Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation. The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The slogans are:
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
- Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
- Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Today’s focus is on the third of the solas—sola fide (faith alone). Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) that was considered to be the “formal cause” of the Reformation while sola fide—justification by faith alone was considered to be the “material cause” and reason for protest.
As Luther was progressing as a monk, his soul was unsettled. He continued to battle with an unsettled spirit and his father confessor, Johannes von Staupitz, felt that Luther should embark on a pilgrimage to Rome—the holy city for the Roman Catholic Church. It would be there that he would visit different monasteries and see the different relics which would allow him to receive certain indulgences and spiritual blessings. In Rome at this time in 1510 the city of Rome boasted of having the following relics:
- Rope with which Judas supposedly hanged himself
- Branch from the bush that once blazed with the visible presence of God
- Chains of Paul
- St. Paul’s Cathedral and fountain is in Rome – where the Roman Catholic Church claims that at the spot where Paul was beheaded—when it hit the ground it bounced three times causing three springs to spring up from the ground.
Most committed Roman Catholics would travel to Rome and be overjoyed with the “spiritual” experience of a lifetime. That was not the case for Martin Luther. He would see Rome as a “city of harlotry.” Luther witnessed the false and empty worship of the priests, sexual perversion by priests who were engaging in adultery and homosexual sins with prostitutes. On top of this was the increasing intensity of indulgences and all of this troubled Luther.
This would serve as a starting point to the eventual Ninety-Five Theses that would be nailed to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in 1517. Even then, Luther was unsettled and concerned, but he merely wanted to engage in a public debate—one that would be local in Wittenberg, Germany. God had other plans as we know—and that document was published and spread all around the surrounding regions and it turned into a national (and eventually and international) debate.
In 1520, Luther would receive an official papal bull calling for him to recant of his positions. At this point, Luther has already become a Christian and what was starting out as a localized conversation was now about to erupt into an all out war. What was the driving issue? It was the “material cause” of the Reformation—justification by faith alone in Christ alone without any mixture of works. This stand would come to a boiling point at the Diet of Worms where we see the Reformation as we know it begin to take shape as a definitive protest. At the heart of this protest was the issue of sola fide.
Defining Sola Fide
When Paul writes to the church at Galatia, he addresses the false teaching of the Judaizers that had crept its way into the church. He called out the false teachers and fenced up the truth of the gospel by delivering a powerful statement of damnation to anyone who would dare to add anything to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Gal. 1:6-10).
In Galatians 3:10-14, Paul made a very important statement that solidifies the position of the apostles and the teaching of Jesus. He writes:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:10-14).
Years later, the Roman Catholic Church would come along and add a lengthy list of works to the work of Jesus on the cross making them required teaching and practices in order to receive salvation. This is precisely what the Judaizers were doing in the days of Paul in Galatia. Paul said, “Let them be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
Misunderstanding Sola Fide
While Paul was correct to stand firm and to defend the pure gospel, what about works? Are good works a bad thing? Should we not emphasize any need for good works in the life of a believer? Certainly Luther was correct in his passionate protest against the offer of indulgences in exchange for money in his day (along with a long list of other perversions), but what about works?
Often times, we allow the pendulum to swing too far in our protest. We must be reminded of what James said in the New Testament. James writes, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). We must also remember the language of the New Testament regarding perseverance of the faith. All who persevere in the faith to the end will receive salvation, but those who don’t persevere will be lost in their sin and judged eternally. What does perseverance involve? It involves hard work, diligence, pursuit of holiness, and a lifelong attempt to become more conformed to the image of Christ than God.
The diligent effort of a Christian to work and serve God will not take away his sins. The pursuit of holiness will not save a sinner. In fact, we must remember to balance these truths. Unless God causes a person to be born again, that individual will never have a desire to serve, worship, kill sin (mortify the flesh), or become conformed to the image of Christ. That is a work of God in the new birth that causes a sinner to desire God and to hate sin.
Good works cannot save anyone, but all of God’s children should strive to live a life that honors God in faithful perseverance of the faith.
