The professors at seminary always described faith like an empty hand – an empty hand that receives gifts. Not a hand that earns salvation by sweeping the broom. Not a hand that holds onto a credit card and pays its way in. An empty hand.
Think about it. At your birthday, people give your gifts and you receive them. You take them up. They are yours. You don’t earn the gifts by your hands. Your grandma doesn’t say, “This sweater is yours – if you can catch it from me.” (Although that might make for a mighty fun party game.) No, you don’t do anything to get the gifts. You simply receive them.
God’s gracious gift of salvation is received by faith alone!
But…just like last week’s teaching of salvation by grace alone gets attacked by the devil, so this week’s teaching gets attacked by the devil, too. Today we want to (1) be made aware of ‘common ways the devil ruins the teaching of faith alone’ in our lives and (2) be assured that faith alone is the true teaching of God’s Word.
I. Common Additions to “By Faith Alone”
The Jewish Addition.
Jesus was a Jew. So the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone started among the Jews. The apostles did what Jesus said and told people that Jesus died to pay the price of their salvation. Many believed. They loved it. They treasured it. After all those years of living like a Jew, wearing the right clothes, eating the right food, observing the proper traditions and still hearing form their own religious leaders that “they weren’t good enough,” salvation sola gratia was joyous news.
But then the message made it’s way to those who weren’t Jewish – the sexually immoral Greeks, the hard-nosed violent Romans, even multi-god worshipping residents of Africa. Suddenly, salvation seem too easy.
It got to be too much for one group. They began to add to the original Apostles’ message. Their additions?
“Yes, you are saved by Jesus…BUT ALSO being circumcised.”
“Yes, salvation is a gift…that you pay for by never eating pork.”
“Yes, you have salvation as long as you become Jewish.”
Suddenly, just like that, the Jewish people had their swagger back. Now they felt like they had earned it. Salvation came from Jesus, but mostly from their DNA. Those who were Jewish? Happy. Those who became Jewish? Proud. Those who weren’t Jewish? They despaired.
Sounds silly doesn’t it? Yet the same devil that tricked people back then is the same devil at work among Christians today. Here are a few modern additions.
The “Emotion” Addition.
This is from desiringgod.org It’s an evangelical blog. Take a moment and listen to this pastor’s response on “How To Know You’re Saved.” He says, “To be sure (of your salvation)…say what you feel about this: “Jesus is my Lord…” If you say it and mean it, God is at work in your life, you have the Holy Spirit."
What do you think? Good way to know that you're saved.
I’ll tell you what I thought. I thought, “Yes, I think Jesus is my Savior. And I feel really good about it too. At least I think I do. I’m not sure if I really feel good about it right now or I’m just manufacturing a good feeling about it because I’m in front of a hundred people and I don’t want them to be disappointed. Honestly, I might feel alright about it right now, but after saying something nasty to my wife OR watching a TV show that reminds me of some past sins – then I don’t feel as good about it. So am I saved now…maybe…perhaps…but next week when I’m struggling with depression – not so much?”
Do you see what happened here? “Emotions” have been added to the salvation equation. That’s foolish. Emotions go up and down. They are about as steady as a kite in a thunderstorm. If you add that to the “by faith alone” equation, you’ll feel better when you feel good. (But you’ll feel better because you believe you're feeling better is proof of your salvation. Not Jesus.) When you feel bad, you’ll only feel worse!
If this is the case, we should invest in an endless supply of laughing gas from the dentist. That way we’ll always feel good and we’ll always be saved.
The “Time” Addition.
Jesus told a story about this. He said there were a bunch of workers hanging out at the local marketplace hoping to find work for the day. At 7am, the farmer hired a group to work a full day until five. He promised to pay them a day’s wages and then got them situated for the day. Then, he went back to the marketplace and hired some more people at about 9am. He did the same at 11am, 1pm, and even 3pm – when there was only an hour to be oriented and an hour to work – he still hired them.
Then, at quitting time he called the people who had only worked for two hours. He gave them a full day's pay which got them excited, but it excited the full day's workers most of all. They thought, “We’ve been here all day. He’s going to give us 10 times that amount! Awesome. I can’t waited to order a steak dinner tonight."
But then the workers got the same as everyone else. They got a day’s pay. Which wasn’t wrong. It was exactly what they had been promised.
The parable illustrates our human way of thinking. "Yes, salvation is by faith alone, but you’ve gotta be a believer for awhile. You can’t just believe at the last second. There must be some timeline associated with it. There must be something that I get for going to this church every Sunday, for the last hundreds Sundays, without missing a Sunday. Maybe, that something is salvation. I’ve been a believer for 40 years. I know I’ll be saved because I’ve been a believer all my life.”
Unless this arbitrary cut off point (which isn’t in the Bible) isn’t 40 years, but 40 years and 1 day. In which case, you are wrong. You aren’t saved.
Do you see the danger? Do you see how foolish that is?
The “Religious” Addition.
The last is very similar. It’s the Christian version of what the Pharisees. They thought, "I am going to heaven, because I'm awesome. I do religious things. I say religious things. I think religious things. My religiousness gets me to heaven."
Be careful of the Christian version of this: “I’m saved as long as I do religious things. I’m saved because I serve on the Council. I’m saved because I sing in the choir. I’m saved because I bring sliced cheese once every other month for fellowship. I’m saved because I used to do bad stuff, but now I do good stuff. I’m saved because I…because I…Because I."
What happened to because Jesus?
