The Voice of Zion October 2023 - Doctrine and Life Article --
The Reformation material principle succinctly states that a person can be acceptable to God by faith alone, by grace alone, by the merits of Christ alone.
What Is Faith?
The word faith has many meanings. In the sentence “I believe in God,” faith is not merely an acknowledgement that God exists, but rather it tells of a deeper kind of believing. Faith comes close to trusting and placing hope in something. As such faith is much more than holding something to be true.
Faith can exist without structured knowledge, but knowledge cannot give birth to faith. On the other hand, faith causes a desire to study the Word of God and learn more about it.
Faith Is a Gift of God
When we say that faith is a gift from God, we mean many things. First, faith is free. Secondly, a person cannot demand faith for himself or herself, nor can the person on his or her own choose to believe. Thirdly, a person cannot develop faith for himself or herself (Eph. 2:8).
Faith is essential for a person’s salvation (Heb. 11:6). Such faith is belief in a distinct God, to whom faith establishes a connection. This faith is given by God through the gospel proclaimed in the congregation (John 20:22,23; Rom. 10:17).
The Contents of Faith, Christ
The contents of faith can be summarized in one word: Christ. Faith receives the Word, which is Christ. In the Word, the living gospel, preached through the Holy Spirit we can own Christ’s righteousness by faith (1 Cor. 3:12; 2 Cor. 5:17–21).
Christ’s work had two aspects: on the one hand, He conquered sin, death and the power of the devil (redemption); on the other hand, He appeased God’s wrath (atonement). Both these works were possible only for Christ, who was both God and human (2 Cor. 5:14–19).
Faith brings to the Christian Christ and, along with Him, His work, His victory over the power of sin and atoning for God’s wrath. Redemption frees a Christian from the power of sin while atonement removes from upon him or her the wrath of God.
Owning Christ through Faith
Owning Christ is far more comprehensive than any earthly ownership. In faith, a fortunate exchange occurs: on the one hand the Christian’s sins are so completely borne by Christ as if they were entirely His own (Isa. 53:6). On the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is so completely the Christian’s as if it were his or her own. The Christian himself or herself remains completely sinful, but in Christ he or she is completely righteous (Gal. 2:19,20).
Owning Christ makes a Christian free from sin. This does not remove his or her sinfulness, however. The Christian continues to be completely sinful. He or she does not only commit sin, but rather he or she is sinful the whole time (2 Cor. 5:17–21; Rom. 7:20).
Owning Christ by faith transforms the whole person. It leads him or her to love God, righteousness and goodness. As a fruit of faith, the Christian desires to battle against sin (Matt. 7:18).
Faith, Law and Works
Christ is perfect righteousness. Therefore every effort by a person to augment his or her own righteousness is wrong. The person’s righteousness is not then the righteousness of Christ received as a gift, but rather his or her own righteousness, which is based on works (Gal. 2:21).
Christ did not overturn the law but rather fulfilled it to the last letter. The law still demands perfection, but a Christian receives that perfection in faith which owns Christ. On the other hand, a person who tries to be acceptable to God through his or her own deeds is under the demands of the law (Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:4).
The Relationship between a Christian and the Law
Freedom from the judgment of the law does not mean freedom from the contents of the law and its teachings. God’s grace instructs a person to love God’s will. Then His law appears holy and right. As a fruit of faith, the Christian loves that which is good, true and just and hates sin (Rom. 6:17,18; 7:22).
Christian freedom is often mistakenly understood to mean freedom to sin. This understanding is fundamentally wrong. If one gives oneself permission to sin, he or she becomes a slave to sin. A person cannot simultaneously believe and live of grace and permit himself or herself to sin (Rom. 6:11–23).
A Christian desires to obey God’s law and pursue righteousness. The Christian is taught this by God’s grace, not the demands of the law (Titus 2:11,12; Rom. 5:21). This distinction is crucial from the standpoint of righteousness. If a seemingly right action is not the fruit of faith, its motive is either an obligation or a merit. That is then no longer righteousness that comes by faith.
In place of following rules, the life of a Christian is living in grace as a sinner. The battle within the Christian between these two forces – righteousness and sin – is not resolved with rules of externally imposed regulations.
When Christians encounter a situation in life where they ponder how to act, they wish to find a solution that is agreeable to God. They are taught this by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also gathers believers into one congregation, which has one faith. The congregation ponders together in its midst what is agreeable to God (Eph. 4; Heb. 10:24,25).
Two Sides of the Endeavor
Christians love righteousness and desire to live according to the will of God. Meanwhile they constantly find themselves acting against their deepest desires. Within the Christian there is a struggle between the old and new self. In this struggle, the Christian does not want to allow his or her sinfulness to gain control, but rather he or she wants to let the Holy Spirit guide his or her life (Rom. 7:14–25; Gal. 5:16–18).
A Christian, however, experiences that sin attaches. For that reason, the Christian wants to hear the gospel of forgiveness of sins.
In the Christian endeavor – the battle of faith – there are two sides. On the one hand Christians themselves cannot do anything to preserve their righteousness. The endeavor of faith is God’s work within us, not our own work. On the other hand, the battle in a Christian is real. Falling under the power of sin and losing faith is a real possibility. But as long as a person has faith given by God, it creates in him or her love for God, hunger and thirst for the Word of God as well as the desire to battle against sin and preserve a good conscience (Phil. 2:13; 1 Tim. 1:19).
The Relationship between Faith and Works
Faith is evident in the life of a Christian and causes good works. Good works are a part of faith. All good things are nevertheless fruits of the Spirit. People themselves are unable to do anything good to be acceptable to God (Eph. 2:8–10; Gal. 5:22,23).
Faith works through love. Good works always stem from faith and are fruits of faith. They can never be a precondition of faith. One cannot obtain, maintain or improve faith through works (Gal. 5:6; Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7; 2 Tim. 1:9,10).
Faith, Knowledge and Reason
It is good for Christians to know and understand the basics of faith and the Bible so that they would not stray into wrong doctrine. Knowledge is not the opposite of faith. Saving faith is not born based on knowledge. It is obtained only as gift of God, through the word of the gospel. Meanwhile it is nonetheless so that true faith possesses the correct doctrine, even if the believer is not able to describe it precisely.
Faith is also not the opposite of reason, but rather the opposite of faith is unbelief. Reason cannot bring faith, but faith gives reason a direction and meaning. The situation is correct when reason is subordinate to faith and faith guides the understanding of reason. If faith dies, reason – along with everything else in a person – turns away from God and begins to serve the enemy.