We are going to talk a little bit tonight about the subject of saving faith. And we have been in a series of looks at doctrine, doctrine meaning teachings that come out of Scripture. We’ve been looking at those doctrines that have been very foundational, very critical doctrines and saving faith is the one that is drawing our attention currently. It was a couple of weeks ago that we did a first message on the issue of the faith that saves.
Let me have you turn to Ephesians 2:8 and 9 just as a starting point. And the great challenge for me tonight is to sort of edit myself as I talk about this, because there are so many elements to understanding saving faith that are critical to us. But in Ephesians 2:8 and 9 we have a very substantial statement made, a very essential statement made with regard to salvation. It says in verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This is really the watershed text, the benchmark text when we talk about salvation that comes through faith and faith alone. And as we noted last time, the matter of salvation by faith alone is at the heart of true Christianity. And it is the major reason – though there are many others, it is the major reason why the Roman Catholic Church has to be viewed as heretical and apostate, because that system denies that salvation is by faith alone. That sets it apart from true biblical salvation.
In Galatians chapter 1 – would you look at that? – verse 6, Paul writes to these believers in the region of Galatia, and he says to them in verse 6, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” It wasn’t very long even in the first century, in the early church, before people began to abandon the true gospel for what he calls a different gospel, “Which is really not another.” Because there is no other real good news. “Only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Of course, the greatest assault that can be made on Christianity, the one with the most devastating results is that which distorts the gospel. That cuts people off from true salvation.
So he says in verse 8, “Even though we or” – hypothetically – “an angel from heaven” – and then again not hypothetically, a fallen angel, Satan and the rest of his demons – “should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. And as we said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” And then he says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God?” Does it matter to me what men think or God? “Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” And in an effort today to please men, there are many who are abandoning the gospel for another gospel which is not at all a gospel. And if anyone preaches another gospel, no matter who they say they are, even if they appear to be religious and appear to be Christian, even if they are an angel from heaven, they are cursed.
In 2 Corinthians – just backing up a couple of pages from the first chapter of Galatians, you come to 2 Corinthians chapter 11. And Paul says, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness, indeed you are bearing with me.” He realizes that he’s asked for a lot out of them for the prior ten chapters in un-bearing his soul and if you’ll just indulge me a little further, he says, “I’m jealous of you with a godly jealousy.” I’m concerned about your soul, I’m jealous for that. “I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I’m afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and the purity of Christ” – is what it actually says. This matter of salvation is not complicated. It’s not complex. It’s simple. It’s about Christ. “If someone comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different Spirit which you have not received or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” you seem to just take it so well. Another Christ, another Spirit, another gospel and it doesn’t seem to disturb you at all.
Go back to Jude and you will remember in our study of Jude this provocative third verse in this little epistle right next to the book of Revelation, where Jude says, “Beloved, I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation” – about our gospel, our singular message – “but I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” He says wanted to write about our common salvation, but the truth is, I couldn’t bring myself to write about our common salvation, because I fear it might not be common anymore unless we fight for it. All these passages remind us that if there’s anything that Satan – the deceiver and the destroyer who disguises himself as an angel of light – seeks to corrupt, it would be the truth that saves. Sometimes it’s an attack on the person of God,. It’s a denial as God as Trinity or denial of God as eternal, making Him into some sub-god. Sometimes it’s a denial of Christ, a denial of His humanity, or more often a denial of His deity. Sometimes it’s a corruption of the Holy Spirit. But whatever way you go, in the end if you don’t have the true God, the true Christ, the true Spirit, you have cut yourself off from saving truth.
