“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.’” (John 3:1–21)
Last week we ended our study of this section at verse 9 where Nicodemus, marvelling at what Jesus has just told him, says, “How can these things be?” The whole concept of being “born again” or “born from above” was blowing his mind. For his whole life, he had been told and had taught that the way to please God, get forgiveness, be holy, and have a blessed life, was through rules and religion. He was a Pharisee, a “separated one”, a member of the Sanhedrin, one of the top-dogs of Israel, famous for being a man who not only followed and enforced the Mosaic Laws but all the other extra laws that the Pharisees had since come up with. He was 100% sold out to the fact that it was through stricter and stricter obedience and enforcement of the rules that Israel would be saved.
But Jesus, this newcomer on the scene, who spoke with authority like they’d never seen and backed up His words with great signs and miracles was saying something very different. He was saying that salvation doesn’t come from trying harder and being more religious. He was saying that all of our human efforts to please God through religious fervour were actually working against Nicodemus’ relationship with God. His rules and religion was putting a wedge between him and God, him and others, and was actually leading people into damnation, not salvation. And I think Nicodemus knew it.
When he looked at himself and his fellow Pharisees he didn’t see men that oozed the love of God. He saw people who were harsh, unloving, unkind, ungracious, and who were always worried that God was mad at them because they hadn’t done enough. People who lived in a constant state of either prideful arrogance for being such awesome people – or in fear and deep doubt because they were never sure if they’d done enough. What a terrible way to live. But they were locked into it. Their devotion to traditions, their lust for power, their whole comprehension of God, was locked into this pattern. And I’m convinced Nicodemus felt it.
And here stood Jesus saying that everything he believed was wrong. Jesus said that the only way to find forgiveness, blessing, salvation, and reconciliation with God is to give up being a Pharisee – to totally repent of that way of living and thinking – and to simply ask God to change his heart. I said last week that Nicodemus immediately knew that Jesus was talking about Ezekiel 36 & 27, and I believe that’s what gave Nicodemus the epiphany.
But an epiphany wasn’t enough. It’s one thing to hear the truth – another to submit to that truth. So Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?”
The Five Solas
Another way of saying this would be, “How could we get this so wrong for so long? How could everything we’re saying be wrong? Surely there must be some middle ground? I can’t believe that all of my religious fervour, all my hard work, all the self-denial, all the work I’ve put into showing people how to be a good person – counts for nothing?”
This is the problem a lot of people have with Christianity. Christians, atheists, and other religions all take issue. There is something deep inside of us that believes that we can save ourselves, impress God, and earn the right to go to heaven. There’s something deep inside the human spirit that refuses to believe that all our efforts, our good deeds, our self-sacrifice, our worldly success, our passion, our knowledge, our study, our “work for God”, our church attendance, our donations record, our all amounts to nothing in the end.
This was the great work of the reformers like Luther and Calvin who saw the state of the Christian Church – how corrupt and Pharisaical it had become – opened up their Bibles, saw the truth, and began to preach it. They came up with the Five Solas of the doctrine of salvation – the five “Alones” – that were in exact opposition to everything the Roman Catholic Church had been teaching and doing. Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. The Salvation that God offers is by Scripture Alone, by Faith Alone, by Grace Alone, through Christ Alone, and to the Glory of God Alone.
The Salvation Jesus offers is described and understood only through the scriptures, the Bible. It doesn’t matter what “makes sense to you” or how you “feel”. God has outlined the way that people are saved from sin and death and the path of salvation is clearly outlined in scripture. Anything different than that is a lie. That salvation is by faith alone, not by any human endeavour. It is given from God by grace alone, not because we deserve any of it, but because, as Ephesians 2:4-5 says,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”
And who does scripture point to? Who must we have faith in? Through whom did this grace come? Through Jesus Christ alone. Acts 4:12,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [NIV]
And why did God do it? Why did God make us, let us fall, send prophets, write scripture, save some and condemn others? Why does humanity exist at all? For the glory of God alone. We read that last week in Ezekiel 36. The Reformers weren’t coming up with anything new – they weren’t creating a new church – they were “reforming” the church back to the way it was supposed to be.
