Preached by Jason Abbott
Today, we’re going to unpack the essential Christian doctrine that salvation is through faith alone. In order to grasp the importance of this teaching to Christianity, let me take you on a history tour. Let’s hear what some prominent Christian voices have said about the centrality of this teaching to Christ’s church.
Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New-Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, … the church falls from grace and its life drains away…. – J. I. Packer, 20th century
Saving faith is an immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, resting upon Him alone, for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of God’s grace. – Charles Spurgeon, 19th century
Justification by faith alone, is the hinge upon which the whole of Christianity turns. – Charles Simeon, 18th century
Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it. – Martin Luther, 16th century
What is the “law of faith?” It is, being saved by grace. Here [we see] God’s power…that He has not only saved, but has even justified…and this too without needing works, but [by] faith only. – John Chrysostom, 4th century
Clearly, that we are saved through faith alone, in the person of Christ alone, by the grace of God alone has been preached throughout the history of the church. The church doesn’t exist apart from this doctrine. Christianity is founded upon it. And this teaching is thoroughly biblical. It’s proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation, but, perhaps, nowhere more clearly than in the passage we’re going to look at today. In fact, biblical-scholar Leon Morris has suggested that today’s text of Scripture is “possibly the most important paragraph ever written.” 1 (Nothing like reading that, from a hero in the faith, before you preach. Like: Don’t mess it up, boy!)
Well, let’s feast upon this doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ alone by digging into this celebrated passage of God’s word.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
There are a multitude of sermons in this text. I’m not going to preach them all for you; that would be foolish. Instead, we will focus our attention on what’s said about faith here. And, I want to show you three things about faith in these six verses: (1st) faith has a destination; (2nd) faith has a result; and (3rd) faith has a purpose.
Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Faith has a destination (vv. 22, 24-26).
It’s the Christmas season. So, it’s that time when all the holiday movies begin showing on television. Consequently, it’s also that time when believing is glorified by those movies. Belief in Santa—“You must believe in Mr. Kringle and keep right on doing it. You must have faith in him…” (Miracle on 34th Street). Belief in love—“The only sin is turning your back on love…” (Holiday Heart). Belief in mankind—“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole…” (It’s a Wonderful Life).
Just recently our family sat down to watch The Polar Express. I was fascinated by it’s preaching of belief. As opposed to the other movies, which proffer an object for us to believe in—Santa, love, humanity—The Polar Express simply offers belief for belief’s sake. In short, it tells you to believe in believing. Here are some lyrics from the movie’s theme song entitled “Believe” by Josh Groban:
When it seems that we have lost our way / We find ourselves again on Christmas Day / Believe in what your heart is saying / Hear the melody that’s playing / There’s no time to waste / There’s so much to celebrate / Believe in what you feel inside / And give your dreams the wings to fly / You have everything you need / If you just believe / If you just believe / If you just believe / If you just believe / Just believe / Just believe 2
Friends, what’s the destination? What’s the object of this belief. Belief in what or in whom? What you feel?! The destination or object of our belief is important—even more important, perhaps, than belief itself! Let me illustrate.
My sister-in-law was traveling in Africa a few years ago. At a small airport, she walked onto the tarmac to find two planes which were boarding simultaneously. She knew from the terminal that one was heading to India and the other to Kenya; however, it wasn’t apparent which plane was which. She was on her way to Kenya, so she asked an attendant to point her in the right direction. When she did, he replied, Either way. Thinking he misunderstood her question, she asked again: Either way, he repeated. Do you see? The destination of the two planes was of utmost importance to my sister-in-law. Just like the destination or object of our faith is important to us. All things are not equal when it comes to belief or faith or trust.
In opposition to a destination-less faith, the Bible makes it abundantly clear in whom we are to believe. Not in our hearts! Not our feelings! Not in Josh Groban! Look at what our text says:
The righteousness of God is ours “through faith in Jesus Christ” (v. 22).
We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward…to be received by faith” (vv. 24-25).
The Lord God did this to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 26).
When Paul talks about faith, the destination of that faith is always the person and work of Jesus—his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. Christian faith has a destination or object, and it is always Christ!
This bring us to our second point.
2. Faith has a result (v. 22).
Maybe you’ve heard the saying: We become what we worship. The idea’s that, when you trust something and dedicate your life to the pursuit and acquisition of it, you will begin, over time, to take on its characteristics—you’ll start to resemble it. One commentator illustrates this phenomena in the following way. 3 He writes:
- If we worship supermodels, we’ll become vain and self-centered.
- If we worship football players, we’ll become aggressive, bombastic, and women-demeaning.
- If we worship actors and singers, we’ll become foul-mouthed, immoral, and sad.
- If we worship corporate America, or the dollar, we’ll become greedy, oppressive, and materialistic.
- If we worship academia, the pursuit of degrees, letters, titles, etc., we’ll become proud, arrogant, condescending, and conceited.