II. The Truth About Additions to Faith
Have you ever made Kool Aid before? My favorite is tropical punch – or as I called it growing up – ‘The red one.’ To make Kool Aid you have to get a Kool Aid packet, pour it into the pitcher. Then, a cup of sugar and then some water. You mix it all together and get a delicious, comforting drink.
But there’s also that Koo lAid that comes in the jar. It already has sugar mixed into the “Red Dye Number 6” flakes. To make that kind of Kool Aid, you only need water alone. Nothing else.
I remember one of the first time I tried making it like that. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be any good. “No sugar? I doubt it. It must need sugar. I’ve always made it with sugar. I think it needs sugar. I better put some sugar in. Two cups.”
Needless to say – I had ruined the drink. I think it ended up down the sink.
Additions ruin salvation in the same way. Here are three ways:
1. Additions Ruin Jesus' Work.
Galatians 2:21 says Paul was talking about how he didn’t add to faith. He said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
In other words, if there were a need for any of these additions, then what would be the point of Jesus on the cross? What would be the point of his sacrifice?
I can see Jesus right now. He's up in heaven rubbing his wrists after having hung on the cross. Then, he looks to his left and sees a group of people getting into heaven without putting faith in him.
He looks at the Father, "Really?"
If we add things to salvation by faith alone, we are essentially ruining Jesus' work.
Now what's interesting is that we usually do these things and make these additions because we feel like we are being more faithful than others.
Sadly, the opposite is true.
2. Additions Show a Weak Faith.
One time Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees and the disciples got nervous. “He’s mad because we forgot bread for lunch. We’re all going to go hungry.” Which – by the way – is a conversation that takes place right after Jesus fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Then, another time he fed over 4,000 people with 7 loaves of a bread and a few fish. In both instances he had basketfuls left over!
So when they began to think that they had failed to “do their part” in order to make his “miraculous part” work. He said this, “You of little faith...?” Why do you think you need to add something to my power in order to make it work?
The same is true when we believe these additions are necessary. Our faith isn’t strong; it’s weak!
3. It Comes from Pride
Do you remember those phrases from earlier? I’m saved because I’m Jewish. I’m saved because I feel good about it. I’m saved because I do good. I’m saved because I have been a Christian for awhile. I’m saved because I do Jesus stuff. I’m saved because I….because I…because I…I ….I.
Did you notice that theme? Besides being rooted in unbelief, these additions really stem from pride.
It’s why God calls us to repentance as more than a one time thing. Scripture doesn’t tell us to say, “I was a sinner undeserving of heaven, until I met Jesus. Then, I put my faith in Jesus and now I’m saved because I’m awesome!” Nope.
Repentance is a daily thing. In repentance we drown our pride and we put our faith in Jesus.
With faith in Jesus, you will be saved. That's all you need!
III. Faith Alone Saves
Here's some proof of the "by faith alone" message of Scripture. Open up your Bibles to Romans 4.
- Abraham’s Example
He was man of the year. If there would have been a Time Magazine back then, he would have been on the cover. If there would have been a Nobel prize, he would have had a cave full. He did a lot of incredible things!
But those things weren’t what saved him. Romans 4:1-3 says this, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Did you see that? “Abraham believed God.” Faith. “And it was credited to him as righteousness.” Not because faith was a meritorious work that impressed God, but because Abraham’s faith – his empty hand – simply held onto God’s promises. He believed God would send a Savior – a righteous Savior. He believed God would provide the righteousness he needed to get into heaven.
God is righteous. He knew the requirements. He provided exactly what Abraham needed in the gift of Jesus as his Savior.
The same is true for you. God provided a gift of a Savior. Believe it!
2. Gifts vs. Obligation
Take a look at the next verses in Romans 4. 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Do you see the difference? An obligation is something that is owed you because you earned it. Which means if someone owes you something, you better do what you need to do to earn it.
But a gift – is a gift. It doesn’t require anything from you. You simply receive.
When it comes to salvation, you receive forgiveness. Forgiveness for pride. Forgiveness for unbelief. Forgiveness for a weakness of faith.
And forgiveness? It's sweet.
Just ask King David.
You remember him, right? David slayed Goliath. David became King of Israel. David won many battles. David had a beautiful palace.
One night on the palace David went to the roof and looked out over his kingdom. There in the distance he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He looked. He desired. He sent for her. He brought her to his room and had sex with her. (Forget about being married.)
A few days later she sent word that she was pregnant. SCANDAL. He sent for her husband who served as a soldier in David's army. David brought him to the palace. David got him drunk and told him to go home and sleep with his wife.
The man didn't. He didn't want to enjoy what his comrades out in the field couldn't enjoy.
So David sent him back to the battle with a note. The note went to the general. It said that this man was to be placed in the front line of battle. Then, when the fighting was fiercest, the general was to give the retreat signal. But he wasn't to tell this man about the signal so that the fighting would get to him and he would die.
The general listened. The army drew back. The man died. And David was consumed with guilt.
Finally, a prophet of God came to David and convicted him of his sin. David confessed, "I have sinned."
The prophet's response? "God has forgiven your sins."
David understood what salvation by faith alone meant. Romans reminds us of what David wrote in the Psalms, "6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them."
Insert yourself. Insert yourself and believe God.
"Blessed are you whose transgressions are forgiven."
"Blessed are you whose sins are covered."
"Blessed are you whose sin the Lord will never count against him/her."
The Final Word
Therefore, Romans asks this question, "3:27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
Make sense? This week work hard on boasting in Jesus. Not in yourself. In Jesus. Think about ways you can boast in your Savior and share the message of your salvation.
A salvation by grace alone...by faith alone. Amen.