Yesterday morning we engaged in a new preaching series through the letter of 1 John—one of three letters written by the apostle John who also penned the Gospel of John. Over the next 90 days, we intend to walk through this relatively short letter and examine our own faith and walk with the Lord in the process. As John wrote this letter most likely from Ephesus, his audience would have been the churches in various cities surrounding Ephesus in Asia minor. John desired to edify the body of Christ by causing them to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith and to promote a serious approach to the faith which was under attack and was becoming a bit lazy among the churches.
Know This: Jesus Was God Who Became Man
In a brilliant explosion of intense light, from the very beginning John bursts forth into an array of doctrinal themes including the highest—the deity of Jesus. John writes, “That which was from the beginning” and it sounds much like the way he began his Gospel account (John 1:1-3). If the church in John’s day and if the church in our day will live boldly for Christ, we must have a healthy understanding of his deity. The very moment that we come to the reality that Jesus is not a fictional character in a story book for children or a mere figurine for the Christmas tree, but that he is sovereign God—creator of the entire universe—at that moment we should be brought to a place of humble submission. Jesus is God. That’s the way John begins his letter of encouragement.
John also wanted to emphasize the humanity of Jesus. Not only was he from the beginning, but he was actually a real man in time. Very God of very God took upon himself human flesh as he entered the womb of a young Jewish lady named Mary. Jesus was able to be heard, touched, and visibly seen by the apostles. What was once invisible had now become manifest—and John wanted everyone to understand this unique point. God had become a man without ceasing to be God, yet he became a real man at the same time.
Know This: The Proclamation of the Gospel has a Purpose
John used two different terms that point to the reality of his ambition to make Christ known. He talked about testifying (μαρτυρέω) which means to confirm or attest something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness. John also said that he was proclaiming (ἀπαγγέλλω) which means to give an account of something or report (back), announce, tell.
The purpose of John’s proclamation was for people to come into fellowship with the church and with God the Father and his Son—Jesus the Christ. John points to the blessing of fellowship (κοινωνία). This word means, “close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship, marked by intimacy.” True Christian fellowship transcends “hello” in the hallway or a slap on the back on Sunday. As John will unfold more as we continue through his letter, we are called to love one another in the church and that isn’t possible without true fellowship. How is fellowship accomplished? It’s accomplished through the saving grace of God upon a group of sinners who are adopted into the family of God.
In like manner, this saving grace of God enables true fellowship to happen between sinners and holy God. As the sins of people are taken away by Jesus, they are brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. Sinners are no longer the enemies of God as they are saved by Jesus, and this enables people to have true fellowship with God. What a joy and privilege to know and be known by God.
Know This: The Faith of the Church Brings the Leaders Joy
John’s ultimate joy in life came through connecting people to Jesus Christ. Do you have a greater joy from your job, your material possessions, or other things in your life than testifying and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus? The heartbeat of John and his fellow apostles was centered on connecting people to joy in Jesus! What is your greatest joy and ambition in life?
As we consider the Christian life, God wants us to know some things about him, our salvation, the faith once delivered to the saints, and he likewise wants us to have assurance of our salvation. Christianity should not be superficial and shallow. That’s why John uses at least three different Greek words over 30 times that point to the need to know certain things about God and our faith. Alistair Begg once said,
[We] must understand that Christianity is not served by mindlessness, but by the knowledge of God through the Word of God. Such knowledge engages our minds, stirs our hearts, and transforms our lives. This knowledge is personal. How is it fostered? By listening to what He says (the priority of preaching), by engaging Him in conversation (the emphasis on prayer), by spending time in His company (the need for a devotional life), and by being with others who know Him too (the need for gathered worship). This knowledge is progressive and dynamic, not static. At the end of our journey, we should still be exclaiming with Paul: “I want to know Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The Christian life is a long and arduous journey rather than a short swift sprint. During the journey of faith, we will often face periods of intense struggle. At one point, Jesus reminded Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31). In short, the Christian life is not easy. There will be times where we feel weak and anemic in the faith. Have you ever left church feeling as if you’re not growing in your faith? Is that your pastor’s fault? Is that your church’s fault? Can we blame Satan? Who is to blame for your spiritual condition? When you feel malnourished spiritually, you should take time to evaluate your spiritual life and ask yourself three very important questions.
