Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 3 in our sermon series through the “Five Solas” or the five large themes of the reformation. We’re seeking to find out why they mattered then and why they still matter today. On this anniversary we have a need to answer some questions: do the ministry and writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still matter? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions, as we have said, is a resounding yes. And though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether.[1]

So let’s once again turn to the past, to gain insight for today.

The Five Solas are:

-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone

-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone

-Sola Fide, Faith Alone

-Solus Christus, Christ Alone

-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone

We now turn our attention to the third of these, Sola Fide (Faith Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Romans 1:16-17, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it.

1:16-17 is not only the distinctive theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans, you could say it is a two sentence summary of Paul’s entire theology.[2] What therefore, is Paul’s theology all about? It’s all about righteousness. I want to ask three questions that rise to the surface in this text.[3]

Why is Paul Eager to Preach In Rome? (v16a)

Why is he eager to do this? Don’t they as Christians already know the gospel? Haven’t they already believed it? Apparently Paul thinks the gospel is something Christians need to hear just as much as non-Christians need to hear. For Paul the gospel itself is not just a call for the lost to be saved, but a call for the saved to keep living by faith.[4] But why is Paul eager to preach the gospel in Rome? Being a Roman citizen, he would’ve known of all the immoral activity and social issues going in Rome, why didn’t he want to address these things?[5] Rome was a city full of slavery, but he didn’t want to address the dignity of life. Rome was a city of lust, but he didn’t want to address their sexual immorality. Rome was a city of economic prejudice, but he didn’t want to address their economy. Rome was a city of war, but he didn’t want to address their border expansion. Rome was a city with all kinds of social sin, but he didn’t want to preach a social gospel. Rome was one of, if not, the largest city in the world at this time and in comparison to their size and power the believers within Rome would’ve been very easily tempted to be ashamed of the gospel.

So what’s the first thing Paul says? Though he truly knows all these social issues are important, Paul doesn’t begin with them. Instead he begins in boldness saying “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” I find this very encouraging. Do you? These Romans are very much like you and I. They lived in a time when everything in Rome was advanced and advancing. The tide of this culture was always seemingly coming in, strongly pushing an agenda out to every citizen telling them to get in line with we’re headed or be tossed into the Coliseum and face the lions. In contrast to the power and might of Rome, nothing would have looked more foolish or weak than a religion centered on a crucified Messiah. They we’re greatly tempted to be ashamed of the gospel. Do we not live in similar times?

Just this past week Oxford University, one of the most prestigious and notable Universities in the world, held it’s fresher’s fair, where the new incoming freshman can see all the student activities and organizations open to them on campus. But for the first time in it’s history, which goes back all the way to 1263, the college banned any Christian groups from setting up a table at the fair. Why? They said, “We recognize the wonderful advantages in having Christian representatives at the fresher’s fair but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshman who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford…Christianity’s influence on many marginalized communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”[6] This isn’t fake news, this is where the tide of our culture is going.

So as the Romans were then, we now, are tempted of being ashamed of the gospel because the tide of our culture is pushing against us. But again, that Paul said he was unashamed encourages me (and it ought to encourage you) because he too felt this temptation deeply. For his faith he was imprisoned, chased out of town, laughed at, regarded as a fool, and stoned.[7] In the face of all of this he boldly declared to the Romans that he would not bow the knee to Rome’s agenda. His deepest allegiance belongs to Christ, no matter if that puts him at odds with the very world that needs Christ.

So why was Paul eager to preach in Rome? Because he was not ashamed of the gospel. This leads us to our next question:

Why is Paul Unashamed of the Gospel? (v16b)

We find the answer to this question in the next phrase of v16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…(why?)…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? Because the gospel is power. The word power here in Greek is the word dunamis, which is where we get our word dynamic or dynamite.[8] That we have created those words from this earlier Greek word shows us a glimpse at what’s being displayed in this word dunamis. It means the gospel itself is power to actually do something. It isn’t just a story, or a set of rules, or a philosophical system, it’s power. And not just any kind of power, but the very power of God. Do not miss this Church. In the gospel there is a power that lifts man out of and above the temptations of cowardice, shame, and fear. The very content of the gospel message itself creates a peaceful boldness in us wherever we find ourselves to be. But what does this power do? Paul is clear. God’s power in the gospel is for what? “…the power of God for…salvation…” The gospel’s power saves, it rescues, it redeems, and it reorients affections of the heart. Who is this gospel power intended to save? Not all men, not those who are born into certain families, not those who live in certain countries, not those who have a certain skin color, not even those who try to work their hardest to earn it. Who then is saved by this gospel power? “…it is the power of God for salvation to everyone…who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Yes the Jews were the covenant people of God and received the promises of God before any others, but now the gospel power goes out to the Gentile world.

What comes forth in blazing clarity when this word ‘believe’ comes in view? Faith. The power of God in the gospel is grabbed ahold of how? By faith! Faith therefore does not just know the right things, it’s not even agreeing that those things are true. Doesn’t James say even the demons believe and shudder? Faith is not any sort of naming or claiming something for ourselves, no. True faith, faith that lays ahold of the power of God in the gospel, is a faith that banks on, trusts in, and clings to Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel.[9] It is a whole-souled confidence in the God who not only makes commands and demands of us, but the God who also approves and provides all that is needed for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

So here we see two things: the power of God breaking into the plight of man. This is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. This is why he is eager to encourage the Romans to not be ashamed of the gospel. And this is why I am eager to encourage you to not be ashamed of the gospel either. Indeed, no one need blush at being the recipient or instrument of such powerful gospel grace.[10] Just as Paul proclaimed Christ as the very wisdom of God in the “wise” city of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:26-31), so too here he proclaims Christ and His gospel to be the very power of God in the “powerful” city of Rome.

