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5 Solas

The 5 Solas: Sola Fide

5 Solas

We do good works not so that we may one day get into heaven, but because we already have a place in heaven.

This is Part 3 in our series “The 5 Solas: History & Implications For The Church.” Click below to view the others:
We come now to what is known as the material cause of the Reformation, because this was at the heart of the Reformation, the central issue, which is justification by faith alone.
This is so important that Martin Luther said that it’s the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. Why? Because it has to do with how a person is accepted by God, how a sinful person is able to stand in the presence of Holy God, declared not guilty before the righteous Judge of the world. This right here is what truly separates Martin Luther and the other reformers from the Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church taught, and still continues to teach, that salvation comes through participation in the sacraments, and to be accepted into God’s presence, a person must be without sin—objectively just, perfectly righteous.
It begins with baptism. The catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Holy baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through baptism, we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God. We become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church, and made sharers in her mission. Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and the word.” At that moment, a person is considered to be perfectly just before God—filled with righteousness, the justifying grace of God.
An illustration, not perfect, but you’ll get the idea:
At baptism, a person is “filled,” or infused, with God’s justifying grace based on the work of Christ, like a glass of water being completely filled. Sin causes the loss of a measure of this—some of the water gets dumped out. So as a person participates in the other sacraments, especially penance, some of the grace is restored, and the cup becomes refilled. When a person dies, remaining sin must be dealt with in purgatory where indulgences, masses, prayers and so on, provide for them the merit needed to become objectively righteous, and to enter into God’s presence into heaven.
So, while faith is necessary for salvation, it is not sufficient for it—there needs to be more—things that we do while we’re alive, things others do for us after we die. So it’s faith plus works that equals justification in the Roman Catholic Church.
As Martin Luther got back to the Scriptures, he discovered for himself, and recovered what has always been there regarding justification—that a person is justified by faith alone. Nothing more needs to be done, or can be done, by us. Christ did it all.
This truth is plainly taught throughout the Bible, but especially in passages such as:
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28)
“And to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteous.” (Romans 4:5)
“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law, because by the works of the Law, no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
We can go on and on. The thing is, that God accepts us as righteous in his sight only because the righteousness of Christ is granted to us, by faith, as we trust in him. You see, on the cross, Jesus paid for our sin, all of it, taking away the guilt as he satisfied God’s wrath. That’s why he could say “it is finished.”
Amazingly, there’s more! Not only did he take our sins upon himself—his righteousness, the merits of his sinless life and sacrificial death are credited, or imputed, to us! This means that when the Father looks at you, He sees the finished work of Christ applied by the Holy Spirit. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which makes us acceptable to God.
Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This has been called “The Great Exchange.” So, even when we sin, our “cup” remains full—because of Christ. Because of this, when a believer dies his soul goes directly into the presence of God. That’s why Jesus could say to the thief on the cross, “today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it this way:
“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, whereby, He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” That’s why the Reformers would say that Christians are “simul justus et peccator”—at the same time just and sinner.
What are some of the implications for us? I’ll mention just a couple.
First, it means that we are justified by faith alone! We do good works not so that we may one day get into heaven, but because we already have a place in heaven. Otherwise, you do them in a sense for yourself, trusting that by doing these, it will help you get to Heaven sooner. Also, this gives us great assurance that on the day when you die, at that very moment, your soul will be in the presence of your great God and Savior.

Joe Griffo is Pastor of Redeemer Church of South Hills in West Mifflin, PA. Learn more about him here
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