Note, the key word here is worship. You become like this if you give yourself over to such things completely. And, what’s worship but placing one’s trust or belief in these things for ultimate satisfaction—for purpose and peace, for joy and comfort, for rescue and salvation. Placing your ultimate faith in something is the supreme act of worship. It’s a way of saying: This is my god.
Friends, what are the things in which you’re tempted to place the most trust? Perhaps, however, the best way to answer that question is to ask some different ones. What’s the first thing you think of each morning, and what’s the last thing you think of each night? Where do your thoughts go when your mind wanders during the day? Where do you spend your money? Where do you spend your time? As you answer, you will likely find things you are, at least, tempted to place your ultimate faith in—relationships, vacations, bank accounts, sensual pleasures, politics, successes…. Remember, what you worship you become.
Thankfully, this axiom holds true with Christianity as well. And the result is, without question, glorious! Here’s what Paul says about the result of faith in Jesus:
We receive “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (v. 22).
When Jesus is the destination or object of our faith, when we trust in Christ, our faith becomes the road on which God’s righteousness travels into our very lives. First, through faith in Christ, God declares us legally innocent of all sin against him. This is called justification. The Father reckons the righteousness of Jesus as ours, and he reckons our sinfulness as Christ’s at the cross. Yet, this is just the beginning. Second, through faith in Christ, God starts to work righteousness into our daily lives through his Spirit. This is called sanctification. And, while justification is invisible, sanctification can and should be seen. The Christian should exhibit, in this lifetime, a progressive Christlikeness. This will be the result when we put our faith in Jesus—“that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As Benjamin and I sat in the basement of the new building with boxes stacked around us and the sounds of power-tools buzzing just above us, we were able to think of a dozen or so people at Community Free whose friends and family could testify about seeing such a transformation firsthand—a husband who was harsh and cold and arrogant with his wife yet, now, is kind and loving and humble through his faith in Christ; a daughter who was rebellious and mockingly disrespectful to her father but, now, weeps with humble compassion over his icy unbelief because of her faith in the person and work of Jesus. This is God’s righteousness in us, and it is the result of faith in Christ alone.
Friends, I can tell you there’s nothing which warms the heart of a pastor more than seeing his congregants exhibit the signs of sanctification through faith in Jesus. Not, however, because it proves that he’s doing good work or is especially skilled as a shepherd, but because it demonstrates that he’s not alone in his ministry calling; indeed, God is at work—the only One who can do the beautiful, transformative work of sanctifying sinners like you and me.
Well, this brings us to our final point.
3. Faith has a purpose (vv. 25-26).
Look at what Paul says in these last two verses:
This was to show God’s righteousness…so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vv. 25-26).
Notice what this good news is designed to do. Christ’s saving work is meant to focus the spotlight on God—on his righteousness and justice and justifying work of rebellious sinners. The gospel of Jesus is intended to highlight that it’s only God who can restore the broken, redeem the enslaved, and save the dying. Consequently, it’s only God who deserves the glory.
Next Sunday, on Christmas Eve, Benjamin is going to take up this final sola—the glory of God alone. We, however, begin to get a taste of it, here, when we talk about the purpose of faith. You see, faith is not a work which we do to earn salvation. Rather, faith is a gift from God to us. Isn’t this what the Bible tells us quite clearly? Thus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul explains:
[It’s] by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Friends, when even our faith is a gift from the Lord, can there be any question about who deserves all the glory and all the praise and all the honor for salvation? Only God does! (Benjamin is going to answer all your questions about predestination and total depravity and limited atonement next weekend. Unfortunately, I’ll be away on Christmas break. Yet, in all seriousness, let me attempt, as we close, to illustrate how even our faith is a gift from God.)
I think love provides a good example. When we talk of love, we generally talk about it as something we have not something we do. Thus, we use sentences like: “They fell in love.” to describe a romance. In short, the way we describe it indicates that it’s not something the couple chooses but something the couple experiences. So, twenty years ago when I met Natalie, I began—during the course of our interactions with each other—to find I valued her character and sense of humor and compassion and faith in Christ. I began to find I loved her. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t create it. As she related to me, I simply found I had love for her.
Something similar, I think, is true of our faith in Jesus. As the heavenly Father, by the person of his Holy Spirit, begins to reveal the splendor of his character to us in Christ—his great humility and kindness and honesty and faithfulness and mercy and power and integrity—when we begin to catch a glimpse of God’s personal glory, then we likewise find the gift of faith. By relating to and sharing himself with us, God gives us the indelible gift of faith in Christ Jesus.
I’ll close with these lines from John Wesley’s “Spirit of Faith Come Down”—just listen as I read:
Spirit of faith, come down,
reveal the things of God,
and make to us the Godhead known,
and witness with the blood.
‘Tis thine the blood to apply
and give us eyes to see,
who did for every sinner die
hath surely died for me.
No one can truly say
that Jesus is the Lord,
unless thou take the veil away
and breathe the living Word.
Then, only then, we feel
our interest in his blood,
and cry with joy unspeakable,
“Thou are my Lord, my God!”
Amen! I invite you to pray with me as we close. Will you bow your heads?