Close to 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany to spark what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. Before this, however, he was a professor at the seminary in Wittenberg. After having done some translation work and having seen the original languages of Holy Scripture, he came to the conclusion that justification must be by faith alone.
When asked a question by one of his students, Luther replied, “Ja ich bin ein Hussite” which translates, “Yes, I am a Hussite.” Luther was referring to Jan Huss, a Protestant who was martyred for his belief in justification by faith alone about a hundred years prior to Luther. This means that, while 500 years is a long time, our belief in justification by faith alone apart from works is much older than one might believe. It is not new now and was not new when Luther discovered it in the early 16th Century. I mean to show that it is drawn from the Scriptures themselves and is, therefore, the original, pure doctrine of justification.
Philippians 3:8b-9 (ESV)
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
Paul has just gone through all of his credentials in this passage. He’s said that if anyone has any reason to boast in what they’ve done, it is him. He is the holiest and most blameless according to the flesh. Yet, he still says that he is found in Christ “not having a righteousness of his own.”
See, none of us are righteous. If even Paul cannot count on his righteousness according to the law, then rest assured, you cannot either. But, don’t take my word for it, take Scripture’s.
Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV)
2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Romans 3:23 (ESV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:12 (ESV)
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Romans 8:8 (ESV)
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
I could go on, but I think the point is made nicely: you are not a good person. You are Totally Depraved. This means that every single faculty you have has been tainted by sin. You cannot, of yourself, please God in any way. You are dead in your sin and are an enemy of God.
All of this is to drive home the point that your works are not enough to justify you before God. If an unjustified person does something, it isn’t pleasing to God. Thusly, we are unable to work our way, in any capacity, to justification before God.
So then how are we to be justified?
Romans 10:17 (ESV)
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Faith is how we are justified and faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. Faith is not something innate within us but is rather a gift from God to us. Hence the word “comes” in the above verse. Faith comes from hearing. It is bestowed upon us upon regeneration because of the power of the word of Christ. This miracle is what applies justification to us!
This is also a great comfort to us because the fact that faith comes from God means that it is outside of our power to lose. Put simply, this is where the eternal security of the believer lies.
And this leads us to the conversation surrounding imputation and impartation. The Roman Catholic misunderstanding of justification hinges upon this point. They believe that righteousness is imparted, or added, to the believer. The believer is, in essence, given a piece of righteousness they are to steward. The only problem is that we aren’t good stewards of anything. In this model, because everything is contingent upon our actions, salvation is not sure and there is no security or assurance the believer may have, only cold and dark fear that they haven’t done well enough.
The Protestant understanding, on the other hand, says that righteousness is imputed, or credited, to the believer. This means that the righteousness accounted to us by God is also from God which means that God will find no fault in the believers!
Romans 8:1 (ESV)
Life in the Spirit
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Justification before God is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Let us never forget the promises God has given us in the Scriptures so that we may go forth and fulfill the Great Commission to evangelize the world!
Praise God that this doctrine was rediscovered by Luther so that we know about it even today!
Soli Deo Gloria!