October 31st, just a few weeks away, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the event that sparked a “reboot” of Christianity. The first, most foundational of those truths is “Sola Scriptura”—Scripture alone is our source of truth. The second question the Reformers addressed was, “What does God reveal in his Word about the nature of mankind’s problem—and therefore what is the solution? It is sin, and the only solution for man’s sin problem is the sinless God-man, Jesus Christ: “Solus Christus”. Today we move to the next question: how does God apply his salvation to our problem? The Reformers’ answer: “Sola Gratia” and “Sola Fide”—”only grace” and “only faith”. We’re saved “by grace through faith alone”.
An illustration from normal life can help us understand spiritual realities. Early in World War II a third of a million allied soldiers were cut-off by the advancing German army. Soon they were trapped on the beach of Dunkirk, being mowed down from the air as they were driven into the sea. Civilian fishing boats and small pleasure craft helped with the rescue. These small boats illustrate well the ideas of “Sola Gratia” and “Sola Fide”. What rescued those soldiers? The boat did! But how could a boat rescue someone? You had to get into the boat! We could say that soldiers were saved by a boat through getting in it. Both are necessary: if you have faith—but no boat—you’re still stuck on shore! But if you have a boat—but no faith to get in it—and you’re still stuck on shore!
Ephesians 2:8-9 applies this to salvation. Remember, we need a “what” and a “how”. The “what” of our salvation is the grace of God. The “how” of our salvation is faith. Notice that those of us who have trusted in God’s grace “have been saved”. This is called a “past perfect” tense because the action is completed. God has already saved those who have trusted in his grace. Most of this passage is a statement about what salvation isn’t: Salvation is not of us. There is nothing in our being or nature which contributes anything to our salvation. And our salvation is not a result of anything we do.
Many people find the idea that salvation is by grace through faith, and based solely on the finished work of Christ— many people find that idea offensive. Why? Why would we be offended by being given a free gift? Because we like to boast. We’re proud, and we don’t want to admit that when it comes to salvation, we’re all “charity cases”. But we are! (Also see Titus 3:3-7; Isaiah 59:2 and Psalm 49:7-8). This offends our human pride. Grace is the exact opposite of any supposed worthiness on our part. Our relationship with God is based on either works or grace (Romans 11:6). But God loves us, and this leads to security and rest (Colossians 1:12-14; Hebrews 4:3, 10). In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. Solus Christus! And he accomplished this by grace, through faith alone. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide!
But there are a few misunderstandings about faith which need to cleared-up. People often speak of “blind faith” or “a blind leap” or “a leap of faith in the dark”. Many say “just have faith”—but they don’t specify in what. But faith must have a “what”. We have faith in something. We trust in something. We depend on something. But with blind faith, we’re having faith in nothing! Biblical salvation is faith in the grace of God. Faith in Christ’s gracious death in our place.
Others hold the view that it doesn’t matter what the object of your faith is, just so long as your faith has one. It’s gotta be faith in something—but what you have faith in can vary from person to person (religion, or spirituality, or fate, or trust in ourselves, or in science). The important thing, according to this view, is that you be sincere in your belief. But the value of your faith depends upon whether the object of your faith trustworthy. Faith in man-made saviors such as religion, self-confidence, or science, are useless
Others believe that faith is a “white-knuckle ride”—no matter what your faith is in. But when our faith is in a trustworthy object—such as Christ—then we should be at peace. Jesus slept in a boat in the middle of a storm because he had absolute confidence in God. Confidence in God is always warranted—even when the circumstances look dire— because the reliability of the object of our faith is all that matters.
Some people think that faith involves “twisting God’s arm”—getting him to do something he doesn’t really want to do. This view insults God (suggesting that he doesn’t love us) and it glorifies us (suggesting that we’re powerful enough to get God to do something he doesn’t want to do!). If ever you find yourself with this attitude, it is to be repented of.
Our fifth and final perversion of biblical faith is that strong faith allows us to “name it and claim it”! Just name what you want—healing, money, or a mate—and believe it hard enough, and you’re sure to get it! They’ll even quote Bible verses to support it, but this isn’t faith, it’s entitlement! It’s presumption. And it’s ugly.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Many people find the idea offensive that salvation is by grace through faith, based solely on the death of Christ in our place. Do you? If so, ask yourself “Why?”
- If you have trouble trusting God, then get to know God as he truly is. Study chapter 2 of Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs.
- Review the five misunderstandings of faith that we looked at today (see Sermon Summary). Do you see any elements of those in your life? Repent of misplaced faith or unworthy views of God. Trust in the True God as he’s revealed in the Bible.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, identify and write down one, concrete step of obedience, small or large but doable, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)