Don't Let Sola Fide Solo
"Salvation by faith alone" is one of the 3 pillars of the Reformation, but on its own its no more stable than a pogo stick.
Shocked? Believers don't fare well in our text. "To the Jews who had believed Him" Jesus speaks, and this comes after John 6 where we hear, "From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him." These still believed, but hear what the rest of chapter 8 says about them. Verse 40 says they were seeking to kill Jesus. Verse 43 says they could not hear Jesus' words. Verse 44 says they were of their father the devil. Verse 47 says these believers were not of God. Verse 54 says they hadn't come to God and verse 59 says they picked up stones to throw at Jesus. They believed! They had faith! But it wasn't saving. How about us?
Well how do you test that? Paul says you can in 2 Cor. 13:5, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves." After I read this you looked inside yourself to see if you have this thing called faith going on. Tell me; how did you find that mustard seed sized thing amidst all the misbelief, unbelief, doubts, and uncertainties? "There it is! No that's just excitement. There it is! No that's positive thinking; and that's the Little Engine telling itself it could." Whatever you find it's not the faith, and that's what Paul says to look for. "Examine yourself to see whether you're in thefaith." Paul isn't sending you on an examination of your fickle heart but to see whether you're where the faith is."
This is where Jesus takes the believers in our text. He points them to His word. The NIV translates "teaching" but the Greek is Word. "If ever you remain in My Word, truly you are disciples of Me." "My" is emphatic. If you remain in your words or my words, you're not a disciple. You remain in the words of wise men, doctors, scientists, politicians and you're a disciple of them but not Jesus. Think about it. This past week whose words did you remain in? Or whose words did you remain the most in? That was the problem of the believers in the text. In the next verse Jesus says, "You seek to kill me, because My Word has no place in you."
You think it has a place in you just because you're heirs of the Reformation. The "believers" in the text said the same thing. Being the descendants of Abraham was their get out of jail free guard. They didn't need to remain in the Words of Jesus; their belief that they were free was enough. You believe because you sing heartily once a year, "The Word they still shall let remain" you remain in Jesus' Word.
First, some of you realize that the Word here is also reference to the Word made flesh, Jesus. That's why two lines later the "it" referring to the Word becomes a "He." However, the only way post-Easter people have to know the Word made flesh is by the written Word. Second, I wonder; do we sing the second line with the gusto with which we sing the first? "The Word they still shall let remain" we sing with great zeal, but do we sing "Nor any thanks have for it" with equal fervor?
I've noticed that people who stay away from the Word are quick to assure you how much they believe, how strong their faith is. Search Scripture; go from Jesus highlighting the smallness of faith not largeness, to the man crying that his belief is no match for his unbelief, to the apostles not thinking they had enough faith and praying, "Increase our faith." Yes, the apostles didn't think they had enough faith, but those depriving themselves of the Word always do. Read the Lutheran Confessions; read Luther you won't find either speaking how strong, how big, how sure they believe. So how come you do?
How come the believers in our text did? They believed that because they believed themselves to be free they were, but they weren't. That's only what their faith said. Jesus counters their faith with His Word. "I tell you the truth." This is the strongest way to say, this is true and it's very important. The believers base everything on what they believe, that is, that they haven't ever been slaves of anyone. Jesus puts His Word against their faith, "Verily, verily everyone who sins is a slave of sin."
Jesus Words, not your faith, not your believing, not your opinions, or popular wisdom, modern science, or all knowing technology are what carry the day. Jesus' Word that if you're not hearing His called pastors you're not hearing Him, if you're rejecting His called pastors you're rejecting Him is going to blow to bits your faith that says "I'm okay; you're okay." Build the biggest, sturdiest house you know on the shifting sands of your believing and it won't survive when the flood of death rises against you. No, Jesus' Word says to survive that it takes hearing and doing His Word.