But then sometimes there are religious systems – namely the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox system – who affirm God as a Trinity, God as holy, God as eternal; who affirm Christ as God and man; who affirm the Holy Spirit as God; who affirm even the authority of Scripture. But in the end also corrupt the gospel, not by attacking God, not by attacking Christ, not by attacking the Holy Spirit, at least in overt ways that can be seen, not even by attacking Scripture in an outright fashion, but simply by perverting the means of salvation. This is essentially what the Roman Catholic system has always done and a lot of forms of Protestantism has done it and continue to do it and the cults in and around Christianity do it as well. You can corrupt the gospel by corrupting the doctrine of God or Christ or the Spirit, by assaulting the Scripture and therefore destroying its foundation and people’s trust in its absolute truth. But you can also destroy souls and corrupt the gospel by teaching error with regard to one receives Christ, how one is saved. The difference, frankly, is profound and it carries eternal consequences.
The Bible teaches, as we noted, that salvation is by faith alone. But all religions of the world other than the true gospel – including Roman Catholicism and Protestant liberalism, orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy in all of its forms – all teach that salvation is a mix of faith and works. As all Roman Catholics know, and many of you come out of that background, you come out of a system that will affirm God, affirm Christ, affirm the Holy Spirit, affirm Scripture, affirm grace, affirm faith, but deny the essential truth that we are saved by grace through faith and not at all by works. That they deny. And that’s enough to cut them off from the life of God. Millions of people in these systems are trapped in a damning system where, since there’s no real spiritual life, superstition takes over and ritual takes over and self-effort takes over.
The idea is somehow if you’re good enough, you’re going to get there. As the priest said in the little discussion the other night on television, he said, “We’re all on a long journey toward perfection.” That’s not what the Bible teaches. Getting to the place where you please God by your works is absolutely impossible and it is precisely the different gospel that Paul condemned. In Paul’s day, that was Judaism. Yes you believe in God, yes there’s faith, yes God is a gracious God, but it’s a combination of those things mixed with your own works. That is a false message. It was a false message then. It’s a false message now. This is so abundantly clear that only those who are blind to the truth and cut off from it could miss this. Listen to Romans 3:28, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works.” That can’t be more clear. “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” In Galatians chapter 2 and verse 21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Any mix of works nullifies grace.
Verse 16 of Galatians 2, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” At least four times in one verse he says the same thing. You are not justified by works, but through faith and faith alone. And so as I said, this is not a message that is somehow hidden, somehow is obscure, somehow is only accessible to those people who can dig into the depths of Scripture. This is right there on the surface. In condemning Israel in Romans 9:31 it says, “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith but as though it were by works.”
There are only two systems of religion in the world. I’ve said this so many times. I said it again the other night on television. Only two. There are the religions of human achievement where you please God by what you do, and there is the truth of divine accomplishment where salvation comes to those who put their trust, and all their trust, in what Christ alone did. You either trust in yourself in some mix of faith and works, or you trust in Christ alone with no mix of works. And to say that a system that advocates works is truly Christian is to show the ignorance that you possess. It grieves me no end to hear evangelical leaders ignore the eternal gravity of this error in saying things like the Pope is in heaven and Roman Catholic people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are cementing people in that damning error and telling them that the gospel they hear is as true as the message of Protestant evangelicalism. It’s nice to be nice, but that’s not genuinely being kind.
Still evangelical leaders ignore the eternal gravity of this error and they are increasingly content to embrace Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism with its now ubiquitous presence all over the planet, carried along by its daily sacrifice of Christ. A hundred thousand times every day all over the world, Christ is killed again and again and again and again in the Mass, with its meritorious sacraments including infant baptism which washes away original sin in their theology, including its confessional booths which make a mechanical act of confession to a man the basis of divine forgiveness, including its rosary beads and its rituals somehow advocated as ways to exonerate us from sin and judgment, with its invention of purgatory where you are purged from your sin.
And by the way, that may be the single most attractive thing about Catholicism. We think of purgatory as a ridiculous thing, an unbiblical thing, but it is a huge selling point. In true biblical understanding, when a person dies without salvation, they go to hell and there is no second chance. The Catholics have invented a second chance, and when someone dies in that system whose been baptized, they go to Purgatory. And once you arrive there, surely you understand reality, and whatever needs to happen to purge you to get you to heaven will happen. It is the very absence of the finality of an immediate hell that seduces people into that system and holds them there. It gives hope where there is no hope, since Purgatory does not exist. Prayers to Mary, Mary has never heard anybody’s prayer ever any time, neither has any other saint or any other occupant of heaven except the Lord Himself. Prayers to the saints, a false priesthood, and I’m going to talk about that not next Sunday night but in two Sunday nights, about the Papacy, because I want you to understand it. The bottom line is it doesn’t overstate the case to say that Roman Catholicism and biblical Christianity are two separate religions.
