Read Romans 4:1-25
After reading Romans 1-4, it’s easy to see that Paul is building a logical argument for the gospel. It goes something like this: If we are all fallen and sinful people, then we cannot be saved on the basis of our own righteousness. In fact, we deserve justice—God’s wrath poured out against us. Therefore, we need someone else’s righteousness to be given to us, someone who was human and born under the law (Galatians 4:4-5). Elsewhere, Paul writes, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
But how do we receive the righteousness of Christ? Is it by faith or by works? The Apostle Paul reaches back into Israel’s history to Abraham who receives the righteousness of God, not through doing any good works, but only through believing God’s promises. Paul even notes that grace was given to him before Abraham did anything to earn it—even before Abraham was circumcised! Therefore, just like Abraham, we are counted righteous in God’s sight solely by trusting in Christ.
In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, the Protestant Reformation helped to define this idea that God’s grace is applied to us by faith alone (Sola Fide). This doctrine is so important that Martin Luther said, “on this doctrine the entire church stands or falls.” In fact, Sola Fide was the primary cause of the Reformation and remains to this day the main difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. You see, Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that salvation is attained by God’s grace, but grace is given to the believer through a combination of faith and good works (in particular, the sacraments). R.C. Sproul writes,
“The Roman Catholic church believes that grace, faith, and Christ are all necessary for the sinner’s justification. They are necessary conditions, but not sufficient conditions. While grace is necessary for justification, it is not enough. Merit (at least congruous merit) must be added to grace.”
Martin Luther, at the beginning of the Reformation, was convinced by scripture, and especially passages like Romans 4, that grace, faith, and Christ were not just necessary for the sinner’s justification, but they are all we need to be saved. Therefore, we can praise God for our salvation, for He alone has accomplished it for us!
Questions for study and discussion:
1) Why do you think it’s so hard to accept that we can’t earn our salvation by our own good works? Has it been difficult for you to accept and trust this truth? If so, how?
2) Read Philippians 3:1-11. How does the Apostle Paul view his own good works? How might his perspective on his good works change the way we think about our own justification?
3) Do you think that Sola Fide (the idea that God’s grace is given to us by faith alone) is a necessary part of the gospel? Why or why not?
4) How might the doctrine of salvation by faith alone increase your desire to worship God?