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Romans 3:20-31


By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.


But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.


Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (ESV)

Faith Alone

Monday of Advent 3

16 December 2013

Some years ago, on the marquee of our church, which can be seen on Houston's busiest surface street, I placed the words of Romans 3:28: "For we hold that one is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law." If you read this passage carefully you will have noted that I injected a word into the passage that is not present in the original text of Romans in express terms. That word is "alone." Churlishly, I had added the word to see if anyone would notice it on the marquee. Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament adds the word because it was required by German usage at that time: "allein durch den Glauben." And although it is not required by English usage (more's the pity!), it is not incorrect either grammatically or theologically. Well, my churlishness was gratified when someone did notice and called the church to complain about my "error." I was delighted to see that someone was actually reading the marquee!


The long and short of the complaint was that since the express word was not in the text, I should not import it. This objection is silly on the basis of grammar alone. For example, since Latin has no articles: "a, the, an," should we translate the Vulgate without using articles? No, this would make no sense in English. The correct sense of the Latin Vulgate can only be communicated using articles in English. The demand to use only the express words found in the text, founders on the fact that language translation is seldom a one-to-one correspondence of terms, but it is most often the communication of sense. God should make sense in English, no matter how many words it takes.


After talking to the complainant for a few moments, she was trying to say that she was offended by the implication made by the word "alone," that she could contribute nothing to her righteousness in the presence of God. But this is exactly what the words of the text mean! This is their sense. The New Testament, and especially the Apostle Paul, intends faith to exclude human merit by works. So it is an absolute either/or presented by the Apostle in Romans 3:28. Either the person becomes right before God by the works of the law or through faith. If it is of faith, then it is not by works. If it is by works, then it is not by faith. There is no third possibility. That is what "apart from the works of the law," actually means; that is the sense of it. If indeed it is not by works, then righteousness in the presence of God must be by faith alone, because anything else would be by works. Faith plus anything else would never be apart from works. Faith alone is theologically correct, because it is the sense of what Paul is trying to teach us.


Sometimes the opponents of Lutheranism carp about Luther's use of the term "by faith alone" as though no one had ever used the term before among Christians. This too is nonsense, often accepted through a lack of understanding, of course. For example, the ancient church fathers also use the term sola fide, and they use it in precisely the way that Luther did, to exclude works from the article of justification. The Lutheran Confessions gleefully quote from the church fathers to that effect. For example, Ambrosiaster's (4th century A.D.) well-respected commentary on 1 Corinthians uses the term. So justification is by faith alone, after all.




"Paul says that grace is a gift given by God in Christ Jesus, which is given in such a way in Christ Jesus that it has been ordained by God, that whoever believes in Christ, has been saved without works. By faith alone he freely receives the remission of sins."

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians


Lord Jesus Christ, our Father has ordained that we who believe in You should be saved without works, and receive remission of sins freely by faith alone. Give us that faith that receives all Your gifts, that we might live in the peace that You alone can give. By Your Holy Spirit, free us from the delusion that we can offer anything in trade for Your mercy. Amen.


For Pr. Ian Pacey, who has accepted his call to Memorial Lutheran Church and School as the Associate Pastor, that the Lord of the church would keep him safe in his transition to a new parish 


For the mission meetings occurring in Mexico City this week, that the life of Christ might be proclaimed


For the family of Elise Mook, whom the Lord removed from this fallen world, that they would grieve with the confident confession of His life on their lips

Art: WEYDEN, Rogier van der  Annunciation Triptych  (c. 1440)

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