I got an e-mail from a prominent leader in the evangelical world, this week saying we need to embrace other Christians in other denominations. Catholicism is not a denomination. It’s another religion. It’s another gospel. And its prevailing error is at the point of salvation which is the most damning error. They reject salvation by faith alone. In fact, they not only reject it, they have pronounced curses on those of us who affirm it. When the Reformation came along, it was a broadside to the Roman system, and when Luther came out of the darkness with “The just shall live by faith,” the Reformation was launched. At that time, the Roman Catholic Church was selling people indulgences for exorbitant prices. It is intended all through the history of the church to impoverish people, taking money from the poor on the promise of heaven and building massive, massive cathedrals and becoming wealthy beyond comprehension. The system is the greatest land owner on the planet. And I read this week that at one particular point they owned two thirds of the land in Europe, massive wealth at the expense of people. And then selling indulgences to people, which means if you paid enough money you could sin freely.
A couple of years ago we were traveling through Italy in a Jubilee Year, and there were certain doors to cathedrals everywhere you went, that if you went through you received indulgence, expiation to some degree for your sins, time off in purgatory. And when the Reformation came along and said, “You don’t get any forgiveness by mechanics. You don’t get any forgiveness by ritual. You don’t get any forgiveness by ceremony. You don’t get any forgiveness by your own moral works,” this was a real blow to the system. And the Roman Catholic Church reacted by calling a council in 1545 for twenty years, from 1545 to 1565, well-known, called the Council of Trent. And in 1547 just a couple of years into this twenty-year period, they wrote canons and decrees on the matter of salvation, and they affirmed what Catholicism actually believes. The Council of Trent was the Roman Catholic Church’s answer to the Reformation, and one of the things that came out of Trent was this, that the Pope is infallible and the Church is infallible. So they wanted to stop anyone saying anything contrary to their doctrine by voting in infallibility. That’s an interesting way to get infallibility, to vote it in. And the record indicates that some voted for it, some voted against it and some abstained. So you had a whole lot of fallibility voting in infallibility. But they voted in infallibility.
Now this was pretty much in response to 1517 when Luther pins his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. Wittenberg was an insignificant town. It had a university that was frankly pretty insignificant before that happened. But that burst a boil on a furious populous who were sick of having to buy these indulgences, and they were ready for a revolution, ready to be fomented. All you had to do was pop the boil and everything would break loose and it did. He cut at the same time the main artery of Catholicism and the system has been bleeding for three decades. By the time you get to 1545, there’s been a huge blood loss in the Catholic system and the Council of Trent is supposed to stop the bleeding.
And there are things in the Council of Trent that show the subtleties of Roman Catholicism. For example, the Council of Trent explicitly denied that anybody could be justified apart from grace. That is to say the Council of Trent affirmed the need for grace. In fact, it says in one of their documents, session 6 canon 1, “If anyone says that the man may be justified before God by his own works without the grace of God through Jesus Christ, let him be accursed” – anathema. So they affirm grace. They also affirm this, session 6 chapter 8, that, “God justifies sinners by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Justified not apart from grace, justified through Jesus. Further they said, “We are said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation.” Operative word – the beginning. They also said that, “The meritorious cause of justification is our Lord Jesus Christ who merited justification for us by His most holy passion on the wood of the cross and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father.” So they affirm the substitutionary death of Christ, they affirm faith, they affirm grace, they affirm the ground, the meritorious cause of justification is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Now some people get very confused by these things. When they say they believe in the sacrifice of Christ, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, the meritorious death of Christ, they believe in salvation by grace, they believe in salvation through faith, there are some people who just leave it at that. And many of those evangelicals were formidable evangelicals who went out and signed the ECT document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, because they thought they were affirming something that they both shared. What then were the Reformers fighting about? What was Luther fighting about? What was Calvin fighting about? What were all the Reformers fighting about? What is defining the Protestant church? Why are we Protestants and not Catholics? And the bottom line is that we believe salvation is by faith alone, because that’s what the Bible teaches. Catholic theology teaches you have to have faith and there has to be grace mixed with works.
