When I was a little boy, I made it my aim to be the worst behaved child in Sunday School. I knew I could never be good enough to get a prize from the toy chest. I saw though that this did not go well for me. I decided to change my approach by trying to be perfect in my obedience of the ten commandments. I became miserable. Then I heard the Gospel, the "good news" that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life that I knew I could not lived and died on the cross to absorb the judgment of God on behalf of my recklessness. Christ alone was "perfectly righteous" or "just" in his humanity to provide the perfect righteousness a sinner like myself needed to ever have relationship and fellowship with an infinitely holy God. Amazingly, Jesus Christ is also, by nature, this very same God, who being infinitely just, is the source of the perfect righteousness without end, as well as reconciling in Himself all those who come to and and through Him in saving faith. Paul summarizes this truth of what we call "justification by faith alone" in Galatians 3:23-24 "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith."
We have noted in recent posts that October 31st is Reformation Day. We’ve looked at Christ alone – salvation’s Savior. Also, grace alone – salvation’s work. Today, we shall explore "faith alone" (sola fide), salvation’s reception.
What is meant by "justification by faith alone"?
John Owen’s work, “Justification by Faith”, defines Biblical “justification”: “So by justification, a man is only esteemed, declared, and pronounced righteous, as if he were completely so.”
The righteousness or “rightness with God” which is declared by God about the believing sinner is the accrediting of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. The means through which God’s judicial declaration of the sinner as being as righteous as Christ is faith, apart from works. Romans 3:28 "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
How is it that a sinner is regarded good enough to be in relationship with God (i.e. righteous)? Must they do enough good works to be actually righteous? Or is this state of “being in the right” with God received by faith apart from good works? This was the issue that occupied the minds of many in the 16th century and is at the core of what the Bible terms: “justification”.
When we turn to the account of the woman who hemmoraged for twelve years in Mark 5:25-34, we observe a situation in which a poor, miserable soul was in desperate need. She had nothing left. The woman in this account had "spent all she had". Her one desire was to somehow touch the hem of Jesus' robe - the man whom she had heard so much about. The entire account, which we can also read of in Matthew 8 and Luke 9, is most detailed in Mark 5:25-34. Notice the underlined terms I highlight in the text, since we will reference them in grasping how the truth of "justification by faith alone" is underscored in this passage:
"A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” 29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
Certainly, this woman in our account knew she did not have what it took to be right with God – for as we shall see, she lived a life of unrighteousness.
To contrast the woman in Mark's text, we can note the sixteenth century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Luther was a Catholic Monk, who attempted to be right with God, but fell short, knowing that despite trying to be self-righteous – He could not get hold of the righteousness of God needed for salvation. Whether someone lives a life devoid of any evidence of "rightness", or if someone lives a life of self-righteousness, both approaches result in the person falling short of the glory of God.
If good works cannot make me right with God, nor avoiding good works all together (as I had discovered in my own little childish way or as we shall see in the lives of this woman and Martin Luther), what then is necessary and enough for salvation, if every sinner neither possesses righteousness nor can attain it by being self righteous (as I had)? Consider these three thoughts that will help us answer this most vital of all questions: object of faith is Christ alone; reception of salvation is faith alone; faith in Christ is never alone.
1. Object of faith: Christ alone. Mark 5:25-27
Faith is only as strong as its object. Justification by faith alone tells us that Christ alone is the object of faith (Acts 16:31). What happens though whenever you see yourself very far away, unworthy of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and yet you see Him as the only solution to your deepest need? Before we can be brought to the point of saving faith, we first must be made desperate by the working of the Holy Spirit in saving grace. John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
<<DESPERATION DUE TO UNRIGHTEOUSNESS>>The Woman
Mark 5:25-29 gives us some clues as to the sort of life this woman had lived, and what it took for God to get her attention.
*Confidence in man, not God (Mark 5:26).
Mark 5:26 states:“and had endured much at the hands of many physicians.” The underlying Greek text reads: "πολλὰ παθοῦσα" (polla pathoosa), literally, "many continual sufferings". This woman had placed all her proverbial apples in the carts of men - men failed. Psalm 118:8, the middle verse of our English Bibles reads: "it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men".
*Careless living in unrighteusness. (Mark 5:26).
Mark 5:26 goes on to state: “had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” In Luke 15:14 we read of the prodigal son:“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.” Notice the underlined phrases in both texts. Both underlined phrases employ the same identical Greek verb, meaning that like the more familiar "prodigal son", this woman had become reckless in her pursuits. We are not told of course what all she may had done. We do know from ancient reference works pertaining to medical treatments, it was quite common for the wealthy in the ancient world to get "addicted" to the latest fads in medicine.
*Call of the Gospel. (Mark 5:27)
Mark 5:27 tells us: “after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.” God in His providence, His common grace which He supplies to all people, made available an opportunity for this woman to somehow hear about Jesus. In so doing, God positioned her to then become a recipient of His "seving grace", wherein it would arise within her heart to desire to seek Jesus for the healing of her soul and body.
Now lets consider this same sort of desperation in a man that was self righteousness.