Jesus says it this way to Nicodemus in John 3:10-15,
“Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’”
Jesus says, “You’ve read, memorized, and taught every verse in the Hebrew Bible and you don’t still understand God’s will. Your mind is trapped on earth and all the things you think you can do here to try to climb your way to heaven. Take it from me, the only person who has ever come down from heaven, that there is only one path. Remember the story (Num. 21:4-9) of when all the people spoke against God and Moses, and the Lord sent fiery serpents to poison everyone? No one was going to be able to good-deed their way out of being poisoned. They were cursed and already dead – it was just a matter of time before the poison finished them off. Do you remember how they saved themselves, Nicodemus? What did they do? Did they pray a bunch, sacrifice animals, give tithes? No. What was their path of salvation? God told Moses to make a bronze image of the serpent, set it on a pole, and raise it high in the air so that anyone who looks on it, the moment He sees it, would be saved from the poison that was killing them. That’s how it works. Except in this case, the poison is sin and I’m the One who is going to be raised up – on a cross – and everyone who looks to me will be saved – but not just in this life – they will be given eternal life. Do you understand what I’m saying, Nicodemus? You cannot save yourself by any means because you are poisoned with sin. All of your good deeds are corrupted by sin. Your thinking is corrupted by sin. Every convert you make is doubly corrupt because they are following you! There is only one way to be saved. You need that poison dealth with. You need to look to me.”
And Jesus continues explaining this to Nicodemus in verse 16, the most famous verse in the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
The Pharisees were all about judgment and condemnation. They loved popping up behind people, catching them breaking one of their rules (not God’s, theirs) and then using their position of authority to judge and condemn them. Read through the gospels again and see how many times Jesus is walking around, teaching, hanging out with his disciples, and then a Pharisee just jumps out of nowhere and starts condemning Him. It’s quite ridiculous once you see it.
But when God did finally send His Son, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the one the whole Old Testament prophesied about, He didn’t act like a Pharisee. He didn’t come and zap all the bad people left and right, killing Israel’s enemies, blasting everyone who didn’t perfectly follow the law, and passing out health, wealth, and power to all the good and obedient Pharisees. He did exactly the opposite. God the Father sent Jesus the Son to save people, not condemn them. Jesus came with an extended hand, not a closed fist. God loved the world so much – Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, Pagans, Tax Collectors, Prostitutes, Adulterers, Drunkards, and yes, even Pharisees – that He was willing to raise up His perfect, beloved, Son on a cross for them.
And instead of the path of salvation being an impossible list of rules that no one could keep. He showed that the Law only had the power to condemn (Rom 8:4), but He – the only person who would ever keep the entire Law, perfectly – had the power to forgive and exchange Himself for sinners. Just as anyone who looked to the serpent was saved, so would any who look to Him. Just as the Israelites in Egypt believed that the blood sacrifice of the spotless lamb would allow death to Passover them, so the blood of Jesus would do the same. Just as anyone who believed that on the Day of Atonement, the bloody death of bulls and goats, and the sprinkling of their blood on the altar, mercy seat, and people, would atone and mane propitiation for – or make reparations for and appease God’s wrath for their own sin – so the blood of Jesus would do the same.
Jesus wasn’t there to bring final judgement. Not this time. He was coming to offer salvation to any who would believe in Him.
Nicodemus’s mind must have been reeling at this point because it went against everything he had ever believed. All the words of the prophets he’s memorized must have been racing through his mind with new understanding, new interpretation, knowing that Jesus was speaking the truth. His guilt and shame for being so wrong must have been immense. But there was that human side that made him want to refuse Jesus’ words, refuse to believe he wasn’t at least partly responsible for his own salvation.
