Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reformation 500 Lent Course Session 4 - Through Faith Alone

Reformation 500 Lent Course Session 4

Sola No. 4: Sola Fides – Through Faith Alone

The formal principle of the Reformation – Scripture Alone – how? Authority / method

The material principle of the Reformation – what? – content – the very substance of the gospel

Review – by grace alone

The coherence of all the solas - How does the nature of grace fit with faith? Why is faith a fitting response to grace?

The empty hand – a needy beggar – Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages hymn, “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”

To what extent do you think we live in a meritocracy? Is this / would this be a good thing? What if God operated a meritocratic salvation policy?!

How might someone try to get right with God?

Do you believe in, say, extra-terrestrial life? What difference does that belief or unbelief make to you? Do you believe in close members of your family? In a different way?

Has anyone ever said to you / have you ever said, “I wish I had your faith”? What do you think that might mean? What view of faith does it suggest?

What do you think we mean by “blind faith”? Is Christian faith like that?

Do you think the devil “believes in” God? Do you think the devil has sound doctrine? How is that different from saving faith? James 2:19

“this slogan [sola fide, by faith alone] was not merely a doctrinal nicety cooked up by scholars. It was, the evangelical Reformers insisted, the very essence of the Christian life itself. It was a truth that brought them and many others the comfort and hope for which they had longed and yet, at the same time, a proposition for which many would be prepared to die.” (Jensen in Reformation Anglicanism p125)

Justification an increasingly discussed topic in the period - Humanism a rise of individual consciousness? – a variety of views – lack of official agreed position

Via moderna pre-Reformation thought which influenced Luther said do “what is in you” and God will regard you as worthy of the gift of salvation – but how can one know one has ever done all that one might be able to do? Was I contrite enough? Did I confess all my sins? – lack of assurance

Reminder of Luther’s experience as a conscientious monk wearying his confessors, hating and fearing the righteousness / justice of God (Romans 1:17), which he knew must punish him – Tower experience

Queen Katherine Parr (“survived”!), The Lamentation of a Sinner (1547) – spiritual autobiography – she was “not like other men” an “adulterer, nor fornicator, and so forth” but spiritual pride “most presumptuously thinking nothing of Christ crucified” and “went about to set forth mine own righteousness” – “the blood of Christ was not reputed by me sufficient for to wash me from the filth of my sins… but I sought for such riffraff as the bishop of Rome hath planted in his tyranny and kingdom, trusting with great confidence by the virtue and holiness of them, to receive full remission of my sins.” – she distinguishes between a “history faith” and a “lively faith”, “a dead human, historical faith, gotten by human industry” and “a supernal [supernatural] lively faith, which worketh by charity [=love].” Quoted in Jensen, Reformation Anglicanism

Justification by Faith Alone

Became the particular focus for Luther / the idea he is most associated with – Luther called it the summary of Christian doctrine: “if the article [doctrine] of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” “When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen…. This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed…. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.”; justification is “the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines.” (What Luther Says, vol. 2, pp702-4, 715)

Justification by faith alone “the article by which the church stands or falls” (Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1618 but similarly Luther WA40/3:352.3).

Calvin called justification by faith alone “the main hinge on which salvation turns” and the sum of all piety, Institutes, p726

Cranmer: justification “the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion” - “whosoever denieth [this doctrine] is not to be counted for a true Christian man… but for an adversary of Christ.” (Homilies, sermon on salvation)

Puritan Thomas Watson: justification is the very “pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.” (A Body of Divinity, p226)

A vitally important question - How can I (a sinner deserving God’s judgement) be right with God?

If you died tonight, why should God let you into his heaven? – all answers that begin, “Because I…” are strictly speaking wrong! – “Because Jesus…”

Justification (dik word group in the Greek NT) – justice / righteousness / vindication / declared in the right / forensic or legal courtroom term – found not guilty, acquitted – the opposite of condemnation

Not a reward but an award / gift – right standing / status (before God) / right relatedness (to God)

Pidgin English: “God he say I’m alright!”

Justified – “Just as if I’d never sinned”

Not made righteous, not infused / imparted / inherent righteousness – cf. but an alien / external / extrinsic imputed righteousness – counted / accounted / considered / reckoned righteous in Christ (faith union – joined to Christ by faith in the Spirit) – clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ – what God does for me not what God does within me (though he does change my heart and life)

Romans 1:17, 3:9-31 etc.! – universal human sin and guilt, God’s gracious provision of forgiveness in Jesus, received through faith – Luther called Romans 3:21-26 “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible”

Luther in fact added in the word allein, alone, in his German translation of Romans 3:28 in 1522

God’s just way of justifying the unjust (v26) – 4v5 – the just God justifies the wicked!

