by Nathan Purdy
As Paul argues in Romans, saving faith isn’t faith in something in general or faith in faith. It is “faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:22). “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Humanity stands guilty and condemned under God’s judgement. The Bible’s heart, however, throbs with the message that Christ died “for us” (Rom. 5:8). His death was God’s judgement upon our sin and perfectly satisfied the demands of God’s justice. It is faith in Christ that flings those gates open! Luther’s Reformation doctrine is an echo of Paul’s inspired doctrine.
Self-Righteous Living degrees are worthless before God. God accepted Paul on the same basis as paupers and prostitutes – faith. Alone.
What is saving faith? An oft-used demonstration illustrates the Latin words Luther used to explain it: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Imagine I ask my daughter, Hannah (6), to stand. I promise, “If you fall back, I’ll catch you.” If she falls, I can declare: “This is an illustration of faith.” The first element of faith, notitia, is the content believed. Here: “If you fall back I’ll catch you.” The second element, assensus, is confidence this content is true. If Hannah believes what I said, this is good and necessary. However, it is not yet faith. A line must be crossed to get to faith. That line is fiducia, or commitment. If, as she stands, I ask, “In your heart, have you already fallen? Do you trust me?” and she genuinely has and does – that’s faith. It’s the personal, inward entrusting of oneself to the promise giver. The promise isn’t considered true in general or in theory; there is a personal abandonment to it. Faith is exercised inwardly before it is expressed outwardly.
Likewise, a Christian has heard the content of the Gospel, is convinced of its truthfulness, and has committed himself to Christ. James warns: “The devils believe and tremble” (Jam. 2:19). They get the first two parts right! A Christian has gone on to transfer the weight of his trust exclusively upon Christ. The nature of this faith exercised necessitates an expression. To say our hearts have fallen in abandon into God’s arms of mercy (faith), while our lives refuse to fall into the arms of His will (obedience), betrays a dead faith. If, after claiming to have inwardly fallen, Hannah refuses to fall outwardly – it proves her claim to be mistaken.
To say our hearts have fallen in abandon into God’s arms of mercy (faith), while our lives refuse to fall into the arms of His will (obedience), betrays a dead faith.
Justification by faith is central in Paul and Luther’s testimonies and doctrine. Wesley would become an alumnus of the same School of Works. Despite high honours, death terrified him. His Self-Righteous Living degree might garner applause in life, but was worthless in death. In a script only God could write, as Wesley listened to Luther’s words on Paul, the Spirit opened his eyes to see what they had seen. “While he [Luther] was describing the change which God wrought in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed,” he wrote. “I felt I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone for salvation.” His heart fell entirely upon Christ! And there, before he took a step of obedience – the gates of paradise opened. He felt the warm embrace of his Father’s acceptance. How? By faith. Alone.
About the Author
Nathan Purdy is a husband to Charity, dad to Hannah, Cherith, and Caleb, and pastor of the Bible Mission Church in Lock Haven, PA. He enjoys dialogue on anything he has written! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org