In three weeks, we will celebrate our church heritage by marking the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of a document popularly referred to as “The 95 Theses.” It was an event that sparked the Reformation movement within Christendom and, among other things, resulted in greater widespread appreciation for the foundational truth of the Christian Scriptures. Those of us who consider ourselves children of the Reformation summarize what we believe in what are often called three “solas” (the Latin word for “alone”). “We believe that we sinners are justified (declared right) with the Creator God by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), on the basis of Scripture alone (sola scriptura).” This week, I’d like to highlight one of these “solas”: “sola fide,” or “faith alone,” since faith (or at least, the God-gifted variety of faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ) is the topic of St. Paul’s words to the church in Philippi this week.
There are all kinds of faith. A measure of self-confidence, a belief in one’s own ability to perform, is necessary for any person to function normally in the world. It is a deadly component, however, when mixed in to the realm of our dealings with the Divine. St. Paul cautions against confusing confidence in our own striving to do what is right with faith in the perfect obedience of Jesus, the ground for the Abundant Life we enjoy as Christians. Even THAT faith, is not a good work in us…it is a gift. Indeed, St. Paul refers to his former accomplishments as “rubbish” (a polite translation of the Greek word skubalon…try Googling it, to get the sense of what Paul is saying). Paul contrasts his past life with his present life as a follower of Jesus…but even Christians can fall into the trap of thinking they are hot stuff because of their past (or present) sufferings and strivings. A theologian friend, Dr. Samuel Nafzger, puts it like this: “The rescue of God comes as a declaration. It is not a process. Through faith in Christ, and only through faith, sinners are declared to be forgiven and to be perfectly right with God. This declaration is whole and complete, totally independent of any inherent goodness in us sinners. In short, because of God's act on the cross received through faith, we sinners are declared to be perfect saints in God's sight.” Confessing that we are rescued in Christ sola fides means focusing on God’s declaration in Christ that we are forgiven…not, primarily, the need to suffer and produce good works, as a Christian. Paul was not saying: “Look at me, I’m in prison because I’m a follower of Christ.” He was saying, “Look at the suffering, dying, and resurrected Christ. Oh yeah, I’m in prison. So what?”
Wherever you are this week, it matters to Jesus. But it doesn’t make any difference at all in somehow getting you closer to God. Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice which you and I cling to in faith, we are already there. Let’s live this week as people declared righteous with faith that looks to Christ’s accomplishment…not our own.