And according to Trent, justification is a lifelong process, justification is not a declaration by God because of faith in Christ in which the merits of Christ’s perfect righteousness are credited to us. That’s what we believe the Bible teaches very clearly. But rather according to Trent, justification is a lifelong process. Perseverance is not guaranteed, but those who by sin have fallen from the received grace of justification may be again justified through the sacrament of penance. So you start being justified. How does it work? Grace is infused to you through infant baptism. Grace is infused to you every time you go to the Mass. Grace is infused to you through all the other sacraments. You get this little infusing, this injection of grace. And by this injection of grace, mixed with your own works, you progress on the path toward perfection. As the priest put it, “We’re all on a long journey toward perfection.”
No one can say, “I am justified. I have been justified.” That’s what the Bible teaches, that you have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. But rather in Catholic doctrine, you are in the process of being justified. You can fall out of that, but by penance, by some mechanical means, some self-immolation, some personal sacrifice, some induced pain, some form of penance or indulgence, you can get back on the path again. The Council also stated that justification must be preserved and sustained and completed through good works, energized, they said, by this grace infused into a person. The Council of Trent repeatedly repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, the Council said, “Unless hope and love are added to faith, it never unites a man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body,” session 6 chapter 7. You cannot be made right with God by faith alone. In the Catholic scheme, justification means God’s grace is poured forth into the sinner’s heart through the sacraments, through various masses and experiences like that, religious ceremonies. The person then receiving this grace mixes this grace with his own effort and his own works and becomes progressively more righteous. It is then the sinner’s responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. You mix the works with the grace so that justification is not sola fide, by faith alone.
And frankly, you’re not going to get there. That’s why there’s a purgatory, because it’s just too much to sell that. Can you imagine trying to sell that deal to people who believe that when you died you went right to heaven or right to heaven? You couldn’t sell it. People wouldn’t buy it. I mean, if you came to me and you said, “Look, God demands your whole life. He demands that you get into this process toward justification, and you work to get there the best way you can. He’ll give you some grace. You mix it with some works. You do the stuff that the church tells you to do, and we can’t promise you’re ever going to make it, but if you work hard enough and try hard enough you might make it.” That’s a hard sell. You’re asking me to abandon everything and not know what the outcome is going to be? I’m not going to buy that. I’m not going to get on that long road “toward perfection” with no guarantee that at the end I’m going to heaven. That’s more than I can bear. They couldn’t sell it. So purgatory is a convenient invention to catch all those people who aren’t going to make it, which is most.
It wasn’t just that they overlooked salvation by faith alone, the Council of Trent wrote against it. Let me quote what they said. There are about a hundred anathemas pronounced on the Reformers, on what we believe. Here are a few. “If anyone says that by faith alone the sinner is justified so as to mean that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, let him be anathema.” Here’s another one. “If anyone says that men are justified either by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone or by the remission of sins alone, to the exclusion of the grace and love that is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and is inherent in them, or even that the grace by which we are justified is solely the favor of God, let him be anathema.” Here’s another one. “If anyone says that the righteousness received is not preserved and also not increased before God by our good works” – that is we increase righteousness that satisfies God by our good works. If anyone says that that is not so – “but that those works are merely the fruit and sign of a justification obtained but not a cause of it, let him be anathema.” That is to say that if you say that works are the fruit of your salvation, they curse you. Here’s another one. “If anyone says that the guilt is remitted to every penitent sinner after the grace of justification has been received and that the debt of eternal punishment is so blotted out that there remains no debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world or in the next in purgatory before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”
Here’s another one. “If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification set forth in this decree by this holy synod derogates in any way the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ and not rather” – listen – “that the truth of our faith and the glory of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered more illustrious, let him be anathema.” If you affirm salvation by faith alone, you’re cursed. If you affirm that you are justified by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone, you are cursed. If you affirm that the righteousness God gives you is complete and nothing can be added to it, you are cursed. If you question the Catholic doctrine of justification, you are cursed. You are anathematized. This is their theology. And since at that very Council they voted in their own infallibility, nothing can change. All the smokescreen of tolerance and openness notwithstanding, this is their theology.
