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By Faith Alone

There have been many different issues that have come up for debate throughout the history of the church. On Sunday nights at our church, we have been discussing various heresies and theological issues that lead to how we articulate the Trinity today. What we believe and how we talk about what we believe matters. We are not free to believe whatever we please and call it worshiping God. God has declared how he is to be worshiped and we do not get to add to or take away from what he has commanded. When we do that when we think it does not matter how we worship or what we believe, what we are doing is putting ourselves in his place. We make ourselves his judge and say we get to decide what is right and good. This is the root of all sin, the desire to put ourselves first. It is the very thing that the serpent tempts Eve with when they are in the garden, and it is what we are still tempted by today. There are lots of places where this comes up, but one of the most important is with regard to our salvation. Is it by faith alone or do works play a part in our salvation?

Question #61

From the title of the post today it should be clear that the answer to that question is by faith alone, but that leaves us with an important question. The Heidelberg Catechism asks the question like this;

"Why do you say that you are rightious only by faith?"

Many people have asked this question. It is the central issue of the Reformation and it is the central issue now. In every generation of the church, the issues of faith vs works come back around. It comes around because we are selfish beings who want to put ourselves first, we want to think that we contribute to our salvation. One of the biggest things in ourselves that pushes back against faith alone, is the thought that it feels like we should be doing more. That salvation must be earned. We look around at the world we live in and see that if we want to eat we need to earn money. If we want our coach to put us in the game we have to work hard and earn our spot and so we think that God must be like our coaches. We think that he is like our earthly Fathers who say you can go play when your room is clean. But this is not the case.

Never Enough

The truth is that there is nothing that we could ever do that would earn a single part of our salvation. We are incapable of paying back our debt. For every dollar we pay back, two more are added to our debt. It is important to understand that it is not our faith that makes us worthy. Faith itself is a gift from God and does not originate in us. Faith is the means that God has given us. As the catechism answers;

"Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it mine my own by faith only."

We make salvation our own through the faith that God has given us alone. We cannot earn it. We cannot deserve it. Everything that we do in the Christian life is in response to this gift. We obey because we are saved, not so that we might be saved. We do what he commands out of love for what he has already done. If we try to earn salvation through our works or by thinking that our faith makes us worthy, then we are saying that Christ is not enough and that his payment was not complete. Paul tells us in Galatians that "if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Galatians 2:21) His point is that obedience cannot save you, because that would mean that Christ was not obedient enough, that we could obtain salvation apart from Christ.

But Why?

Question 62 of the Catechism asks;

"But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?"

The simple answer is that we are marked by sin. God demands absolute perfection. The Catechism answers by saying;

"Because the righteousness which can stand before God's judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin."

It is as if we are told to come to a meeting with a clean shirt. So we go home and run our clothes through the washer and dryer, but every time we wash our clothes, we add a little bit of ink to the washer. You are doing the work of cleaning, but your cleaning process adds stains to your clothes. That is how we are before God, he demands holiness and purity and everything we do is tainted by sin. We cannot add to our salvation because anything we would add would be stained by sin.


It is wonderful to know and to understand that we are saved by faith alone. When we understand that we do not contribute to salvation, then we can finally start to appreciate grace for what it truly is. To keep using the analogy of the clothes, we are given new clothes that we do not have to wash, that are kept clean by the blood of the lamb. Our work will never be able to make them clean, only his. So we can come and worship in humility and gratitude for what he has done. He has done what only he could do. He has saved his people so that they might be called the sons of God and the bride of Christ. We are saved by Grace Alone, through the gift of Faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scripture alone, and all for the Glory of God alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

Rom. 3:21–25, 28; Rom. 5:1, 2; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Philip. 3:9.

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