And Jesus doubles-down in verse 18,
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Zero wiggle room. Salvation comes by the Word of God alone, through faith in Jesus alone, by the grace of God alone, through the Son of God alone, and for the glory of God alone. No other options.
Turn with me to John 14, but keep your thumb in John 3. Jesus is in the upper room preparing his disciples for what is going to happen that night. He will be leaving them because he’s about to be betrayed, falsely accused, condemned, and murdered. They’re obviously freaking out and Jesus says, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1–7)
I’m the way, Thomas. You can’t get there unless I take you there. You can’t know truth unless I tell it to you. You can’t have life unless I give it to you. No one can come before God, no one can be saved unless I am the one who brings them.”
That’s what Jesus was telling Nicodemus too.
Turn back to John 3. The natural question that comes to most Christians at this point, I think, is “Why would anyone reject this message?” It’s beautiful, simple, and generous. People everywhere struggle with guilt, shame, and fear. They want to be right with God and others. They want to know forgiveness and hope. They look at their lives and know that this isn’t all there is, that their habits are ruining them, and all the stuff they are amassing is empty. All the things they’ve tried to do to kill the pain, ignore the shame, and distract from the emptiness and hopelessness they feel, isn’t working.
Then they hear the gospel. You’d think that it would come as a welcome relief to them! Hope, help, forgiveness – all for free because Jesus paid the cost. Connection to God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, a cleansed soul, and the knowledge that no matter what happens in this world, it will work out for our good and God’s glory – and that the sufferings of this blip of a life will be nothing compared to the glory that is coming (Rom 8:18). Seems pretty, “No duh.” to me.
Why would anyone reject this? Why would Nicodemus hem and haw? Why would the Pharisees condemn Jesus for this message and ultimately betray and murder Him? Why would generations of Christians after be martyred for spreading a message of amazing grace, free salvation, eternal hope, and a renewed spirit, for anyone who would believe in Jesus alone? Why, if Christians have some of the greatest philosophers, scientists, apologists, writers, thinkers, and agents of mercy of all time and in the whole world, would people reject what we have to say with such vehemence?
Jesus answers that question in verses 19-21,
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The reason is that they love their sin and themselves. They prefer darkness. God wants to expose their sin to the light, expose their deeds, expose their thoughts, and let them see how evil they are. But they want to stay in the dark because they don’t want to be exposed. Accepting Jesus’ message means admitting and exposing sin. It means saying, “I’m wrong. I’m a sinner. I’m an addict. I’m a gossip. I’m controlling. I use people. I’m lazy. I’m critical. I’m superstitious. I want glory for myself and don’t want to share. I have hate in my heart that I don’t want to let go of. I don’t want to submit to authority. I love money more than people. I want power. I want to hurt people. I want to use people for my own gratification. I want to steal things because I think I deserve them. I want to do what I want, when I want, and be the ultimate arbiter of what is good and right for me and everyone else. I don’t want God, I want to be God.”
To come to Jesus means coming to the light and having everything exposed. That’s why they won’t come.
Consider your own sins for a moment. Where and when do you do them? Out in the open? Lights on? In front of people? Or do you find a corner, turn off the lights, and get alone?
When you’re about to gossip or slander, do you speak in a loud voice for all to hear, or do you find a corner and whisper? When you want to control and manipulate someone, do you do it in front of their friends, family, and church – or do you do it alone, through e-mail, and tell them to keep secrets? Where do you keep the things you sin with; on a shelf for all to see, or tucked away in a dark place? Where have you gotten in the most trouble, and have had the most problems – with things that people did and said in the open for all to see and hear or the ones that happened during secret meetings, private messages, dark places, and back-room encounters? Sin hates the light, because the light causes it to wither and die.
If you are doing things in the darkness right now, what you are doing is not only dangerous but foolish. Your deeds are only secret from some. God knows, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the news lately, you will eventually be found out.
Isaiah 29:15 says,
“Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’”
In Luke 12:1-3 Jesus says,
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (also Luke 8:17)
I’m telling you the truth.