The Council of Trent also said in session 6 chapter 7 that the instrumental cause of justification, the means by which it is obtained, the ground is the death of Christ, the instrumental cause of justification is the sacrament of baptism. Infant baptism is the instrumental cause by which justification is received – justification that comes to a baby with absolutely no comprehension and no understanding whatsoever. The Council said that justification is forfeited whenever a person commits a mortal sin, therefore your continuing progressive justification is contingent on your morality. So according to the Council of Trent, and this is the infallible Catholic dogma to which all of the non-relativists, like the last Pope and the new Pope affirm, justification is neither procured or maintained through faith. Works are necessary to procure it, starting with baptism, and works are necessary to sustain it. And of course, since the time of the Reformation, massive amounts of writing have gone on from the Reformers bringing the Bible to bear upon these horrible errors of Catholicism. But what are you going to do? The Council of Trent deemed itself infallible and said that anybody who questions anything that the Catholic Church affirms is damned.
To sum it up, the Reformers objections to the Roman Catholic position on justification can be basically reduced to four things. One, justification is gradual, progressive. Two, the progression of that justification depends upon your own works and religious ceremonies. Justification does not bring you, thirdly, a righteousness imputed or credited to your account but some infused grace to enable you to do better works. And four, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever achieve this justification in this life and so you may not, having been made perfect, be able to escape a purgatory where you will be purged of whatever remaining wickedness you have.
And, of course, the Reformers came along and said, “You’ve got it all wrong. Justification is instantaneous.” Luke 18:14 Jesus said that tax collector who said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” went home justified. It was instantaneous. It always is. The Scripture teaches that justification is not making someone righteous by some long life effort. Justification is declaring someone righteous, not by their own righteousness, but by the righteousness of God credited to their account. And it is imputed, thirdly, and not infused. And most importantly, the Bible teaches, and the Reformers understood, that justification is by faith alone, not by faith plus works. They understood that from all the Scriptures that I’ve given you. You can add to that list Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works otherwise grace is no longer grace.” As soon as you put works in, grace isn’t grace.
That’s not what the Council of Trent said. That’s not what Catholicism believes. Listen to Council of Trent session 7, canon 8, “If anyone says that by the said sacraments grace is not conferred through the act performed” – that is what they call ex opere operato, by the work itself. If anybody says that this Sacrament doesn’t itself confer grace – “but says that faith alone in the divine promises is sufficient for the obtaining of grace, let him be anathema.” Curse anyone who denies that grace is not conferred through ceremony and sacrament. If you say it’s faith alone in the promise of the Word of God, you’re cursed. You have to understand this. This is a different salvation. This is a different gospel. They affirm God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, though they cloud that with their magisterium and their tradition. I’ll say more about that in weeks to come. But when we talk about salvation by faith, we’re talking about salvation by faith alone.
And we go back to Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” You remember in Acts 16 the one correct answer to the question, What must I do to be saved? The answer comes, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.” Romans 10:9 and 10, “If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” And all that takes us back to Romans 4. Let’s go there. This is where we were a couple of weeks ago when we started this series. We were back there with Abraham in Romans 4, and for the Jews the question is about Abraham. And in verse 2 of Romans 4 Paul says, “If Abraham was justified by works, then he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Why? “Because the Scripture says” – quoting Genesis 15:6 – “‘And Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.” In other words, he’s saying if salvation is something you earn, then you’re just getting what is due.
