Here are some items from church this morning:
A. The Sunday school class covered Romans 4. The teacher explained three solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Fide. We are saved by God’s grace alone, and the means that we receive it is faith alone. Faith is given by the Holy Spirit through Scripture alone. Scripture, in short, contains the content of the Christian’s faith: what the Christian believes. The last one can inspire questions. Did not people have faith prior to Scripture? In those cases, they accepted as true the divine revelation that they had. Abraham trusted God’s promise to him that he would have a son and God’s stated plan for the world. The teacher and the youth pastor commented that Abraham’s faith must have been a gift from God. Abraham not only lacked what Christians have—-Scripture, the church, etc.—-but he lacked a monotheistic religious background, as his parents worshiped idols.
B. God’s law points out our sin and our need for a savior, and God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the law: by God’s grace, received by the Christian through faith. Quoting Genesis 15:6, Paul observes that Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness. What does that mean? The teacher referred to analogies. When our credits are greater than our debits, are we then righteous? The youth pastor talked about credit cards: he takes them for granted until they are declined. Similarly, many Christians take God’s grace for granted, when they should keep somewhere in their mind that what they deserve is God’s rejection. A student said that, when we give credit to someone, we acknowledge what the person did; God, in this scenario, acknowledges that Abraham’s faith is righteous. The teacher had problems with these proposals. A credit card can be declined for insufficient funds, whereas the Christian’s salvation cannot be declined because the funds are unlimited, for they are based on what Christ, not the Christian, has done. The view that God acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous runs counter to the Christian idea that justification occurs based on what God has done, not what the believer has done. Plus, Paul’s view is that Abraham’s faith was how Abraham himself received righteousness; God not only acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous but imputes righteousness to Abraham himself, regarding Abraham as righteous rather than wicked.
C. The teacher contrasted justification by works with justification by grace through faith alone. Under justification by works, people have reason to boast: they do good deeds, and God responds by accepting them. God’s acceptance is a salary for the work that the person performs; God obligates himself under the law to reward the person who does good. And, under a model of justification by works, God holds sin against people. A model of justification by grace through faith is different. Righteousness is a gift from God, not something that a person earns; a person is righteous and accepted by God, even though she has done nothing to deserve it. God specifically justifies the wicked. And, based on what Christ has done, sin is forgiven, covered, and never held against the believer.
D. Does being credited with righteousness change the believer? James affirms that faith without works is dead, so there is some change after the crediting. Righteousness is broader than justification and includes the Christian life. Yet, we need not do good works in order to be credited. It is not the case that we are changed such that we are no longer sinners, for God treats Christians as righteous, even though in reality they are sinners.
E. The pastor’s sermon talked about how salvation is a free gift. The pastor likened it to immigrants: those who come to the U.S. and declare their allegiance to it receive the benefits that America offers, whereas those merely passing through do not. This was ironic, since I was reading old Phyllis Schlafly Reports about how many illegal immigrants receive government benefits, even though their allegiance is not towards the United States. In terms of the analogy, I do not think that the pastor was sneaking works and obedience into his Gospel message of free grace, for he treated allegiance to the old identity as relying on one’s works, a desire to be rewarded. Still, salvation is belonging to Christ, in a state of allegiance to Christ, and that should influence what one values and how one lives.