Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Son of Sin and Grace: Justified by God and God Alone

By the virtue of a sovereign God, human beings will never earn their salvation; we are justified, in the sight of God, and saved as the result of divine gifts. God has given righteousness to sinners as a gracious gift; for, we will never merit or afford our righteousness. One who believes that Christ entered this world and achieved the work of salvation – on our behalf – is justified by faith and faith alone. The idea that we are justified by faith alone (sola fide) may seem troublesome to some people. In the words of Martin Luther, “The reason why some people do not understand why faith alone justifies is that they do not know what faith is.” Faith, is to trust that Christ did the work of salvation for us – meaning that faith contains a personal element. In order to take a leap of faith, one cannot simply believe that Christ died to save humanity because that is not what makes faith a leap; one has to put their trust into that belief. Thus, faith is putting one’s trust into a belief and depending on the truth of its promises. In turn, believing, trusting, and depending on the idea that the work Christ has done for us is true becomes a response that unites the one who believes with Christ. As a result, we have what is called faith – I have what is called faith.

Nevertheless, the faith I possess – its belief, its trust, its dependence, and its response – is the result of a gift from God. Ultimately, faith is a gift, grace is a gift, and salvation is a gift – they are all divine gifts, things that no one earns. Consequently, justification, what one has to do to be saved, is receive the gift of faith. As a recipient of the divine gift of faith, my faith is not a decision for Christ but a response to Christ. In other words, I did not decided to follow Jesus – I do not adhere to decisional theology – I am responding to the gift of faith that I have received by not rejecting the gift. Only by the gift of faith that I have received am I justified to receive salvation. For, it is God alone, who possesses the gifts of faith, grace, righteousness, and salvation. It is God alone, who has the ability to give the gifts we receive. In light of this, justification (what one has to do to be saved) is the work of God alone: “It is God who takes the initiative in justification, providing all the resources necessary to justify that sinner” (Historical Theology, Alister McGrath). Since justification is in God’s hands, justification is received by God’s grace alone, through our faith alone, and both are gifts from God.

In accordance with the gifts of faith and grace, one is made righteous in God’s sight and justified by God’s work. “The saints are always sinners in their own sight, and therefore always justified outwardly…. Therefore we are righteous outwardly when we are righteous solely by the imputation of God and not of ourselves or of our own works” (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Romans”). Some time ago, I coined a phrase with a friend of mine that I am a “Son of Sin and Grace;” to put it simply, I am a sinner made righteous by the grace of God. I’ve heard people call this the sinner-saint complex. For me, it is not a complex or even complicated – I am a sinner, thanks to Original Sin, and only grace that emanates from God can complete my justification. In line with Luther’s doctrine of “the alien righteousness of Christ,” any righteousness I posses comes from God – the source of righteousness is outside of me or my ability.

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