The Reformation battle cry sola fide salvation by faith alone is from the Epistle today. "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law." Faith is set against doing something to make up for your sins, to pay for your sins. Faith is not set against hearing or studying the Word of God. Faith is not set against going to church, going to Communion. In fact, I promise you this. If on the Last Day you try to set your believing against your not hearing or studying the Word of God, if you explain why you didn't go to church or Communion by telling Jesus how much you believe, He will say to you, "Depart from Me you workers of iniquity; I never knew you."
Don't go there. You're about to jump from frying pan to fire. The answer is NOT for you to promise to be more faithful at hearing, studying, singing, and eating the Word of God. The answer is Jesus. Our text starts with Jesus talking to believers and trashing their faith in favor of His Word. His Word says that anyone who sins is a slave of sin and a slave has no place in the eternal house of God. But His Word also says that the Son has an eternal place in God's House.
Jesus is the Son who always heard God's Word and kept it. He's the one who was delighted to go Bible class at 12 years old to the surprise of his sinful mother and father. He's the one whose practice was to go to church every Sunday. He's the one who never fell asleep during a boring sermon and whose mind never wandered in Bible class. Jesus is the One for whom going to church was never a decision; there was no choice in the matter. A Son of God belonged in His Father's house. Jesus is the One who never slept in or looked for plausible excuses not to hear the Word.
Some of you think sins against the 3rd Commandment are no big deal; I mean you don't cheat on your spouse. No, you do worse; you cheat God, and God shows you what He thinks about it on a hill called Golgotha. There the judgment of Proverbs came home in spades. Jesus suffered as one who didn't listen to God's Word and so God became deaf to His prayers. God laughed at His calamity. God punished, judged, and damned till His wrath against your sins against His Word was satisfied. God bled, shed, and spilled Jesus' blood, sweat, and tears till everyone of your excuses were paid for, till every time you have pointed to your strong faith or certain believing was erased.
This is the Word that must remain till Judgment Day: Thus says the Lord, "For the sake of my Son's innocent, suffering and death I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. I see no longer what they use to be; I see Jesus." Right here is the object of your faith; right here is what you're supposed to believe: what God says not what you think or feel. Luther said that to imagine faith is a quality that clings to the heart apart from Christ is a dangerous error. "Therefore, faith is a constant gaze that looks at nothing except Christ" (LW, 26, 356). In another place Luther said rather than seeing a thing called faith dwelling in his heart, he saw Christ there and was therefore sure of his salvation (Formula for Parish Practice, 52).
How could Luther be sure Jesus was there? Just because he believed Him to be? This is the circular loop so many of you get caught up in. I know Jesus is in my heart because I believe He is. How come you believe Jesus is in your heart? Because I know he is. I started by saying that the great Reformation proclamation of salvation by faith alone is no more stable than a pogo stick on its own. Faith that exists apart from the Words of Jesus is not saving faith but it will stand you in good stead until it crumbles in the face of God's truth or Judgment. But if you're of a more timid conscience and hold salvation by faith all alone, you won't have any peace at any time. You'll ever be bouncing wondering if you have enough faith going on.
There are 3 Sola's: Sola fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia none of them are meant to solo. Faith needs a place to hang it's hat. It can't be inside you for that would be basing faith on you. It must be outside of you. Your faith is to hang where Jesus points you in this text: on His Word. And what does that Word speak of? God's free grace. Faith clings to what God has promised you in His Word. You are saved because of God's grace for Jesus' sake as the Word declares and the means of receiving this completed salvation is faith which is not something you do but a gift of God.
You aren't sentenced to living on a pogo stick. God has given you a tripod for your life and eventual death. Faith is one leg but not the most important one. What faith believes in is the most important part, and Jesus says believe My Word. That's the 2nd leg of the tripod. The Word brings salvation to you by grace. That's the 3d leg of the tripod.
We have Sola fides. The Romans had Punica fides. This was bad faith. It came from their foes in the Punic Wars, the Carthaginians, who couldn't be trusted. Our equivalent would be Persona fides. Faith generated solely by us. That's bad faith. Faith that is one leg of a tripod shared with God's Word and Grace is good faith. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Reformation Sunday (20151025); John 8: 31-36