Turn with me to Ephesians 5 and listen to what the Apostle Paul says,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:1–17)
I’ll leave the rest of the passage for you to read on your own time.
But let this be our conclusion today. Jesus is inviting you to the light but your sin loves darkness. I beg you to expose all your dark things to the light. James 5:16 says to
“confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Do you want healing in your soul, your marriage, your family, your church? Start confessing your sins to one another.
Now, expect resistance. Satan really hates it when Christians do this. He’s going to give you every excuse in the world. “Now’s not a good time.” “They won’t be able to handle it.” “It’s too risky. I might lose my friend, marriage, job, position.”
Something will come to mind, maybe even now, and automatically you’ll hear, “It’s not that big of a deal. You don’t need to confess that one. It’s between you and God.” That’s Satan. Do you want to be free of that sin? Do you want salvation? Do you want healing?
“…Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
To whom? First, to Jesus. Use your voice, out-loud, and confess that sin, out-loud, to God and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. God is the one you’ve offended most and who you need to deal with first.
Then, confess the one you sinned against. Confess to the people you affected. Confess to the ones who felt the ripple effects. Confess your sin to your Christian friend. Then tell your mentor, deacon, elder, and pastor. Drag that sin, kicking and screaming, into the light and keep blasting more and more light on it until it is shrivelled and dead. That’s the only way to be free.
(If you would like to see the sermon video, click here.)
I’ve talked previously about the importance of having foundational, fundamental, bedrock beliefs that every Christian can affirm, no matter where they are, what tradition they come from, and what language they speak.
The central theme of this series I’m calling “The True Gospel” was the introduction of the Five Solas – five core beliefs that historical, protestant Christianity has held as the baseline from which they work out the rest of their faith. They are Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and the Glory of God Alone.
There are many other important discussions that can be had that go beyond these five… like worship styles, membership requirements, church leadership and government options, the emphasis of the church ministries, and the location of the building (or even if the church puts up a building at all!)… but these five are the non-negotiable points that the church must be built on, or it ceases to be a Christian church.
We have already covered:
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, which is the foundational belief and conviction that the Bible is the “inspired and authoritative Word of God, is the only source of Christian doctrine.” (http://www.answers.com/topic/five-solas)
Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone which reminds us that we are not saved from the consequences of our sins by anything we can do, but only by the unmerited favour (Grace) of God. Today I want to explore the next one.
Grace & Justice
Let’s continue with Sola Fide, Faith Alone – We are saved through Faith Alone in Jesus Christ. Now, at first glance, this might sound like a repeat of Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, which stated that we are saved not by works, but by the it grace of God alone.
The reason this is different is because of the emphasis of scripture on both the Grace of God and the Justice of God. It is not enough to say that we have been saved by grace, as though somehow God just dismissed all of our sins because He was being nice. No, Sola Fide has to do with the legal aspect of being saved. Let me explain:
We Are Guilty, Jesus Is Innocent
We have sinned, and are condemned. We broke the law. We stand under judgement. The Judge looks at us and says, “you did not keep the law, but have broken it, and therefore, to uphold the law, you must be punished.” God is a good God who will not let anyone get away with anything. Sin must be paid for, injustice must be set right, and unrighteous behaviour must be accounted for.
The punishment for sin is death. Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…”. It has been since the very beginning of time. God warned Adam that if he sinned, the consequence would be death, and every human being has sinned, and therefore every human being has died. We have all broken God’s law. Everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
So God, in His Grace, chose to send His Son to come to earth, to take on the form of a human being, and to live a perfect life, free of sin, free of the curse, free from punishment. He would be the only one to ever face temptation and not fall. He would be the only one to have the opportunity to sin, and never take it. He would be what Adam should have been, the perfect human, the perfect Son of God, the one who would do it right. (Romans 5)
And so, even though He had never done anything wrong, the Lord Jesus was sentenced by His own creation, and in agreement with the Father to die in the most excruciating way humanity has ever conceived – a Roman Crucifix. He could have gotten off the cross at any time. He could have made a perfect argument at any time. He could have brought down a legion of angels at any time that would have wiped out those who were judging and persecuting Him, but He didn’t. Why?
