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The Cause of The Reformation

There are a lot of ideas about what started the Reformation. Even setting a start date for the Reformation depends largely on what perspective you have. Many simply point to Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses as the start, but you could point further to someone like Jan Hus or to John Wycliffe. The reality is that there have always been people who have tried to reform the church. More important than when the Reformation started is the central issue of the Reformation. Here again, there are many ideas on what the main issue was. Some would argue that the problem was Scripture's authority versus the church's and the Pope's authority. Others would argue that the primary issue was over the doctrine of justification. I would be among this group. The question is, are we saved by faith plus works, or are we saved by faith alone?


Sola Fide


The Doctrine of Justification has often been referred to as the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. That is how important this is. It is so important that it has been a recurring fight throughout the history of the church. Much like the controversies over Arianism, the teaching that Jesus is a created being, justification continues to be a subject of disagreement. The Roman Catholic Church still argues the same thing they did at the start of the Reformation. Even many churches within the Protestant tradition have started to drift on this issue. So, what does the Bible have to say on the issue? Some of the clearest passages of scripture on this subject are Acts 16:31, Romans 3:28, 4:5, 5:1, Galatians 2:16, 3:24, Ephesians 1:13, and Philippians 3:9. Each one of these points to the reality that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is the means by which we receive the grace of God. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 is especially clear.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

With such clear scripture passages, why are so many people who take issue with the idea of Faith Alone?


Potential Issues


One of the critiques that people will often bring against the Doctrine of Faith alone is the Bible also teaches that we are to do good works. Someone wishing to push back against Faith Alone may point to passages such as James 2:24, which states,

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

It seems like this would be clear evidence against the Doctrine of Faith alone, but we must always read scripture in context. When we go back to verse 17 and start reading, what James is really saying becomes much more apparent. The whole passage, from verses 17 to 26, makes the point that faith that does not produce good works is not genuine faith. So, rather than refuting Faith Alone as the basis for justification, James is saying without evidence that faith is not actually faith at all. This lines up perfectly with what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10: We are saved by grace through faith so that we can walk in the good works that the Lord has prepared for us.


Faith Is A Gift


The central idea here is that salvation is not something we can earn. We cannot do enough good work to earn salvation. It is not like we do a little bit, and the Lord picks up the slack. Here, we see a potential error in our understanding of faith. If we are saved by placing faith in the Lord, could faith be understood as a work? If saving faith originated with us, then this could indeed be argued. But again, scripture has something to say on the subject. Faith is something that is granted by God and exercised by us. Philippians 1:29 states:

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Belief, also called faith, is something that Paul tells us is granted. Peter states the same idea in 2 Peter 1:1. He addresses his letter to those who have received faith. These are just a couple of the positive examples. There are also some negative examples. Romans 3:11 states, "There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God." The idea is simple: apart from the gift of God, no one will come to the Lord. Later in Romans, Paul writes that it does not depend on man but on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16). Some other examples in scripture include 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Matthew 16:17.


Summing it Up


We are saved by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone based on Scripture Alone. Nothing could be more important. Nothing we have done or could ever do could add to the finished work of Christ on the cross. His grace is complete and transformative. In him, we are new creations. Our justification is not something we accomplish but something we receive by faith. It should not surprise us that this is all a gift from God. After all, everything we have, including the breath in our lungs, is by God's grace. We need to get this right. As John Calvin wrote, "(Justification) is the ground on which religion must be supported." He goes on to warn that "Unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared." Right worship comes out of right understanding. Without it, there can be no true worship. So let us worship the Lord who has saved us by his grace by granting us faith in the finished work of Christ.


Soli Deo Gloria


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