<<DESPERATION DUE TO SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS>>Luther
I won't go into too much detail pertaining to Luther's life. Instead, I will only highlight his achievements before his conversion. Note how old he was, how much he had achieved, and yet how miserable and wretched he was in his heart. Also notice too how similar his story is to the woman in Mark. Although he and she had different lives, yet the underpinnings of why they did what they did are very similar.
*Confidence in man, not God.
-Born: 1483. Died: 1546
-teens to 22 Luther trained as a lawyer
*Careful living in self-righteousness
-22 yrs becomes a monk, July 2, 1505
-24 yrs Ordained priest, May 2, 1507
-mid-twenties, he could not obtain peace in the soul
-26yrs, Bachelor of theology, 1509
-27 yrs, Pilgrimage to Rome. 1510
-29 years, Doctor of Theology, taught Psalms and Romans.
*Call of the Gospel.
Luther would later reflect back on his life before salvation:
“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit (of good works) would satisfy Him. Therefore, I did not love a just, angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet, I clung to the dear Apostle Paul and had great yearning to know what He meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement: ‘the just shall live by faith’”
I do not find it a mystery that Martin Luther identified with the Apostle Paul. Paul too was, by all human accounts, quite an accomplished fellow by the time he reached thirty years of age (that is how old someone had to be before having the chance to join the coveted ruling body of the Jews, "The Sanhedrin"). Paul notes in Philippians 3:7 "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ."
2. The reception of Christ: Faith alone. Mark 5:27-32
So the object of faith must be "Christ alone". We once again compare the woman in Mark 5 to Martin Luther. Notice now how each of them received the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ alone through faith alone.
<<A MISERABLE WOMAN RECEIVES CHRIST BY FAITH ALONE>
*Mark 5:27-29. As we turn once again back to the woman, we see her faith come forth in response to the Gospel. What is faith? Faith is firm persuasion and trust (Hebrews 11:1). Mark 5:27-29 gives us what I call “the working forth of faith in the heart”, that is, there is that working of the Spirit in the heart and on the mind that brings me to freely draw the conclusion that Christ alone can save me from my miserable condition. Jonathan Edwards in his “Religious Affections” notes it this way:
“Their conviction is an effectual (conclusive) conviction; so that the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the Gospel have the influence of real and certain things upon them….and govern them through the course of their lives.”
*Mark 5:30-32. We know it was the power of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ that reached this lady, as seen in His comments in Mark 5:30-32
"Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this."
This lady was physically healed, but more importantly, her soul was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Jesus speaks to her these words in Mark 5:35 "And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
<<A MISERABLE MONK RECEIVES CHRIST BY FAITH ALONE>
Martin Luther writes about his marvelous conversion experience-
“Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before "the righteousness of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...".
3. Faith in Christ is to be never alone. Mark 5:33-34
So we have seen how the object of saving faith is Christ alone. We then observed how salvation is received by faith alone. Typically people who contest that there must be something more we can do to merit salvation accuse those who proclaim the Biblical Gospel of "justification by faith alone" as advocating a reckless gospel. "Afterall", they counter, "if salvation is a simple matter of faith, then it must not matter how one lives! Where does ones works or deeds fit into the Gospel?"
As we look at this woman once more, Mark’s version is the most detailed of the Gospel records of it (compare Matthew 9:20-22; Lk 8:43-48). As we noted already, Mark 5:34 is the key verse: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Peter writes of the healing of the soul that occurs at saving faith in 1 Peter 2:24 “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” You may notice that justification by faith alone, true saving faith, leads to a life of faith that puts forth works.
It must be underscored that in the case of the woman and the man, Martin Luther, their lives were changed and did abound in good works following their justification. To quote John Owen once again, he writes about the relationship of works to saving faith: “We are saved by grace through faith alone unto a faith that is never alone.” In other words, if you have been justified by faith alone, there must be fruit which follows. Take note of our final comparison between the woman and Martin Luther below.
<<HER LIFE WAS CHANGED
Almost immediately, Mark 5:33-34 displays fruits flowing from this woman's newfound faith in Christ.
*She had an awareness of change, seeing Christ as her Lord, drew near to Him, rather than hiding from Him.
Mark 5:33 “But the woman, fearing and trembling aware of what had happened to her”.
*She hungered for truth.
Mark 5:33 “came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.” This reflects what we read of in John 8:31-32 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
*She had the assurance of having been adopted into the family of God.
Mark 5:34 “And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Whenever one reads Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6 and Hebrews 2:11-14, the rich truth of the believer's adoption is spelled out as follows: God the Father becomes my heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, per his humanity, becomes my elder brother.
<<LUTHER’S LIFE WAS CHANGED>>
*Luther had an awareness of change.
A few years after his conversion (which historians refer to as his "Tower Experience"), Luther would nail his famous "95 theses" on the church door at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, wherin he protests the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in their selling of indulgences (what I call "get out of purgatory free cards"). In Thesis #62, Luther wrote: “The true treasure of the church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
*Luther had a hunger for truth and would have the assurance of being an adopted son of the Father.
Luther evidences the fruit of faith when defending the Gospel against opponents at his trial during the Diet of Worms in 1521 (note:"diet" was a German term to refer to an official meeting, "Worms" was the name of the town in Germany where this confrontation with Luther occured). Would he recant everything he had come to embrace? His reply was as follows:
“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted one another-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen”. Diet of Worms 4/16/1521