Several years ago our denomination had a series of Sunday School lessons that focused on church history. The lessons covered some of the great Christian influencers–people like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. People like these have helped to shape the church into what it is today. And their understanding of the Bible has shaped the way we view the Bible today. I remember there was one man who was very put off by the lessons. He said that he didn’t want to hear what these people thought; he was only interested in the Bible itself. He thought that the lessons were a waste of time. He could not comprehend how much we have been influenced by these Church leaders. Last Week I preached on the importance of Scripture and how the Bible is the final authority on what we need to know about God’s Plan for our Salvation. All truth must pass the test as to whether or not it is Biblically sound. The Bible is the bedrock foundation of Christianity.
However, to ignore the great minds and influencers over more than 2000 years of interpreting the Bible would be arrogant and foolish. After all, Jesus told his disciples in John 16: 12-13, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now hear. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” It is the Holy Spirit leading and guiding the church over the centuries that helps us to understand more and more about God’s truth.
And remember: Our God is an infinite God. We can never fully comprehend all there is to know about Him. But as the Holy Spirit leads, we continue to grasp more and more.
With that in mind, we must not forget the significance of this day on the Christian Calendar–Reformation Sunday. I referred to it in our message last week. Let me give just a little more background.
Leading up to the 16th century and Martin Luther’s time, the Catholic Church in some areas had drifted away from the litmus test of Scripture. One big example of this was the selling of what were called “Indulgences.” The church told people that they could pay money to the church in order to have their deceased loved ones released from Purgatory (another doctrine not based on scripture). Martin Luther was a sincere young man who had entered the priesthood and become a Monk. He had sought diligently for assurance that he was right with God but had struggled with doubts.
It was while preparing lectures on the Book of Romans, that this verse in Romans 1:17 suddenly spoke to him: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” And the Holy Spirit impressed that statement about “Faith Alone” to Luther and suddenly he had the answer to the assurance he had been seeking. When the selling of indulgences became a prominent practice and Luther saw so many sincere people being exploited, he took offence. He felt that he had to speak up and challenge the Church to examine these teachings that were not grounded in Scripture. So, on October 31, 1517, Luther posted 95 points that he wanted to debate with the Catholic Theologians. Those talking points triggered a firestorm that resulted in Luther being excommunicated from the Catholic Church. And the Protestant Reformation is said to have been birthed with Luther’s 95 Theses!
There were many points with which Luther differed from the Church. But the one point for which he is probably best known was His understanding that Salvation and the Assurance of Salvation comes through Faith alone. And that is a major tenet of Protestantism still.
This morning let’s explore more fully the importance of Faith as taught in the Scriptures.
I. OUR SALVATION IS ACTIVATED BY OUR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
a. Paul’s clearest statement to this truth is found in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”
b. There are several well known verses that support this truth. Two from the Gospel of John stand out:
i. John 1:12 “Yet to all who did receive him to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
ii. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
c. It is important to understand that the word in Romans 1:17 and Ephesians 2: 8 that is translated “faith” is the same word that in John 1:12 and 3:16 is translated “believes.”
d. So “Faith” or the “Act of Believing” is essential in each of these verses for the person to have eternal life, the righteousness of God, and the honor of becoming a “child of God.” If a person does not “believe” or “have faith in Christ,” then he is not saved and does not have the promise of eternal life.
e. Martin Luther knew that this was the truth from God’s Word. When the church allowed hucksters to declare people to be delivered from torment because someone made a donation to the church, it was clear to Luther that this was not scriptural. And in our day, while most of us are not tempted to pay to bail out a loved one from torment, there are many other beliefs that are common in our “folk theology’ that also fail the test of scripture. For example: The belief that we can earn our way into heaven is very common. And there is the thought that “If I am good to others,” God will overlook my sins. Or there’s the idea that we can list our good deeds in one column and our sins in another column, and if the good deed list is longer than the sin list, we will make it into heaven. That may stand up in the court of human logic, but it fails in the test of scripture, which points out in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one;” and in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”Years ago I read the classic book, “The Keys of the Kingdom.” In the book an old priest has a friend who is an atheist. When the atheist died, the priest spoke at his funeral and indicated he believed that his friend was in heaven. Later, the priest is confronted and defended his statement, saying,”There are many roads that lead to the kingdom.” He argued that because the atheist was sincere that God would pardon him. The problem with that view is that is does not stand up in light of the scripture which clearly teaches that Salvation only comes through Faith in Jesus Christ.
