Martin Luther called it “the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.” He called on pastors to take it back to their churches and “beat it into their heads continually.” The Reformation saw untold numbers of believers across Europe go willingly to the flames because they refused to loosen their grip on this single conviction:
Sola fide—justification by faith alone.
It’s good to remember believers who explored theology not merely as an academic exercise but as a life-and-death endeavor. It’s good for us to pause and remember the doctrines for which our forebears in the faith died. And it’s good to ask if these are the doctrines for which we are living.
By Grace through Faith
Justification is the gracious act of God by which he declares a sinner righteous solely through faith in Jesus Christ. Unearned. Unmerited. Incredible.
Let’s break that down a bit.
“Justification is the gracious act of God . . .”
No one is right before God, and absolutely no one can make themselves right before God. It is God alone who can make us right before him (Ps. 143:2). No amount of penance, regret, service, or suffering can even the scales weighed down by our wanton rebellion against a holy and righteous God. We cannot achieve salvation by works. We can only receive it by faith as a free gift earned by Christ on Calvary.
“. . . by which he declares a sinner righteous . . .”
Sinful man has no case before the just Judge of the universe. We stand completely guilty before him, but he declares us righteous. Let’s not gloss over that fact—we stand utterly guilty, yet God declares us righteous in his sight. How can this be? How can God do that and still be God? “Here is a problem,” Luther said, “which needs God to solve it.”
And on the cross, the Son of God did indeed solve that problem. God loved us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to live the life we could not live and die the death we deserved to die. Christ took the wrath we rightly deserve and gave us the righteousness we cannot merit.
“. . . solely through faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Paul tells the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31, emphasis added).
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Paul tells the church at Rome (Rom. 10:9, emphasis added).
“Repent and believe the good news,” Jesus proclaimed (Mark 1:15, emphasis added).
Faith in Christ is the single and sufficient requirement for justification. All we can do and all we must do is trust completely in the work Christ Jesus has accomplished with his death, and we are saved.
This Changes Everything
When we turn to Christ in faith, our old, sinful selves are completely burned away by his sacrifice. We die to ourselves and to our every attempt to earn God’s favor according to our own merit. We are justified by faith alone, and we live by faith alone. Not a single corner of our lives is left untouched by this truth.
“Our every move is made in the full assurance of Christ’s power, the complete sufficiency of his sacrifice, and the overwhelming joy of his victory.”
Do not give into the subtle temptation to embrace justification by faith alone, yet try and do life and ministry in the flesh alone. Christ loved you enough to die for you two thousand years ago, and Christ loves you enough to live in you today, to enable you with his sustenance and empower you with his strength.
Every step we take away from the cross of Calvary, we take in the same faith that brought us to the feet of Christ. Our every move is made in the full assurance of Christ’s power, the complete sufficiency of his sacrifice, and the overwhelming joy of his victory.
Worth Dying For
Furthermore, if all of this is true, we cannot keep silent. If God truly justifies sinners solely through faith in Jesus Christ, then we must make this doctrine known. It is not simply a doctrine to be understood; it is an eternity shaping truth that demands to be told. We, undeserving sinners, have experienced the love of God. And when you know the depth of God’s love for sinners, you’ll lose your life that they might know his salvation.
The martyrs of the Reformation didn’t die simply because they believed the gospel. They died because they proclaimed the gospel. They didn’t just love the gospel. They loved the people who needed the gospel, and they were willing to die so others may know it. So they shared it in their homes, they taught it in their churches, they proclaimed it in their towns, and it cost them everything they had.
And it was worth it.
Salvation by faith alone is the best news we could possibly hear or deliver. If we lose that, we lose everything. So let us rejoice in that salvation, and let sola fide ring out from our lips in the church and among the lost until the day when such faith finally becomes sight.
David Platt is the president of the International Mission Board. Follow him on Twitter @PlattDavid.