The Reformation: Tuesday - Sola Fide

By Jeremy King - Director of Discipleship and Community Engagement at Heights Pres.

At a young age, Luther was beset with an anxiety and lack of peace with and assurance of his eternal state. Was God pleased with him? Would God accept him into His presence? This fear was not without attempts to rectify his condition. Luther joined an Augustinian monastery. He observed all the rules of his order as best as possible. He would go to confession daily. He would eagerly participate in the sacraments. He desired to assure his place in God’s kingdom through piety, theology, and devotion. And yet, the depths of his own sin felt like a cavernous well from which he could not escape.

Martin Luther came to the end of himself. After striving for years to achieve a sense of peace with God, there was no peace. After disciplining his body and mind to reach a state of righteousness, he still found himself short of God’s holiness. Following the Law had not given him life but death. How, Luther asked, can anyone be right with God? How is it possible, after years of striving to no end, can anyone be able to stand in the presence of God? He uttered with the words of St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death!” (Romans 7:24).

And so it was at the end of himself, with nothing left in his hands to offer before the Lord as means for his salvation, that Luther read Romans 1:17 and had the eyes of his heart opened.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For years, Luther’s life was consumed by the unceasing determination to muster a righteousness from within himself. And yet Paul speaks here of a righteousness that is outside of oneself, a righteousness that comes from God.  Elsewhere, Paul states again,

“… and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ – the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”[1]

And that righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For where Luther, and you and I, failed to follow the law perfectly, Jesus fulfilled faithfully. Jesus was the faithful son of Israel while we all have fallen short. And the righteousness we so desperately need to stand before our Creator, Jesus lived out from manger to cross. What Martin Luther learned was that the righteousness he needed was offered to him in Jesus and could be his by faith alone, not through any meritorious work of piety.

Again, Paul states this elsewhere, writing,

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”[2]

Luther says that upon seeing this grace of God toward him in receiving the righteousness of God by faith, it was like the gates of paradise opening up before him through which he could finally enter.

It is not as though the requirement of obedience to the law is now negated by a new rule of faith. Rather, by faith, the obedience of Jesus is reckoned as if it were our own obedience.  Luther and the other great Reformers began to speak of this doctrine as an “as if” doctrine. Jesus is treated as if He were a sinner on the cross, and the believing sinner is treated as if the sinless life of Jesus were his own.[3] Calvin writes,

“For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon Himself, He reconciled us to God as if all had kept the law.”[4]

So how can a person be right with God? How can we overcome the anxiety and fear that the depths of our sin boil up within us? Sola Fide reminds us that we are justified by faith alone, and not by our own righteousness. We are made right with God by receiving His righteousness by faith alone.

This ought to lead us to cry out with praises to our God who has graciously provided all we need to stand before Him and enjoy Him forever. This ought to humble us as we remember that it was not because of any righteousness of our own that we have been welcomed into the family of God but on the basis of the righteousness of Christ. This ought to motivate us to share the gospel because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. The truths of the Reformation continue to strengthen God's Church today. It would serve us well to remind ourselves of these Solas continuously. 

 

[1] Philippians 3:9

[2] Galatians 2:16

[3] Armstrong, John H. “Sola Fide: Does it really matter?” Reformation & Revival (Fall 1997): 16

[4] Calvin, Institutes. Bk. 3, Ch. 17, sec. 5.

 

Mark RobertsonComment