Luther argued that the Christian believer is always simultaneously righteous (by faith in Christ) and a sinner (both by nature and in practice until heaven): “We are in truth and totally sinners, with regard to ourselves and our first birth. Contrariwise, in so far as Christ has been given for us, we are holy and just totally. Hence from different aspects we are said to be just and sinners at one and the same time.” 

Again, the importance of the alone – of course RC said faith is important!

Justification, faith and works

The RC church feared the error of justification by faith alone would lead to Antinomianism (nomos=law): if God has acquitted us, can we live as we like, sinning with impunity.

The Reformers countered that we are justified by faith alone, but the faith which justifies (real living faith) is not alone (i.e. it flows from a changed heart and is accompanied by good works) – James 2:14ff – not actually a right strawy Epistle as Luther suggested – no real conflict between justification by faith alone as taught by Luther and James - Real faith works – faith without works is a false / dead faith – good works are the result not the cause of justification, a thankful response

Article XI. Of the Justification of Man: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.” = The Homily on Salvation

Saving faith “is not a kind of worthy, meritorious virtue but is a simple dependence on God and his promises.” (Jensen, Reformation Anglicanism, p128) – faith not an alternative Good Work by which we earn salvation

Luther: “If faith is not without all, even the smallest works, it does not justify; indeed it is not even faith.”

Faith itself is a gift of God – Ephesians 2:8-9

Strictly speaking it is Christ who saves my, by grace, received through faith – it is not my faith that saves me – the object of faith is vital – it’s not the quality or quantity of my faith which saves but Jesus in whom I put my faith – even a tiny bit of real faith (faith as small as a mustard seed, Matthew 17:20) saves, since it is faith in such a powerful Saviour - Luther says if you own 100 guldens, it makes no difference if you carry them around in paper sack or an iron chest, they still belong to you; similarly, Christ belongs to us if we lay hold of him with a weak or a strong faith – Mark 9:24 a good prayer – we are not saved by passing a theology exam or by working up a sense of expectation etc. – faith as passive, merely the instrument / means / channel of receiving the gift of salvation

Faith unites the believer to Christ – cf. Luther’s analogy of faith as a wedding ring in The Freedom of a Christian (1520) – he pays our debts, we get his riches and name / standing etc.

The dying thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) – saved by faith, no good works to speak of – salvation only ever 9 words / a prayer away

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – justified, v14 – looks to God for mercy (Luke 18:9-14)

The nature of faith

Hebrews 11:1 – description / definition of faith

Calvin defines faith as: “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Institutes III.2.7)

Faith subjective and objective – faith in The Faith

Aspects of saving faith (involves both the intellect and the will):

(1) Knowledge (notitia) – some awareness of and connection to the object / content of faith / a measure of understanding – something in the head as well as the heart

(2) Assent (assensus) – belief that The Faith is true – conviction – believing that before believing in

(3) Trust (fiducia) – personal commitment / dependence / reliance, faithful apprehension – believing in / into Christ, casting ourselves upon him

Which aspects of faith would Satan have?

Luther insisted that we must believe that Christ is as described in the gospels not just for Peter and the saints but for us personally. Cf. getting on a ship – we must climb aboard and entrust ourselves to the ship.

Temporary false faith that is not enduring and saving – Parable of the Sower, rocky soil (Luke 8:13)

Real faith endures – The Perseverance of the Saints – not just a prayer of commitment / going forward at an evangelistic rally but on-going trust

Faith and evidence

2 Corinthians 5:7 contrasts faith and sight (cf. Romans 8:24 – we hope for what we do not yet see) – a future orientation

Faith and evidence – not just a leap in the dark

Doubting Thomas – seeing is believing (John 20:24-31, esp. v.25)

Jesus – reading is believing (vv29ff)

Faith in the Word of God, in God’s promises – a new priority for the Bible and preaching – contrast medieval notion of “implicit faith” in whatever the church teaches which might lack knowledge – Martin Luther: “The ears alone are the organ of the Christian” since faith comes by hearing – Romans 10:17 – cf. Latin Mass as something the congregation watched from afar and likely did not understand etc.

The Lord’s Supper – “feed on him in your heart by faith” – a renewed focus on right reception, not magical or automatic ex opere operato (from the work worked)

Council of Trent (1545-), 6th session on Justification (concludes 1547) anathematizes sola fide – Canon 9, 11 – justification as a process of renewal within the believer – justification includes sanctification (becoming more holy) – not imputed – believers justified by baptism, forfeited by sin, renewed by penance

A basic human tendency to try to justify / vindicate ourselves – justification by faith alone a humbling doctrine – we must depend entirely on Christ not on ourselves – thus to the glory of God alone

A comforting doctrine – salvation is a gift we did not earn and cannot repay – our standing before God is not a matter of our performance

Further reading / resources:

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