Because He was not just dying to fulfil some broken human law, but to fulfil the perfect law of God (Romans 10:4). The law that said that anyone who broke His Holy, Perfect Law must be put to death – physical and spiritual death (spiritual death is the punishment and torment in Hell).
But He wasn’t dying for His own sin… He had no sin… He was instead dying for ours. He was making possible our reconciliation to God because we couldn’t.
“The Great Exchange”
“16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
Verse 21 that makes the point so clearly. This is what theologians call the Doctrine of Justification. Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange”. It is this doctrine that truly separates Christianity from being a list of do’s and don’ts which attempt to appease or impress God.
“God made him who had no sin…” Who’s that? Jesus Christ. He had no sin. And he “made him… to be sin”. In other words, God the Father, the perfect Judge of sin, make Christ to be regarded and treated as though he was a sinner, as though He was the absolute personification of sin, even though He had never sinned. Why? “…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You, the moment you had faith and believed in Jesus as the one who saved you from Sin, became “the righteousness of God”. I know that you may not feel like it, or even act like it, but that’s your nature now. Before, you had a nature of sin and rebellion, now you have a nature of righteousness. That’s why you don’t want to sin now. It didn’t bother you before, but now it bothers you. You used to have a lot of go-to excuses for why you sinned, but now, because of your new nature, your excuses are thin and instead you have conviction. That is your new nature crying out and showing you how different you are now!
This is so crucial to understand. When Satan comes to you and says, “You did something so bad that God won’t forgive you” or “You need to punish that person because they did something to you” – either side of that coin – the one where you feel as though you can’t be forgiven, or where you won’t forgive someone else – remember The Great Exchange.
Isaiah 53, a prophecy written 700 years before Jesus walked the earth, describes in detail, what Jesus would go through for us, and why.
1“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus, who had done nothing, became the personification of sin, taking the full wrath of God for all of humanity’s sin. Is it any wonder he was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? Is it any wonder why He asked for the cup to be taken from Him – that if there was any other way, to take it? But there was no other way. In order to free those who would believe from the consequences of their sins, He would have to be punished in accordance with the Law, and according to the severity of the Law, pour out “his life unto death” and be “numbered with the transgressors” (in other words, treated like a sinner), for the sake of all who would believe.
Diminishing the Cross
Therefore we do not say that we must punish ourselves to be forgiven, or that we have done something too sinful to be forgiven, because that diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. We also do not punish others for their sins, because that too diminishes what Jesus did for them, as though His punishment wasn’t enough.
Sola Fide is an amazing truth because it explains to us how we can be justified by Grace. God doesn’t let people get away with their sin and merely forget about it, but instead, pours out His wrath on the one person who never deserved it, and the only person who could have stood as our substitute. That’s why Jesus came. That’s was His greatest work for us. That is why we can pray, and sing, and be forgiven. Because of His work for us on the cross… not because of any work we do for ourselves.
Consequences of Faith
Now, there are some natural consequences of Faith too. When God affects our hearts, opens our eyes to see our sin and our need for a Saviour, shares with us the Gospel of Salvation by Grace, and then gives us the gift of faith to believe it – our lives change forever. Here are two of the changes that happen after we have been justified by faith and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Made New by Faith
I, and many here, love quoting verse 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We say that all the time, but we must believe it and let that truth take hold of our hearts. It is not, as some people believe, that we are saved by grace and then we have to work hard and fight tooth-and-nail to stay saved or try to be good. No, once we have faith in Jesus, we are made new.
You know what Christians are called throughout the New Testament? “Saints”. You who are saved are Saints. Holy Ones. Consecrated people. That’s your title, even if you don’t believe it, or if you don’t feel it right now. You have been justified by faith and now have the same righteousness as Jesus. You don’t have to act like your old self. You don’t have to live and think the way you once did, because you have a new nature.
