The rallying cry of the Reformation was Sola Fide, meaning justification by faith, alone. The challenge for the average Evangelical Christian is to articulate what this means, and here is where the Church should be concerned.
Despite being in a local religious assembly for many years, multitudes of professing believers are still at a basic level in their spiritual understanding. This problem is not unique to the modern Church. The author of Hebrews scolded the believers of his day saying, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Heb. 5:12).
In most professions people learn the basics of their trade, practice and perfect the work they do, and after some time, are able to teach someone new their trade. Only in the Church does it seem acceptable to remain in a state of infancy, with an inability to articulate what is done, what is believed, or why. That status is not pleasing to the Lord. The Biblical exhortation is to, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
If asked to explain what Sola Fide means, the mature Christian should be able to explain that the words convey the need to be found right in the sight of God, for man has become unrighteous due to the Fall. Romans 5:12 explains. “Wherefore, as by one-man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so, death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Because man is unrighteous, he is alienated from God. There is the problem of sin. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3;23). The result of sin is death. There is physical death, and there is spiritual death. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Wages is what a person earns, or deserves. Every person earns or deserves death, for we have broken the Law of God. The proper punishment for sin is not just physical death, but a Second Death in a place called Hell.
However, God has a gift for those who will confess sin, turn from it, and receive His free offer of salvation by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the justifier of all who believe. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
Christ has the power to declare righteous, in the sight of the law, those who are guilty of sin by virtue of His righteousness being imputed, or charged to all who will acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. When a person confesses Christ is their Lord, to the glory of God, they are declared righteous. They are justified by faith, alone.
Sacrifices and rituals cannot justify a person. All the blood spilt, and all the animals sacrificed during the Old Testament era could not atone for sin. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). What can wash away sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
There is no Treasury of Merit individuals can draw from and offer to God, for their justification, or declaration of righteousness. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). It is the way of the Cross that leads home. It is the way of the Cross that leads to eternal life.
In the fulness of time, Christ came to offer Himself as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Those who look, by faith, to Christ, and who follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4), shall be justified in God’s sight.
This is not to diminish, or dismiss the importance of good works. God does not want individuals hurting one another. But God does not want individuals offering their own good works to Him as the basis of being justified, or declared righteous in His sight. That is what Cain tried to do. His story is told in Genesis 4.
“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:1-4).
God had no respect for Cain’s offering because God had not ordained a grain offering as the basis for reconciliation. The Divine decree was made known, “without the shedding of blood is no remission” of sin (Heb. 9:22). Cain tried to offer his own good works as the basis for worship and holy fellowship, only to be disappointed. Cain had to learn that individuals must met God on God’s terms.
Once a person has met God on God’s terms, once a person has been justified in the sight of God by faith in Christ alone, then they can bring forth good works. Indeed, good works must accompany salvation or the soul has not been truly born again. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The Christian life is not devoid of good works. Matthew remembered the words of the Lord on this topic. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
While good works do not save the soul, good works are a sign of salvation. They must be performed. Time and again, the Bible teaches that while good works are not the cause of justification, they are the fruit of justification. The righteous can be known by the good works they produce. ““Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).