II. OUR FAITH MUST BE A SPECIFICALLY TARGETED FAITH.
a. Faith is often viewed in a very general sense. Some would argue that if you believe anything strongly enough, then it must be true–at least true for you. That was the position of the old priest in the story I just mentioned. But the Bible clearly refutes such thinking. In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 Paul warned about the end of the age and the delusional thinking that would be wide-spread. Beginning with verse 9 Paul writes: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” In other words, even though people sincerely believe the lie, they will be condemned.
b. Our faith must be in the True and Living God. I have said this over and over again–It is God who saves us. Our faith simply brings us into agreement with His Plan. Yes, over and over again in the Gospels we read that Jesus said, “It is your faith that makes you whole.” But the underlying truth is that their faith was in God and in Jesus. Faith simply brought them into a position to receive what God already wanted to give them.
c. We can have faith and believe in anything .But it is Faith in God and in His Word that brings about Salvation!
d. Illustration from Sermonillustrations.com– In April 1988 the evening news reported on a photographer who was a skydiver. He had jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. On the film shown on the telecast, as the final skydiver opened his chute, the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death, having jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until he reached for the absent ripcord that he realized he was freefalling without a parachute. Until that point, the jump probably seemed exciting and fun. But tragically, he had acted with thoughtless haste and deadly foolishness. Nothing could save him, for his faith was in a parachute never buckled on. Faith in anything but an all-sufficient God can be just as tragic spiritually. Only with faith in Jesus Christ dare we step into the dangerous excitement of life.
III. THE FAITH THAT SAVES IS A TOTAL RELIANCE UPON GOD!
a. Saving faith is more than just a mental agreement. We are told in James that the very demons of hell believe that much–but they are still demons!
b. Saving faith is more than just an adherence to a group of rules. Keeping rules is important but unless there is a real change in one’s heart, keeping all the rules in the world will not save you.
c. Saving Faith is not a blind leap in the dark! True, a life of faith involves trusting in things we do not see or that may not have happened. But Saving Faith is based on what we do know–that which God has revealed to us. We know that God is Compassionate and full of Mercy and Love. We know that He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to show us what He is like and to provide for our rescue from sin. We have the Promises of God’s Word given to us so that we act in faith because we know of God’s character and His reliability.
d. Saving Faith is the conscious surrendering one’s self to God, believing that Jesus’ death on the Cross was the atoning sacrifice for our sins. It involves a complete change of allegiance so that I not only believe with my mind, but I also believe with my actions and my attitudes. It is staking my life on the Promises of God and living my life in a way that reflects that belief.
e. In The Truth Project, a video series on having a Christian Worldview, in one of the lessons we are reminded to recognize God as being the All-knowing, Always Present God. Dr. Tackett who is the lecturer in the series gave an illustration about a man who claimed to have such a world view of God, but who, when he was alone, would steal looks at pornography. Dr. Tackett stated that if the man really had the correct Worldview of God, even in the private moments he would refrain from such actions because he would know that God was present and watching his behavior.
f. Saving Faith is living a life that constantly seeks to please God.
Jim Peterson, Living Proof, (NavPress, 1989, p. 170) gives this illustration:
Three elements of personality are involved in making a decision to become a Christian, or in making any significant decision for that matter. They are the emotions, the intellect, and the will.
For example, a young man meets a young woman. They are immediately attracted to one another. They both say to themselves, “Now there is someone I’d like to marry.” At that point, if the emotions had their way, there would be a wedding. But the intellect intervenes, questioning the impulsive emotional response. Would we be compatible? What is she really like? Can I afford to support her? Both conclude it would be better to take some more time and answer a few questions before they proceed. So the two begin spending more time with each other. He eventually concludes that she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Now his intellect has sided with the emotions on the idea of marriage.
But the final and heaviest vote remains to be cast — that of the will. It stops the march toward the altar with the questions, “Am I willing to give up this lifestyle for another? What about my freedom — is it worth the trade? Am I willing to assume the added responsibility?” The marriage will occur only when the will finally agrees with the emotions and the intellect. And so it is in coming to Christ.
FAITH ALONE is what enables us to take that final step of committing our whole being to Christ and trusting in Him alone for our Salvation.
Have you taken that step of faith?