Am I serving too much in my local church?
Every local church has needs and if we’re not careful, we will sign up for another area of service simply to fill a vacancy. That may be alright for a short while, but in the long run, the whole church cannot rest upon the shoulders of one or two people. The church is called to share the load, spread out the responsibilities, and help one another as a family, a team, and specifically as we see in Scripture—as a church.
Perhaps you need to learn to use a specific vocabulary word that’s often frowned upon. That word is—no. We must all learn to use that word at times and in certain circumstances we should not feel guilt for turning down a service role in the church. If you are already serving in various areas of the church, is it going to make you more or less healthy to take on another responsibility? Will this new role remove you from the life of the church? Will you be forced to miss the prayer meeting of the church? When you add up the number of Sunday morning services that you miss, what percentage of the year does it total?
It’s essential for you to recognize that you’re not Superman (or Wonder Woman) spiritually. You need the church. You need to gather with the church, pray with the church, sing with the church, and to be served by the church too. Don’t over serve in the local church.
What effort am I putting into the study of God’s Word?
Where do you sit in church? Are you sitting near the back? Not always, but many times people choose to sit near the back in order to be less involved and more disconnected from the preaching of God’s Word. That might not be why you’re sitting near the back, but it could be one evidence of your disconnect.
Do you know what your pastor is preaching on right now on Sunday mornings? If your church gathers for evening worship, what series is being preached on Sunday evenings? Supposing that those are expository studies, have you been reading through those particular books of the Bible and spending time in prayer? Have you requested any resources from your pastors on those biblical passages or topics in order to deepen your faith and understanding?
When I was preparing to begin my seminary classes, I remember an older pastor explaining to me that it wasn’t about what school that I attended that would make the ultimate difference with me through my seminary years. He explained that it was all about what effort I put into my studies. You can find the best local church in your town, but if you’re not putting effort into learning the Word, knowing God, and progressing in your faith—you will continue to remain malnourished even in a good local church. You cannot grow in grace by accident. It requires work. The greatest athletes don’t become great by accident. The same thing is true for Christians.
When people come to me and want to talk about how they feel disconnected from the church or that they’re not growing at the rate they feel they should, one of the most basic questions I ask them is focused on their church attendance. How can a baseball player expect to improve his game if he never shows up for practice? Can we honestly expect a football player to make progress if he never dresses out and shows up on the field for practice? Why would we expect Christians to grow in their walk with God if they’re constantly absent from the life of the church?
Am I under a spiritual attack?
The ministry of Satan is to deceive, destroy, and to discourage. We often underestimate our enemy. That’s why Paul commands us to put on the whole armor of God as we enter the spiritual battlefield (Eph. 6:11). It’s very probable that your malnourishment is due to a wound you’ve received from your enemy because you didn’t have the shield of faith or you were going out to battle without the breastplate of righteousness. Attacks come with great intensity at times, but they also come when you least expect it.
If you’re blaming your pastors, your church, your Sunday school class, or other aspects of your church for your spiritual condition—could it be that you are over worked in your church and that you haven’t been putting forth any effort to grow spiritually? Could it be that Satan is attacking you and your church and you can’t see it? Could it be that Satan’s ministry of division is playing itself out in your life and the life of your church?
Don’t blame others for your spiritual weakness. If you have a lack of passion for God’s Word, a lazy spirit for evangelism, a lack of desire for God, or perhaps a lack of love for your pastors who serve you or your church as a whole—you’re either not a Christian or you’re standing in desperate need of revival. Don’t play the blame game. The problem might not be your church—it might be you.
If you feel spiritually sick, go to Jesus Christ who can change your heart, renew your spirit, revive your soul and bring you out of a state of spiritual malnourishment. Find your hope and joy in God through Jesus Christ. Spend time contemplating the great grace that’s yours in Jesus and how you can can find true meaning in life and purpose as a Christian through your local church. Don’t remain in a state of spiritual lethargy. Healing and renewal is much closer than you think.
