1 December 2013

The Sufficiency of Faith

(Gospel e-Letter - December 2013)

To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

The Bible teaches clearly that a person is justified by faith. But is faith sufficient? Is it enough or do we need to add something more – such as the merits of our work?

The Bible answers this important question directly. ‘We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law’ (Romans 3:28), and again, ‘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’ (Romans 4:4-5).

What an amazing statement! It is he ‘who does not work but believes’ who is justified. He does not say that God justifies the man who both works and believes. He justifies the one who believes and does not work!

Surely the apostle does not mean that a Christian should not do good works during his life. That would be a contradiction to what he himself and the rest of the Bible emphasize over and over again. But what does he mean? In what sense then are works excluded?

The apostle leaves out human works as the basis for justification. He does not allow the addition of a single tiny bit of human effort for that purpose. This is hard for human pride to accept! If I want to be justified I need to come to God empty-handed, believing in him, without claiming any merit for any good that I may have done or any good that I will do during my Christian life. If it was not so justification would not have been by grace.

Faith corresponds exactly to grace; the Christian trusts God to give him the free gift of righteousness rather than attempt to earn it by his efforts. ‘That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace’ (Romans 4:16). Whereas works done with the intention to gain justification deny grace. The Scriptures warn us: ‘You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace’ (Galatians 5:4).

Imagine a poor beggar sitting in a corner, destitute, hungry and thirsty. You pity him. So you go to a food outlet and buy him a meal and a warm drink. When you offer him the gift this man insists on giving you a few coins. You would not accept any money, would you, because you want to help him as an act of generosity and kindness. You simply want him to take the food, thank you and eat! God wants us to receive the gift of righteousness by faith and enjoy it. He is not asking us any payment whatsoever.

Faith points away from ourselves and our merits unto Christ, who by his sinless life and sacrifice on the cross had procured the gift of righteousness for his people. Faith says: though I’m not worthy, though I am guilty, I am fully convinced that Christ takes away all my sins, and therefore God declares me righteous for his sake. With all my heart I trust in him alone.

Faith is the hand that receives from God the gift of righteousness of Jesus Christ. Faith is sufficient because it takes hold of Christ, and he is all we need to stand righteous before God. The Lord himself is our righteousness.

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A Christian friend wrote about this article: "Did not another part of Scripture teaches that faith is dead faith without works? Dead faith does not save or does it? Might not countless Christians be self-deceived by 'no works is just fine for me'?"

He is right: Dead faith does not save!

But living faith in Christ saves!

It saves because of what Christ did on the cross, on not on account of the merit of the works that accompany it (as the Roman Catholic Church teaches).

At this point I’m concerned about the millions of Catholics who have been taught the false gospel of salvation by faith plus the merit of their works. They do not rely completely and exclusively on Christ and the merits of his cross for salvation because they have been told to add their own. That is deadly.

On the other hand I’m equally concerned about the false gospel in many evangelical circles who preach faith alone but care not whether the faith is real or not. The fruitless faith will not get them within sight of the eternal city. That is the subject of February gospel e-letter. DV.