There has been a crisis in the evangelical world over what is perhaps the single most important issue of Christianity – justification by faith alone. With this crisis has come a lack of clarity over the most central question: “What must I do to be saved?” Indeed, the confusion over what constitutes salvation is profound. On more than one occasion, I have interviewed young pastoral candidates seeking employment. My foundational question always centred around explaining the gospel: “If I am a non-Christian high school student, and don’t know Christ, what must I do to be saved?”
To my repeated amazement, the answer is often uncertain, confusing and sometimes even heretical. One young man spent over 30 minutes in my presence trying to explain the gospel, and in that time never even mentioned the cross! When I pointed out that omission, he seemed genuinely confused. He knew the cross was important, he just didn’t know where it fit into the gospel. If this is what is found among the clergy, it is not surprising that the same confusion is also found in the pews, in home Bible studies, in youth groups and in Sunday school classes. What does this all mean? Today, we stand in danger of losing the gospel message. From the time of the Reformation until very recently, evangelicals were known for their clarity on the gospel.
They would have quoted Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3:“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”
From that very clear sentence follows the doctrine of justification by faith. And here is where the book of Romans forms the bedrock to what we believe. Romans 4:5 states, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” From this one verse alone, we can glean five foundational statements related to salvation. In this first installment, let me cover two of these truths with you.
No one is saved on the basis of his or her own merits
No fervor in serving Christ, no faithfulness in prayer, no deeds of mercy to the poor, no concern for justice – as admirable as these qualities are – will earn for us a reconciled relationship with God. We are lost and separated from God because of our sin, and we stand under His judgment. Nothing we do can save us. As far as God is concerned, we are regarded as ungodly.
Justification is an act of God, not an action we perform
Paul says that it is God who justifies the ungodly. It is His work and not ours. He initiates it, and He accomplishes it – end of story! That is why all the glory for our salvation belongs to Him alone.
I hope this has given you a taste of what is at the core of this rich and most essential doctrine. Without it, we have nothing to base our faith upon. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Justification by Faith next week!