We rightly celebrate the doctrine of justification by faith alone championed by Martin Luther and the spark that ignited the flames of the Protestant Reformation that spread all over Europe in the 16thcentury. But we need to remember again why this truth was so flammable.
Justification by faith alone is the doctrine of Christian freedom – a freedom that permeates every part of life. Apart from God justifying sinners freely by His grace, everything else is some form of slavery. How will you justify yourself? How will you prove that you and your labors are worth something? That your failures will not be the thing that everyone remembers? How can you claim to be a good person, a good father, a good mother, a good son or daughter or brother or sister or friend or businessman or employer or scientist or scholar? The truth of the matter is that no one is good, no, not one person.
The central claim of justification by faith alone is that simply by trusting in Christ alone, God gives bad people a completely new start. He takes our file folder full of failure, our file full of envy and lust and drunkenness and malice and bitterness – past, present, and future, and He puts it in the file of Christ who went to the cross for it all, where every single page has huge bloody, red stamp that reads “Paid in Full”, and then in our file, there is page after page that reads: perfectly obedient, perfect son, perfect daughter, perfect father, perfect mother, perfect brother, perfect sister, perfect friend, perfect man, perfect woman. And the promise of the gospel is that this is not merely a legal fiction, not merely God saying things that sound nice but are not actually true. No, because by faith, by this grace, this new life takes root and begins to grow and produce that very same fruit with the promise that it will come to pass – the perfection declared is a perfection that will be accomplished.
And this means that by God’s grace, through faith, we cannot ultimately fail, we cannot ultimately lose. The world is ours; our debts are paid; we are free to live, to explore, to invent, to invest, to buy, to sell, to create, to build, to bake, and to love. What will you fear? No man, no wicked rules, no unjust taxation, no tyrant’s threats, no sin in your life, no brokenness in your family, no harm, no evil, no danger, no death. Christ has set us free. This is a message of political, economic, social, and cosmic freedom. If Christ has set us free, then we are free indeed.