In his excellent book, For the Love of God, D.A. Carson writes:
People do not drift toward holiness.
Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. 
- D.A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), 23.
Parents Are Responsible For Family Worship
Suppose you were in the midst of praying as a congregation as your church went through the tedious process of selecting the next pastor who would lead you each week in preaching and teaching the Word. If a man stood in the pulpit and had a pure heart and great zeal, but his ability to handle the Word was subpar and he couldn’t explain the Bible properly, you would not support him coming to lead your church. Why not? Although this man may have a great personality and you may connect with he and his family well, what you need is more than a good friend – you need a pastor. The main objective of being a good pastor consists in his ability to explain the Word of God. The pastor is expected to be capable of training and equipping people through his preaching of the Scriptures. That’s what is expected in the church, but unfortunately, this isn’t so much expected in the home in these days.
The Theological Calling for Parents
Did you know that God has called parents to be more than friends and taxi drivers for their children? In fact, we must go a step further. Parents are called to a greater responsibility than teaching their children how to be an all-star ball player too. It is the primary duty of the parent to be the Bible teacher for their children. That responsibility does not fall upon the shoulders of the Sunday school teacher or the children’s ministry leaders in the church. God did not design the youth pastor and other volunteers in the church to bear the burden of your child’s spiritual wellbeing. The church is to come alongside parents in the task of discipleship, but ultimately, it’s the role and responsibility of the parent. This is a sobering reality to consider.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
You may not be called to be a “professional theologian” in the sense of researching biblical truths and writing books, but as a parent to your child – you must seek to know the Word of God and lead your family in the footsteps of the gospel faith. You may never take once seminary class, but you’re called to the task of becoming a Bible teacher in your home. Family worship is the process of instructing your children from the Bible and praising God through prayer and song. Teaching involves different aspects – including prayer and praise. Joel Beeke defines family worship as “instruction in the Word of God, prayer before the throne of God, and singing to the glory of God.” Think of shrinking the main aspects of your corporate worship time into a small segmented time in your living room with only your immediate family. In Deuteronomy 6:20-25, the children respond by asking questions about the Scripture. It’s during those times that you have time to dig deeper and point to the cross of Jesus Christ and explain the story of our redemption.
Today, like no other day in history, parents have a massive amount of resources available to them. Family worship has really never been easier than it is today. With smart phones, iPads, and other sources of technology, it has never been easier to choose a passage of Scripture and a song to sing in the home with the family. Hymn books for the iPad and Bible apps make the work of preparation painless. Two really good resources to use in your family worship include the iPad app for hymns (Baptist hymnal) and Look at the Book from the ministry of John Piper. Even if you don’t want to use Look at the Book in your family worship, it can still be an aid to help you grasp the main point of the passage as you prepare to explain it to your family.
The Real Challenges
Jonathan Edwards once said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.” Quite honestly, there are many times when my family gathers for family worship and it feels more like a wrestling match than a worship service. We can’t read and learn about family worship from the lens of a sterile environment of peace and tranquility. Family worship is difficult at times and more so when the children are young (like my present situation as my four children range from 9 years to 1.5 years). Real challenges to family worship exist, but the challenges can be overcome with proper planning and organization.
The challenges to Bible reading may be met by more interaction with the text as opposed to straight lecture style. Reading and asking questions or involving the children in the story can be helpful. Additionally, choosing smaller sections of Scripture for the family worship time can be helpful – especially when you have short attention spans to consider.
The challenges to prayer often center upon keeping the children focused while the prayers are being prayed. I often lead the prayer time and seek to model how to pray before the children. I do allow them to pray too, and as they pray, I try to listen to how they articulate their needs and their praises toward God. In recent days, I’ve been trying to teach the children to address their prayers to the Father in Jesus’ name. While we pray by the power of the Spirit, our access to the Father is through Jesus Christ and I’m working to teach that truth to my children. Likewise, I’m trying to teach them to move beyond cyclical repetitions as they grow in their knowledge of God.