This leads us to our last question.

Why is the Gospel the Power of God for Salvation? (v17)

We find this answer in v17, “For in it (in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Why is the gospel the power of God for salvation? Because in it a righteousness is revealed. What kind of righteousness is this in v17? Could it be the attribute of God’s righteousness in view? That He always does what is right, that He is Himself the standard of all rightness, and that He is always faithful to His promises? No. Could it be our own righteousness in view? That we ourselves have by our works and merit earned a righteousness that puts us in right standing with God? No. Well what is it? I submit that the righteousness in view here is none other than the righteousness God requires of us, demands of us, but also freely gives to us in Jesus Christ.

This begs the question doesn’t it? How is this righteousness given to us? Paul says it in v17 “…from faith for faith, as it is written ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Here Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) to prove his case. In context God through the prophet Habakkuk is calling His people to have faith in God in the face of the impending Babylonian exile. In the face of such wrath faith is necessary. So too Paul sees Habakkuk’s call to God’s people then as a pattern of God’s work that has come to fulfillment in the gospel. Just as they lived by faith then, so too we live by faith now.[11] Just as the wrath of the Babylonians was almost upon them then, do you see what comes next in Romans 1:18? God’s wrath revealed from heaven against the sin of man. Lesson? In the face of such wrath faith is necessary.

Here we see the glory of the great exchange. On the cross “God for our sake made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Yes, the blood of Jesus washes our sin away finally and forever, but He also gives to us, reckons to us, or imputes to us His own righteousness that He displayed in His perfect life. On one hand He gets our sin and as a result He bore the curse we deserved. On the other hand we get His righteousness and get the approval and welcome of God we cannot merit on our own.

So why is the gospel the power of God for salvation? Because in the gospel Christ’s righteousness is not only revealed but received by faith alone. This is justification by faith alone, or this is Sola Fide.

Conclusion:

As we’ve done each week in our Five Solas series let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Fide matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?

The answer to both questions comes to us in the notion of our works. Luther’s conversion story shows this well.

He knew well the Catholic doctrine that the way one is saved is by a combination of God’s grace and man’s work. But as a young monk Luther was acutely aware of his many sins. Try and try as he may, he never felt he was good enough, for God’s Law demanded perfection and he couldn’t match its demands. So he would spend hours in confession, one time he even spent six hours confessing sins but ended that occasion in despair when he realized there may be sins he’s committed but isn’t aware of them. He panicked and thought: “Sins to be forgiven must be confessed. To be confessed they must be recognized and remembered. If they are not recognized and remembered they cannot be confessed. If they are not confessed, they are not forgiven.”[12] His mentor Johann Staupitz told Luther to see God as love by looking to Christ. Luther responded by saying, “God out of mere delight hardens men and damns them for eternity…is this who is said to be full of such mercy and goodness? This is cruel, intolerable even. Love God? I hate Him!”[13] His mentor than did the unthinkable, against Luther’s wishes he made him a professor of theology in the University. Luther was tasked with teaching through the Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans. And the moment came, in studying Romans 1:16-17 that Luther was finally converted. Here’s his own words, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but this one expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ I took it to mean that righteousness is God punishing the wicked. And my situation was just that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled, with no confidence in my own works. Therefore I did not love this just and angry God, I hated Him and murmured against Him…yet I clung to Paul, longing to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the phrase ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us through faith. I felt myself reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”[14]

For Luther, to hear that we are saved and given the righteousness of God, not through our own works, but by faith was like entering the gates of paradise. Then all of sudden something surprised him. He knew the role and place of works in the Christian life. Works don’t save, but they show we have been saved. Works aren’t the foundation of our salvation, they’re the necessary consequence of it. We’re not saved by good works, we’re saved unto good works. So for Luther and the rest of the reformers faith alone saved, but faith was never alone.

Fast forward to today. We think salvation works like this. We are a frog that has fallen into a jar of milk, and after realizing we cannot jump out of this jar, we do the only thing we can…we start paddling. So we paddle and paddle and paddle and slowly but surely we paddle that milk into butter and launch ourselves to freedom.[15] We may say Amazing Grace is one of our favorite hymns, but deep down we think if we just do our best we’ll get to heaven one day. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We need once again to return to Scripture to see that…Our works, on their best day, are still filthy rags before our Holy God. Our works aren’t enough to make us right with God. Therefore we could never do enough, and ought to despair of our efforts. But though despairing of ourselves we need not lose hope, because of Christ. His works, His gospel works for us and given to us through faith are always enough.

So Church, may your confidence ever be, not in your own works, but in Christ’s works for us. May we always boast in Sola Fide, Faith alone! Because through faith we grab hold of the great gospel power of God. Indeed, we grab hold of God Himself.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.

[2] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, page 27. See also Thomas Schreiner, Romans: BECNT, page 58.

[3] Ibid., page 26.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes, page 2158.

[5] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Vol. 1, page 161.

[6] Albert Mohler, The Briefing, from October 11, 2017, accessed via Albert Mohler app.

[7] John MacArthur Study Bible, notes, page 1692.

[8] To say because of this, that the gospel has an explosive power (similar to dynamite) is to force a modern idea onto a term that doesn’t carry such a meaning. We should not do this.

[9] These three kinds of faith are the historical categories of: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

[10] Frederic Louis Godet, Romans, page 91.

[11] Beale & Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, page 611.

[12] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, page 42.

[13] Ibid., page 44.

[14] Ibid., page 49-50.

[15] Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 83.

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