As Lutherans we summarize our beliefs with three phrases: FAITH ALONE, GRACE ALONE, and SCRIPTURE ALONE. That’s Lutheran. But what do we mean when we say that we are saved by FAITH ALONE?
First, we need to understand what faith is. Perhaps you have heard someone say, “Keep the faith!” or “You’ve got to have faith!” Those expressions equate faith with optimism. When people say those things, they view faith as a warm feeling that “everything will be okay.” Is that the way the Bible uses the word faith? Is that what we mean when we teach that we are saved through “faith alone”? Not at all.
If faith isn’t just an optimistic hope that everything will be okay, then what is it? What does the Bible mean by faith? Paul tells us everything we need to know about faith when he writes, “[I do not have] a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Paul tells us what faith is and what faith does.
Saving faith is “in Christ.” Faith is trust in Jesus Christ and his work.
What does faith do? It receives Christ’s righteousness. You can think of faith like an organ of the body. Through your eyes you receive visual images. Through your ears you receive sound. Through your nose, smells. And through your faith you receive God’s righteousness.
What is righteousness? Another way to describe righteousness is “holy perfection.” God tells us that we receive holy perfection though faith. But no one has such perfection, except Jesus Christ. When we believe, God gives us the holy perfection, or righteousness, of Jesus. Faith is the organ that receives this great gift from God.
Therefore, when we teach that we are saved through FAITH ALONE, we are teaching that we need only Christ’s righteousness to be saved.
The whole Bible says the same thing. We find it in the Old Testament: “Abram believed [that is, he had faith in] the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Jesus teaches the same thing. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him [that is, has faith in him] shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus does not say, “Whoever believes and tries his hardest to be a good person . . .” He says, “Whoever believes.”
Our salvation depends on Christ’s righteousness, that is, his holy perfection, given to us through faith. Jesus taught FAITH ALONE. And, therefore, so do we.