In our home, the main challenge to our singing together involves the choice of song and my lack of singing ability. This is where my wife plays a major part in helping lead us in song. I typically follow her lead to stay on key, and the children follow as we sing. At times I will choose a hymn and then allow the children to choose a song that we will sing together. This seems to work well for us, but each time we get together for our family worship I try to remember the importance of flexibility.
The Lasting Fruit
Voddie Baucham, in his book, Family Driven Faith writes, “70-88% of teens, who profess Christianity, walk away from their faith by the end of their freshman year of college.” That’s a troubling statistic that should catch the attention of all parents. What are we as fathers and mothers doing to cause this trend? The answer….not much. The reason many children who grew up in the church walk away from the faith has to do more with what we aren’t doing rather than what we are doing. When a family focuses on their faith on Sunday morning and then closes up God in a little box until the next Sunday morning, that spells disaster for the faith of the children.
As we live out our faith during the week and have times of family worship where we get together and read the Bible, pray together, and sing praises to the Lord, it will leave an indelible mark upon the children. While Proverbs 22:6 is not a blanket promise, the general principle is true – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
What would happen in the home if a father and mother determined to have family worship each week with their children? As they press through the challenges each week, it will lay a firm foundation for their faith in their home. This will establish the truth in the hearts of their children and will cause them to see the reality of their parents’ faith. The fruit will be lasting! The aroma of Christ will permeate the air of the home. The gospel will be central, and the children will not be able to rise up and cry – hypocrite!
The children will not be able to claim that their parents didn’t take their faith seriously. No matter what challenges the children face on the university campus, they will remember the Bible being opened and explained in their home. As they’re forced to make decisions, they will remember the Word of God that came to them in Word and song. As they struggle to stand firm on their own, they will recall the deep moments of sweet prayer as their parents turned to the Lord for guidance, wisdom, and strength. During those moments when their children are figuring out life and making big decisions, they will look back and remember their father’s faith like the tree that was planted and rooted by the streams of water (Psalm 1). They will likewise recall their mother’s unwavering faith like that of the Proverbs 31 woman.
Perhaps not all stories end well, and tragically, we know this to be true. Some children walk away from the faith and never return. But we know when children walk away from the faith and a home that was saturated with the gospel, regrets are few in the hearts of the parents who consistently labor to make Christ known in the home. Likewise, the child who rebels has to walk away knowing the faith of his father and mother was the real thing! It was no Sunday morning faith – it was genuine.
As we look back into history, we see people who have laid everything on the line for Christ. People like Stephen, Peter and the other Apostles all died for their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God. Following in their footsteps, people like Polycarp, William Tyndale and many more suffered greatly for their Christ! Although it is often foolish to compare the faith of the faithful – the Apostle Paul was the greatest Christian to serve Christ in history (in my personal opinion). As we consider the faith of Paul, let us examine our own faith. How strong is our faith today? As we live in a modernistic society of great comforts and pleasures, what are we willing to lay down for Christ? Often we are not willing to lay down our calendars, recreation or finances for Christ – much less our own lives. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:
Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Because the Gospel is for all – Paul was not ashamed of it nor was he afraid to proclaim it. In the end, it cost him his life, but in that faithful walk of dedication and obedience – we are left with a marvelous example of a Christian who loved Christ above all other things. Consider some of the last words Paul wrote to Timothy – his son in the faith:
2Timothy 4:6-7: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith
Although many problems came to Paul as a result of his dedication to Christ – he never wavered and backed down. One of the most challenging and powerful parts of 2 Timothy 4:6-7 is where Paul says that he has kept the faith. He did not claim that he had kept his faith. He claimed that he had kept the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Paul was referring to the faith that Jesus is both the author and finisher (Hebrews 12:2). While it was his faith – Paul understood that the source of his faith was Christ. That is why he continued on to the end – never giving up – never throwing in the white towel of defeat – and he eventually died for Christ. What an example of faithfulness! It is easy to be bold and shout AMEN in the worship services on Sunday, but real faith is bold when they are strapping you down and preparing to cut off your head because of your faith in Christ. Let us consider the faith of Paul and may God strengthen our hearts in order to become bold and radical Christians for the sake of His glory!
For the glory of Christ Jesus – every second counts!
Pastor Josh Buice