to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) - And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Sanctification is about transformation. It’s about being made more and more like Jesus. Repenting from sin, and embracing a life of godliness.
But there is something here that needs to be made very clear: We cannot grow in holiness by our own strength. We can’t just “will” ourselves to “do better” the way so many self-help books push us to.
This is why the last part of 1 Corinthians 3:18 says “For this [sanctification] comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
We need a rescuer! We need that helping hand to pull us out of the pit of despair.
In order for us to grow in godliness, we need God to be at work within us. We need supernatural strength that comes only from our helper and comforter.
Justification is by grace, through faith. We’ve hit that truth very hard. In fact, we looked at Galatians 2 to see that explained. Now, let’s look at Galatians 3, because that tells us sanctification is also by grace, through faith. It’s not a work we can accomplish, no matter how hard we try.
Galatians 3:1-3 (ESV) - O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
You can’t grow on your own, by your own flesh, in your own strength. We cannot get outselves out of the quicksand of life. We must have the Holy Spirit – the help of God – at work in our lives, through faith.
How shall we apply SOLA FIDE to our lives? The answer is somewhat different depending on where you stand with God.
If you have professed genuine faith in Christ, then consider these words I recently heard a fellow local pastor share:
Faith, properly applied, results in faithfulness.
By trusting in Jesus, you have been justified, and declared righteous. As we saw in Romans 5:1, you have been granted peace with God. You are no longer a child of wrath because of your sin, but instead have been adopted into the family of God and given right standing before him.
There is an incredible measure of hope and assurance that comes from knowing God has forgiven you. Embrace that hope! Allow it to carry you through the ups and downs of life. And of course, continue in faith to seek the work of the Holy Spirit in you, growing your sanctification.
This applies to every aspect of life. The closer we grow to God, the less we’ll be anxious. The more we’ll make wise decisions and steward our time, our skills, and our money. The more we’ll invest in our families with eternal purposes in mind. And the more we’ll see our work as an expression of worship rather than “just that place I go to get some cash.”
All of this is a result of faith producing faithfulness.
Above all, remember that you have been called to the Great Commission work of making disciples of Jesus. All of the spiritual blessings you have received have been gifts of grace, so be gracious as you share the truth of Christ in love with all who will listen!
Keep your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
On the other hand… If you haven’t professed faith in Christ, then the words of Romans 5:1, should give you a clear sense of the peril you find yourself in.
Without faith in Christ, you have NOT been justified. You are NOT at peace with God. You remain un-just, and stand guilty before the holy and righteous God of all creation.
However, it is my sincere prayer that you would see the truth: that your sin does not have to keep you from God! God is immensely forgiving. Forgiveness has been his heart towards mankind, since before the foundation of the world.
Lay down your pride, and raise up the white flag of surrender. Trust that Christ’s sacrifice is more than enough to provide you all the righteousness needed for your salvation. Look to Christ and be saved!
As we close our time together, I’ll leave you with one last passage of scripture, in Romans 1:
Romans 1:17 (ESV) - 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Apart from faith in Christ we have no righteousness of our own.
However, the good news is that God justifies the un-just.
Through faith, he declares us righteous! And we are empowered to partake in His blessings.
The righteous shall live by faith. Sola Fide.