But verse 5, “To the one who does not work but believes in Him” – listen to this one – “who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” That three words, justifies the ungodly, is the most defining element of justification. In the Catholic system God justifies those who become righteous. He justifies those who become godly by their works and ceremonies and sacraments, et cetera. But in the biblical gospel, God justifies those who pound their breast and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He justifies the ungodly and He does it through faith and faith alone, and their faith is reckoned as if it was righteousness. And so we have no real righteousness that could please God. But our faith in the Christ of the gospel and His death and resurrection for us is reckoned as if it were righteous, and God therefore credits to our account the very righteousness that belongs only to Him and to Christ. Then the only means, the only means, the only instrumental means of salvation is not some sacrament. It’s not the Sacrament of baptism. The only means, the only way to receive salvation is by faith and by faith alone. And if you corrupt that, you’ve corrupted the gospel. Down in verse 9, end of the verse, again Paul picks up Genesis 15:6, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” It was credited to him as if it were righteousness and it’s not. We’re not righteous. We can only have righteousness credited to our account by faith in Christ.
Second Corinthians 5:21, that verse that I look at so often, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We become righteous by having the very righteousness of God credited to us through Christ. And this occurs by faith and faith alone. There is no purgatory, but we have no fear that we’re somehow not going to make it, that we’re going to get in some long journey toward perfection and stumble into mortal sin and find ourselves out of justification, then have to find our way back in again. And somehow go to Mass – when you read, for example, that somebody goes to Mass every single day, that is out of the tortuous, tortuous burden of understanding that you’re trying to justify yourself, and every time you go to the Mass you get infused with a little more grace. You get another injection of grace that somehow may enable you to generate more works to satisfy God to finally earn your justification, and maybe you won’t have to spend as much time in purgatory to get the rest of the stuff purged. But there’s no guarantee. But at least when you die, you’re not going to go to hell. If you have to spend a few thousand years or a million years in purgatory till you get to heaven, that’s a better deal than just going straight to hell.
So when we talk about saving faith, we’re talking about the kind of faith that stands alone apart from any works. There’s so much more to say about saving faith. We talked last time. Let’s look at Hebrews 11 just for a moment. And I’ll sort of complete this, I think, next Sunday night. But if you look at Hebrews 11, this is the passage we talked about last time. It defines the character of this faith. Faith in Christ alone, I wanted to clarify that tonight. I hope I’ve done that for you as bouncing it off the dominant alternative in our western world of Catholicism.
But as you look at the essence of faith, verse 1 of Hebrews 11 says, “Faith is the assurance” – or the substance – “of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And you remember that when we talked about this saving faith, we said that it has some component parts. It includes knowledge – you remember that? – which the Reformers called in the Latin notitia. You have to know the facts that must be believed. You have to know the truth about Christ: who He is, why He came, what He did, the cross, the resurrection. So it requires knowledge. But there are a lot of people who know those facts, as we’ve been saying tonight. They know about Christ. He came. They know His nature. They know He lived and He died and He rose again. That’s part of it, notitia. Secondly is assent. You have to assent to those facts as being true. And then thirdly, trust. The second is assensus in the Latin. The third is fiducia. You finally have to totally entrust yourself to Christ.
That’s where you let go of your works. That’s where you pound your breast and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” You have to be assured of something you don’t have but you hope for. You have to be convinced of something you can’t see but believe. The knowledge of the gospel leads to an assent to or belief that it is true. And there’s a lot of people who stop at that point. But thirdly, you cast your entire trust on the truth of that real saving gospel. That is to say, it is faith and faith alone, you throw your whole weight into the faith realm. You abandon all hope of achievement, all hope of meritorious works. And that’s what Jesus meant in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.” It’s not just denying the sinful part of you. It’s denying every part of you, even your ability to contribute to your salvation. That’s what pounding your breast, Luke 18, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” means. It’s not just what I’ve done that is evil, it’s what I can’t do.
