Read: Romans 3:24-26
The year 2017 marked 500 years since Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses and launched the Protestant Reformation—one of the most momentous turning points in world history. The Reformation was led by men of strong faith, deep convictions, and tremendous courage. They proclaimed to the world that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, standing on Scripture alone as our final authority. This article addresses the Reformation and biblical teaching on Sola Fide: justification by faith alone.
Mankind’s problem is clearly stated in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” From the earliest days of creation, God faithfully warned mankind about the danger of sin. He clearly stated the consequences if mankind sinned. He warned, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Sadly, all humans, except Jesus Christ, have sinned and deserve death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
Mankind’s hope is stated in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” The reason for giving His Son was so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Peter tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God desires “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God sent His Son, Jesus, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
The wonderful truth is that God loves sinful mankind. Many have asked, “If God is a loving God, why doesn’t He just forgive everyone?” They forget that our loving God is also a righteous and just God. For example, if a human judge started showing his love and mercy to criminals by pardoning murders, we’d say, “Wait a minute! That is horrible! That judge is not being just, nor is he upholding the law!” In like manner, God cannot ignore our sinfulness and simply forgive us. There is a penalty for sin that must be paid!
God’s solution is captured in Romans 3:24: “Being justified freely by his grace.” Paul reveals God’s solution to the “dilemma” of how a loving and merciful God can be just and yet justify (forgive) sinners—how God can be both a God of love who shows mercy and yet be a righteous God of justice. He provided His own Son, Jesus, to be the “lamb of God” who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29)! Jesus’ sacrificial death, through the shedding of His blood, satisfied God’s wrath and displays His justice in justifying the repentant sinner.
When Jesus died on the cross, He bore the penalty for the sins of all who will repent and put their faith in His life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, if I trust in Him, God can justly forgive my sin. Listen to the Apostle Paul as he explains this vital truth:
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)
In these three verses the following crucial theological terms occur:
- faith in his blood.
Let’s briefly explore these concepts.
Paul writes, “Being justified …” “Justification” means “the forgiveness of sins.” Paul, preaching in a synagogue in Antioch, explained, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
On what basis does God justify (pardon) a sinner? God righteously forgives a sinner based on the union with Christ that occurs the moment a sinner repents of his sin and puts his faith in Jesus Christ. The union a repentant sinner experiences with Jesus Christ is explained by Paul in Romans 7:4. He tells us that believers in Jesus Christ “become dead to the law by [through] the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Union with Christ makes it possible for a believer to participate in everything Jesus died and rose again to provide, including justification.
Marriage to Christ, occurring at the moment of saving faith, establishes our union with Christ. From that moment forward, believers are said to be “in Christ.” Union with Christ makes it possible for a believer to participate in everything Jesus died and rose again to provide, including justification. By virtue of this union, the believer, who was dead in sin, who was guilty, sinful, and deserving of God’s wrath, has been put to death with Christ.
Scripture reveals that we are united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:2-5). I am said to be “dead” to the Law, therefore the Law has no claim on me (Rom. 7:4). Further, the debt my sins incurred has been paid. In my union with Christ, all my liabilities were laid on Him. And all that Jesus died to provide and all that Jesus presently lives to provide is mine “in Him.” “He was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).
God’s forgiveness of our sins (justification) is “freely” provided through Jesus Christ. The word literally means “without a cause and without charge.” It appears in the Septuagint version of Psalm 69:4, where the Psalmist complained to God that his enemies “hate me without a cause.” It is translated “free for nothing” in Exodus 21:2 where we read, “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” It is translated “freely” in Matthew 10:8 when Jesus gave instructions to some of his followers: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”
Paul continues: “by his grace.” According to Ephesians 2:4-5, God’s “grace” is the outpouring of His great love and rich mercy upon undeserving people. God has chosen to justify us freely by His grace. Our justification depends on the free gift of love and mercy. Further, Titus 3:7 tells us “that being justified by his grace, we become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Paul continues: “Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption, as applied to humans, speaks of deliverance from slavery. When God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and slavery, He “redeemed” them “with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments” (Exod. 6:6). In like manner, Jesus has broken the chains of sin that bound us and has set us free from the slavery of sin. He has redeemed us.
Jesus has broken the chains of sin that bound us and has set us free from the slavery of sin. He has redeemed us.
Paul continues: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Propitiation is not a word that we use in common conversation. It comes from the ancient religious world, where people offered sacrifices to appease the anger of the gods. God’s wrath against sin is not capricious or mysterious. Rather, it is His settled holy opposition to evil, expressed in both temporal and eternal judgments.
What can be offered to God to propitiate Him? Paul tells us that Jesus Christ offered Himself to God as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, and His sacrificial death is the means by which God’s just wrath is turned away from sinners. It took the shed blood of Jesus to redeem us and to appease God’s holy wrath (1 Pet. 1:17; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5). The emphasis on the “blood” signifies the life poured out unto death.
Faith in His Blood
In this phrase, the term “blood” speaks of the entirety of the sacrificial death of Christ. Thus the blood is a metonymy (a part representing the whole). Faith receives the message of God’s love and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and believes that Christ’s death is the basis on which God, for Christ’s sake, forgives sin and unites the believer with Jesus.
As Thomas Ralston explains, the grace of God is the original moving cause of our justification: “The efficient cause is the Holy Spirit, ‘who takes of the things of Jesus, and shows them unto us.’ The meritorious cause is the death of Christ. The instrumental cause, on God’s part, is the word of God; but the conditional cause, on our part, is faith.”
Jesus alone saves, but faith alone enables me to trust Him. Faith receives the message of God’s love and accepts Christ’s death as the basis on which God forgives sin and unites the believer with Jesus.
Everything God provided for our atonement comes to us through union with Christ. He has provided forgiveness of sins (justification), regeneration, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. It is through union with Christ that He is our God and we are His people. As the chorus says,
He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song:
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.
Revised from an article originally published in God’s Revivalist.