Faith Alone

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Romans 3:23-28

Some months ago my brother and I were discussing the topic of Faith Alone. He mentioned Martin Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” where in Luther’s German translation the reformer adds the word “alone” making the reading “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of the Law” Certainly there have been lots of discussion about this. Was he tampering with Scripture to add a word that wasn’t in any of the extant copies?

But in the historical context of Luther’s new found faith can anyone reasonably find fault? First of all the addition of the word has no impact one way or the other on the direction of the point Paul is making in the verse, which any reasonable individual can see as he reads the book of Romans starting at chapter 1.

And that is because by the time he gets to chapter 3 Paul has discussed the Law and its shortcomings of actually making any person righteous before God. Certainly, if a person could follow the Law in its totality from birth to death that would be one thing, but that has never happened but for one individual – the Lamb of God. So if the Law could not make anyone righteous what was its purpose? Paul indicates its purpose was to point out sin to man and his need for a Savior; and as promised in the Law and the Prophets ( Romans 3:21-22) there was one who would come would to redeem them, and the Jews were waiting for this Messiah for this reason among others.

Reason One

But it is Paul that stresses the point that it must be faith alone that saves.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness
Romans 4:4-5

First, because if it isn’t faith alone but in conjunction with something man does then man can claim credit, or “due,” as Paul calls it. Or a wage as we’d say today. We work for the wage of salvation. Thus God owes it to us to give us salvation regardless of what we do, regardless of the condition of our heart. Which is why Jesus told his listeners in Matthew 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. If with a wage you could gain heaven the condition of the heart would not matter.

Reason Two

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
Romans 5:15

But second reason that faith alone is important is because death is involved. Once sin entered the world man died spiritually. ( Ephesians 2:1-2, and Colossians 2:13) A wall, chasm, whatever you want to call it, was set between God and man and man’s spiritual life was extinguished. This is elementary catechism. The problem with man being able to work his way back into salvation in any extent at all is inconceivable because he is dead! To those who think there is anything at all that man can do: pray, the sacraments, good works, or in Luther’s time, and what aggravated him so violently that on All Saints day eve in 1517 he hammered a copy of his 95 Theses to on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany, being a thorns in his side – pay indulgences to remit the penalty of sin – consider this, man is spiritually dead. What part of “dead” is confusing? Just as the cemeteries around the world lay quiet and still so man’s spirit has no power in this lifeless condition. It is only when you read the Scriptures or hear the gospel do you start to witness the power of God having an effect on the soul of mankind. And when Jesus ministered in the first century God’s power was glorified through Him regularly and the dead were raised. And finally on that glorious Sunday after the Lamb of God assumed on His innocent shoulders the totality of sin that had been committed thus far on the earth, and that which was still yet to be committed, again the power of God raised Him bodily from the grave, alive, flesh and blood. And in the following days His disciples were witnesses to this.

But never was a man able to raise himself from the dead. Because dead means no power to do anything but decay. Being spiritually dead one can do nothing to bring oneself spiritually back to life! So there really can be no other possibility other than “faith alone” that brings a person to Christ and a saving faith. I keep coming back to the verse in the gospels, for example Matt. 16:17, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. This is the free gift of God, something that can’t be obtained by flesh and blood (a term that encompasses every aspect of man’s mechanization). (Compare Acts 8:20) So yes, Luther was outraged by the practices of his day that indulgences were being sold and the poor were parting with their money and getting nothing in return except for false hope. How could he not be enraged that the shepherds of his day were not feeding the flock but instead were doing just the things for which Jesus condemned the rulers of His day. (See Luke 11:52

Luther knew the Scriptures like Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. It was the book of Romans that finally brought him around to a saving faith in God. He may have been an abrasive, pugnacious man but he had a calling to speak God’s word in a time when it was being stifled. Personally I think it can be forgiven him if he added the word “alone” to the verse in Romans 3:28. If you read the book you’ll know that the word is implicit in the verse anyway. It can’t be any other way.

There are things that man can do, sing God’s praises, raise a voice in prayer, cry out for salvation. But it is God who alone creates the universe. God alone breathes into man the breath of life. God alone redeems man from sin and death. Man can ascribe no credit whatsoever for that act. That’s why it is called a “free gift.” You accept it and say “thank you!” The glory is God’s and God’s alone.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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