Your Old Self Died
Satan and His demons will continuously come to us and say:
“You are still dirty”
“You are a mess”
“You sin because you are a sinner”
“You are still broken”
“You’ll never be really right with God or others.”
But the truth of scripture is that you have been completely changed, the very moment you had faith. We can say, “No, I don’t have to do that, I’m not that person anymore. That person is dead.”
Read Romans 6:1-7:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Look closely at verse 6:
“6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
Do you see that? That’s the power of faith in Jesus Christ and what it means to be justified by grace and the power of God. You are no longer a slave to sin. When you died to sin, you died to the requirement of being the servant of sin. There’s not much a slave-master can do with a dead servant, and so upon the death of your old nature, your former master released you. Now you live with a new nature, one that, because of your faith in Jesus, is no longer bound to sin. You won’t like it. You may fall for temptation now and again, but now you see the temptation, and you hate the sin, and you have the power to walk away from it. That is something you didn’t have the power, or the will, to do before.
You may contend with what Ephesians calls the “Old Man”, your old nature that you lived in before, because you are still part of this fallen world, in fallen flesh, living with the physical and emotional consequences of your choices and the choices of those around you, but the point is that you are now contending, or fighting against, your old nature – not succumbing to it and living out of it.
That is the first consequence of faith – a new nature.
Working Out our Faith
The other consequence of having faith is it will create a need to work out that faith. This is important to understand properly because somewhere within you will believe that now that you have accepted the free gift of salvation you should either – 1. Not work at all because you are saved and can’t get any more saved, or 2. Work like crazy because you are afraid you might lose your salvation if you don’t do enough to show how thankful you are.
Neither is Christian. In the first place, the bible warns Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 3, against idleness (not working and being a helpful, productive member of society and the church). On the other hand it also says, in Romans 8, that God will never let us go, will never revoke His gift of salvation, and no one in the universe can take it away from you.
The proper response to faith is to work it out. We are not saved by our good works, we are saved unto good works. Do you see the difference? We are not saved by anything good we do, but we are saved so that we can do good things.
To help us understand this, let’s define faith. (I borrowed some of this outline from Reformation Study Bible, Pg 1804.)
Faith is incorporated into your entire being. Faith is not a feeling, nor is it an optimistic decision where you choose to hope something good will happen. Faith is far deeper than that.
Faith is responsive. It is a response to something already defined, not a feeling about something without substance. God made promises, Jesus secured those promises, the Gospel explains those promises, and each is grounded in reality and is able to be understood. Believing those promises, having faith, involves the mind, the heart and the will and is directed towards a very real, very personal God… not an idea, but a person.
Knowledge, Agreement & Trust
There are three words that smarter people than I use to describe faith: Knowledge, Agreement, & Trust. First we gain Knowledge and understanding of something – in this case, the Gospel. Then we Agree with it, we recognize that it is true. And then we Trust it and make a step of commitment that requires us to act on what we now know and agree with.
We’re talking about the gospel, but we could just as simply be talking about a chair. Say you are looking at a chair and you want to sit down. It’s not a kind of chair you’ve ever seen before, and you don’t know if it will support you. So you learn about the chair, read the specs and find out how it is built. Now you have Knowledge.
But now you need Agreement. Do you agree with what you have just learned? Have you seen others sit on it? Are you prepared to agree with the manufacturer that they can make a chair you can sit on? What’s their track record? So now you have come into Agreement with the person who made the chair and wrote the specs… what is next?
Sitting down! You have to trust what you know, what you’ve agreed with, and then sit down! This is the action of faith. You trust it. It’s all just an idea until you sit down.
In the same way, Faith isn’t faith until it is worked out. Through faith we are justified, and then we “walk by faith” (2 Cor 5:7). We step forward and live our lives in the new reality we have just accepted and make choices based on that Knowledge, Agreement and Trust relationship with God.
