Later this month we’ll celebrate (not Halloween, but) the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The catalyst for that great religious and social upheaval, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, only found peace with God when he saw the truth in Scripture that our justification, or right standing, with God is by faith alone (Galatians 2:16). Wholly apart from our works or effort, God forgives our sins and brings us into communion with him as we entrust ourselves to Christ whose obedience God reckons as our own.
Justification by faith alone freed Luther from tormenting doubts about his own salvation, and became a central doctrine for all Protestants. But the Reformers had much more to say about faith. Though we are justified by faith alone, apart from any works or obedience, for the Christian this faith is by no means inimical to works or obedience.
The Westminster Confession of Faith describes the relationship between faith and works this way:
Faith… is the alone instrument of justification: yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (11:2)
Or as Luther himself put it in his preface to Paul’s letter to the Romans:
O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly… it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible to separate heat and light from fire.
So the faith by which alone we are justified is never alone in the one justified; thus it is a “living, busy, active, mighty, thing.” As the Scripture says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
This truth about the nature of saving faith is wonderfully illustrated in the passage I preached from this past Lord’s Day, Luke 5:17-26. As Jesus was teaching in a house crammed with people, a group of men carrying their paralyzed friend tried to bring him to Jesus but were prevented by the wall-to-wall people inside. So they came up with a bold and audacious “plan B.” They carried their friend to the roof of the house, tore some tiles away, and lowered him through the ceiling to the feet of the Lord. Mercifully, Jesus first forgave the man his sins and then he healed his paralysis.
Luke says Jesus did this when he “saw their faith” (v.20). How did he “see” the faith of these men? He saw it in the effort they took to bring their friend to him. They believed with all their heart Jesus could heal him, and out of that faith they acted to gain access to the Lord. Their faith was “no dead faith,” but manifested itself in this work of love.
And so it is with every believer who has trusted in Christ for salvation. If like these men your hope is in Jesus, then like them you will do all you can do to seek his blessing.
Soli Deo Gloria!