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Just how important is it that we understand that we are justified through grace apart from works? Does it really matter all that much if we insert works into our understanding of salvation and its requirements? In Galatians 5:6-9, the Lives Transforming panel examines why it is so critical that we know and believe that we are justified through faith and faith alone.
Most off us are familiar with the idea that we are saved by grace. We know that we are incapable of saving ourselves through our own efforts, and that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ for our justification. We are saved by grace through faith. And yet, so often we find ourselves trying to add something to the equation, as if God needed our help in justifying us.
Our works are completely useless to save us. Our justification rests completely on our faith. Faith is not something you can do. Nor is it something you can feel. Faith stems from our belief, making it vitally important that we believe the truth that God has justified us by grace and counts us as righteous. We don’t need to add anything to be completely justified before God.
For the early church, the issue (or one of the main issues, anyway) was circumcision. Some within the church were falsely teaching new Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised and follow the Jewish law and customs. Paul exposed this as nonsense. Circumcision doesn’t justify us. Faith does.
The Lives Transforming panel digs into the teachings of such great theological minds as Martin Luther and John Calvin, adding modern insights from Dallas Theological Seminary to highlight the truth that we are justified by faith and faith alone. That faith, after it has justified us, then works itself out in love toward others. As important as it is to those around us, love isn’t what justifies us. Rather, it’s the result of the fact that we’ve already been justified through faith.
According to Luther, the whole life of a Christian is to be characterized by inward faith towards God and outward love towards others. Our inward faith is how we connect with God. The love that He then develops inside us is how we connect with the world around us. God doesn’t need our love. He does, in a sense, “need: our faith. People, on the other hand, don’t have any real use for our faith, but they do need our love.
Because we are completely righteous, not because of anything we have done, but because of God’s grace imparted to us through our faith, we are free to love others without expecting or demanding anything in return. When we keep our eyes on the fact that we have received justification as a free gift, we have no reason to lack anything in terms of our self worth. We don’t need to seek our value in other people or pursuits. We find our value in the fact that the God who created everything counts us as righteous.
The biggest problem that comes in when we start adding anything to this truth and making the equation faith plus anything else is that, even if the error seems relatively small and inconsequential, it inevitably leads to a very ugly place doctrinally speaking. Once we add anything beyond faith to the requirement for being justified before God, we suddenly are faced with having to rely on our own performance. This completely undermines the entire purpose of the Gospel.
It can seem frustrating when it feels like we are not seeing much difference in our lives as we walk with God. In God’s eyes, however, changes which may seem small or slow to us, are in reality very significant. Even when we experience the sorrow which results from sin, God counts it as a beautiful thing, a “delicious despair” in the words of Luther, as these are the very things which cause us to draw near to God and to rely on grace alone through faith alone.