Faith & Works
James 2:14 says quite simply, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer is simply “no” because they have not demonstrated real “faith” – they haven’t sat down in the chair yet. They’ve talked about sitting down, know about sitting down, read the books about sitting down, told their friends that they want to sit down, sang songs about sitting down, listened to lots of sermons about sitting down, have wandered around the chair, can describe the chair… but they have not sat down. Therefore they do not have faith.
James continues in verse 17 saying “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” In other words, knowing something and living something is not the same thing. In verse 24 he says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”, which seems exactly opposite to what we’ve been saying, but remember the context. Remember that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. When James says “faith alone” he means the bogus faith where people are only in intellectual agreement (as he said before), but not putting boots to their faith and showing that their faith in Jesus is bearing fruit in their life.
It is my deep and great hope that you will find peace and a reason to worship because of these Five Solas. As Paul did, I “implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled with God.”
I pray that Sola Fide, Faith Alone, gives you comfort when Satan attacks and makes you doubt your salvation and your new nature.
I pray it gives you strength to combat temptation as you say to Satan, “I’m not who I was, that person is dead, I am new.”
I pray that Sola Fide will relieve you of the stress of having to try to impress God, or the fear that you have not done enough.
And I pray that it will also drive you to exercise your faith and divine purpose through good works in your home, your church and community.
Controversy & Division
The church deals with a lot of issues, and there are a lot of controversies swirling around both inside and outside the body of believers. Moral questions, political affiliations, missional differences, a million stylistic opinions, global concerns and theological interpretations are only a part of the everyday life and conversation for believers around the world.
But, amazingly, though the divisions seem to be a problem for us, God actually does allow for a lot of debate, dialogue and differences among His people in the way they practice and perform their religious activities and commune with Him and each other.
Some people talk about how sad it is that the Christian church is so divided – by denominations, cultures, locations, styles – and consider our lack of uniformity to be a weakness. I would ask them to consider that these divisions are not only necessary, but can be a source of great strength as we choose to express our love for God, the church and the unsaved in a variety of ways, learn from one another, and give God praise in a rainbow of different ways. God doesn’t desire our uniformity, He desires our unity.
It’s remarkable that I can attend different churches in different places, with a different language, different clothing style, different taste in music, different architectural style, and be worshipping the same God, for the same reason, with people who would be considered my brothers and sisters in Christ, and whom I will spend all eternity with. That’s amazing! I may not prefer their style, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong – only different – and I’m learning to praise God for those differences, because as I experience them, I learn more about the heart of God and His work in the world.
Spot The Difference
But as wonderful as some of these differences are, there are some things in every Christian church that must be absolutely the same or they are not Christian churches. There is a standard, a baseline, a fundamental, foundational group of beliefs and professions that cannot, and must-not be altered, or the people in that place are no longer Christians.
It’s like those “Spot The Difference” puzzles where two images are side by side, and they look the same, but when you look closer, the details make them very different. These churches may sing Christian songs, use Christian language, hold and read the Christian Bible, and even practice Christian traditions, but if they do not hold to these rock bottom beliefs, then they make themselves different from a church of Jesus Christ (that is drawing people towards the one and only Saviour of the world) and turn into a worldly, demonic corruption (that is misleading people with a message that cannot save and will lead its followers to hell). These are absolutely critical matters. We are talking about more than life and death issues, but issues of eternal-life and eternal-punishment.
What we are talking about is the difference between the True Gospel and the many, many False Gospels that have come about through the ages. On one hand is the True Gospel that points to the One Saviour, the One God, and the One Way, One Truth, and One Source of Life… and on the other are the False Gospels that sound right, are often more agreeable and understandable, and sometimes even feel more right to us than the True Gospel.
A Faith Smorgasbord
When people think of religion, the church, or even Christianity, they see it less as a singular way – a straight and narrow path not to be deviated from, and more like a buffet where they can come and fill their plate with many different options, choosing the things they like, passing by the things they don’t, and creating something that sounds right, feels right, and is most understandable to them.