We talked about that in the study of total depravity, or what I like to call human inability. When we talk about all of us being depraved, we’re not saying that everybody is as bad as they could be. Not everybody is as bad as some people are. But when we talk about human depravity or human inability, what we are saying is none of us can contribute anything to our salvation. So faith then is grasping something we don’t have and grasping something we don’t see, in terms of the realities of Christ that we don’t see. We love One, Peter says, that we haven’t seen. But it is also coming to the recognition that we have to let go of our sin and let go of all hope that we can make a contribution to our own salvation. And we will be justified by faith and faith alone, and at a moment, in an instant, when God declares us righteous and credits to our account the very righteousness that belongs to Him that was manifest in Christ on our behalf. This is what saving faith is. It is total trust in the work of Christ and absolutely no trust in our own efforts.
Now next time I want to talk about the objective part of faith and the subjective part. What does it look like? Or maybe another way to say it is how does it act? And we’ll look at that next Sunday night. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You tonight for the simplicity and the wonder of devotion to Christ. As Paul said, we are so concerned that people get seduced and led astray from the simplicity of devotion to Christ. And certainly looking at the recent exposure in the media of Roman Catholicism, its seductive and deceptive complexity, its illusionary transcendence, this idea of almost angelic figures traipsing around in fancy robes and sitting on thrones and occupying massive cathedrals give the illusion that this is all about You. And we know it’s not about You at all. And in the midst of all of it, simplicity – the simplicity of trust and devotion to Christ is lost and how seductive it all is. How it gives the terrible destructive illusion of divinity when it is another gospel espoused by Your archenemy.
Help us, Lord, not to be unkind to these folks who are caught in this system, but like all, to love them and to call them away to the truth. We hear it again and again in the testimonies of those around us, how desperately people who are in this system need to know real forgiveness, to receive a true justification by faith. The system is so much like the Pharisees. It’s Pharisaism reinvented and taken to the nth degree, a salvation by works, self-righteousness, people parading around being called father and holy father, loving to hear greetings in the streets as the Pharisees did, wanting to sit on thrones and take the high places as they did. We’re reminded of the words of Jesus who said to the Pharisees and the people gathered around them, “Call no man father,” let alone holy father, a title which He himself used to speak to You, His own Father.
Father, we pray that You will rescue people from the delusion. Help us to be faithful to the gospel of grace. Lead Your true church away from this illusion. Don’t let your true people be confused about the true condition of people caught up in false religious systems. May we never make a truce with another gospel. May we never make a truce with a damning false religion. May we never be deceived because they talk about You and they talk about Christ, and they talk about grace and they talk about faith. The fatal error is there. And they have affirmed their outright denial of salvation the only way a person can be saved, and they’ve damned all of us who hold to that biblical truth. The lines are drawn very clearly. And may we be faithful to proclaim the true gospel. Because we know Your own heart, even as it is broken over the unbelief of Israel, is broken again over the fact that many name Your name and say, “Lord, Lord, we did so many things in Your name,” only to hear the sad words, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
May we know that salvation comes only by grace, but through faith and faith alone so that we can’t boast and all the glory goes to you. May we rejoice that our justification is past and we have received righteousness credited to our account and nothing can ever separate us from Your love and nothing can ever undo that glorious justification. May we always know the distinction between our justification in the past and our ongoing sanctification in the present, as we become more and more confirmed to the image of the very Christ, by faith in whom we were justified. We thank You that You’ve declared us righteous by crediting His perfect life to our account and by crediting our sins to His account who died in our place. And as that Jew in the Old Testament laid his hands on the animal about to be killed in a symbol of transferring his own sins to that sacrifice, may we remember that our sins have been transferred to the final and complete sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness transferred to us.
In this glorious gospel we rest without fear of any future loss or of any purgatory, but know with the apostle Paul that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. To depart is to be present with Christ. And in this we rejoice, because nothing can separate us from Your love which is ours in Christ Jesus. We rejoice in all of this, in the name of our blessed Savior. Amen.
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