Barring any extreme loss of memory or intellect, I will always know until my dying day that Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, Noah was on the Ark, and Jesus died on the cross. Those facts of the Bible were learned from little on by countless individuals throughout the world’s history, along with countless other Scriptural truths. However, as I remind the students in confirmation instructions when they’re young and as I need to be reminded myself as well, knowing those facts isn’t the same as saving faith. Christians have faded away from the faith while still knowing those facts. They’ve let themselves lapse away from the Word and Sacrament through which faith is kept alive, and convinced themselves that they know who God is and what he’s done, since they learned it once when they were young and they haven’t forgotten the facts. But knowing and trusting are two different things.
One of the hallmarks of our Lutheran theology is that we are saved “sola fide”, by “faith alone”. Why is remembering that fact so important?
Well, first, what is faith? It’s not just intellectually knowing who God is and what he’s done. Satan knows that too, of course. It’s also not knowing God combined with doing the right things that God considers to be “faith”.
It is true that James says in his epistle (James 2:17), “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. An apple tree, because of the simple fact that it’s an apple tree, will by nature produce apples. In the same way our faith in Christ will by nature show itself in loving actions because that’s what faith naturally does. Just as an apple tree that doesn’t produce apples can no longer really be known as an apple tree, James points out that faith which doesn’t show itself in loving actions is already - or is on its way to becoming - dead.
But, as Scripture points out, it’s not the actions, the result of faith, that saves us. It’s faith alone. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Listen to the reply of Paul and Silas when they were asked the all-important question of life in Acts 16: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
Saving faith is trusting God for the forgiveness we need through Jesus, which leads to trusting all his other promises as well. Faith is not just knowing that Jesus died on the cross on a day long ago, but to trust that he died on the cross for me! And that trust does not come natural to our sinful hearts. It is a gift of God. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit”. (I Corinthians 12:3) But, as it is so well described in our Catechism, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” (Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed)
It is vitally important for all of us to remember that saving faith is kept alive by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) Stay connected to the Word, fellow Christians! It’s vitally important to remember that our faith is not some abstract feeling, it is no act of faith that we do to merit God’s love, nor is it simply remembering Biblical facts. Faith is trust in Christ for our salvation, which leads to trust in all other promises that God has made.
Early on our Lutheran forefathers tried to speak as precisely as they could on this matter. Allow a quote from the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Article IV): “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight. (Romans 3:31-26, Romans 4:5)”
We are justified, we are righteous in God’s sight – right with God – because of Jesus. And this comes to us by faith, by faith alone! This is something we would never want to forget!
Blessings in Christ,