The prevailing thought about what people would call “going to heaven”, “being saved”, “being religious”, “getting in touch with God” or simply “being spiritual”, seems to be that as long as you are thinking about something, doing something, believing something, then God (or whoever the higher-power you have designed is) will honour your choices and create for you the heaven/paradise that you have designed for yourself, using the criteria that you have set. None of that makes any kind of rational sense when you think about it.
It’s like walking into a building in downtown Ottawa and saying, “Ok everyone, I work here now. I’m going to choose the job I want, the hours I want to work, the boss I want, get paid what I want to get paid with the benefits I want, and retire whenever I want to and however I want to.” I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work, right? (Though I haven’t tried it…)
It’s like walking into a kitchen and saying “I’m going to bake a cake, but I don’t like the way Betty Crocker does it, so I’m going to put in all my favourite ingredients and call it cake. I like hot wings, cheese, chocolate, hamburgers, asparagus, camomile tea, oysters, miracle whip, fried chicken, and ice-cream. I’ll put them in a bowl, mix them for however long I feel like, and then stick it in the oven… no wait… microwave… for as long as I want, and since I’m so dang smart, it will be a delicious cake.”
Nothing in the world works like that, and somehow we think that’s how our relationship with God and the rest of eternity is supposed to work.
What is sad is that this isn’t just out there in the world among the “foolish heathens”, but is also prevalent in the Christian church. The True Gospel has been under attack forever, but is supposed to be attacked from the outside. Now, even the churches who call themselves mainstream, evangelical, and conservative, are altering, silencing and even avoiding the True Gospel.
My favourite example of this, and one that infuriates me to no end, is something that has become popular among some churches, is changing of the words to Amazing Grace. We all know the first line, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Well, some people find the word “wretch” too harsh. In the words of one article, it has been changed “to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers.” (Wiki). So now they sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me” or “that saved and set me free”. Being a “wretch”, calling ourselves “wretched”, doesn’t feel right… it’s not understandable, relatable, comforting… and therefore it must be changed so we can feel better about it. I know that Amazing Grace isn’t scripture, but this certainly does show an altering of the perception of how Christians see themselves and the True Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Know the Counterfeit
The old illustration that is often used is still true: when the police are trying to identify a counterfeit $20 bill, they do not spend their time studying only the counterfeiters; it is far more important that they study, memorize and ingrain in their minds the true $20 bill. Therefore, anything that is different from that perfect example, must be a counterfeit.
In the same way, I want for you to know the True Gospel so wholly that whenever you are presented with something false, even though it may feel right, sound right, or even seem more understandable, you will know it is a counterfeit.
When Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers were rallying against the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church they were fiercely passionate, even to the point of losing their lives, because of what was at stake – the salvation of sinners, a right relationship with God, the full meaning of the scriptures, the person of Jesus Christ as the only One who can take humanity and the world from being marred by sin and destined for destruction, to make new, reborn, and destined for glory. They were fighting for the True Gospel because a counterfeit gospel was being put in its place.
And as they were fighting, debating and writing, they articulated what would be long recognized as the essentials of Christian life and practice. They were not fighting for a worship style, where to put the religious furniture, what should be worn in church, for a certain governmental style, or which was the right translation of the Bible – they were fighting for the bedrock beliefs of the Christian faith, which were being altered by the church for their own ends and profits.
These five fundamental beliefs are known today as the Five Solas (or Five Solae) and are a powerful tool to stay true to the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to Salvation. They are the Latin phrases, in no particular order: Sola Gratia, Sola Fida, Solus Cristus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. In English they translate to: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, and The Glory of God Alone.
Knowing and understanding these, will help you to know the True Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and be able to identify any counterfeits – heresies, alterations, changes, additions, etc – that will ultimately lead you and others away from Jesus.
I’ll go through Sola Scriptura, in my next post.