by Mike Ratliff1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1 ESV) Not everyone who claims the name of “Christian” is truly part of the genuine Church. Many of those claimants see Christianity as simply a religion and their religiosity within it as that which assuages their guilty consciences that condemn them for their fleshly lifestyles. Others strive with their entire being to do good and not sin while being very active in their churches. In this they believe that they are in the “group” that God will accept and proclaim righteous. There are others who believe that they are Christians because at some point in the past they “asked Jesus to come into their life or heart.” However, they were taught that that “act of faith” is all that Jesus requires of them. They are now “saved” and should not doubt their salvation. In the late 15th and early 16th Centuries Martin Luther was a very well educated monk in an Augustinian order in Germany. He deeply desired to have assurance of his salvation, but all that he was taught told him to be religious, to be obedient to the demands of the Church in Rome, to obey the Pope and that was all he needed. However, he had a problem.The following is an excerpt from a sermon my John A. Broadus from the late 19th Century. The sermon is titled: Let us have peace with God.
“It is nearly four centuries ago now, that a young professor from the north of Germany went to Rome. He was a man of considerable learning and versatile mind. Yet he did not go to Rome to survey the remains of antiquity or the treasures of modern art. He went to Rome because he was in trouble about his sins and could find no peace. Having been educated to regard Rome as the centre of the Christian world, he thought he would go to the heart of things and see what he could there find. He had reflected somewhat at home, and had talked with other men more advanced than himself, on the thought that the just shall live by faith; but still that thought had never taken hold of him. We read—some of you remember the story quite well—how one day, according to the strange ideas that prevailed and still prevail at Rome, he went climbing up a stairway on his knees, pausing to pray on every step, to see if hat would not help him about his sins. Then, as he climbed slowly up he seemed to hear a voice echoing down the stairway, “The just shall live by faith; the just shall live by faith.” And so he left alone his dead works, he arose from his knees and went down the stairway to his home to think about that great saying: “The just shall live by faith.””“It is no wonder that with such an experience, and such a nature, Martin Luther should have lived to shake the Christian world with the thought that justification by faith is the great doctrine of Christianity, “the article of a standing or a falling church.” It is no wonder that John Wesley, rising up with living earnestness, when England was covered with a pall of spiritual death, should have revived the same thought—justification by faith.” – John A. Broadus
How are believers, then, justified by faith if it isn’t simply a religious act? What is this faith? From where does it come? It begins with the truth, God’s enduring Word.22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for“All flesh is like grassand all its glory like the flower of grass.The grass withers,and the flower falls,25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 1:22-25; 2:1-3 ESV) God’s truth never changes. College textbooks on subjects such as Chemistry, Archeology, Biology, Medicine, etc. have to change constantly because the “truths” in them are constantly being updated or changed. However, the truth from God’s Word never changes. It remains forever. Therefore, when people believe God’s truth they can be assured that that truth will always be the truth. Of course, there are countless cults out there that take God’s truth and impress upon it their own religious beliefs coming up with a version of it that is no longer the truth, but when we rightly divide God’s word, never impressing upon it views that are man made, we will know what the truth is. People can believe it and God works in their hearts according to His will through it. Those whose hearts are regenerated by God as the Good News from God’s Word was preached to them are called to be conformed to the image of Christ, to put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. They are new creations whose regenerate hearts long for the pure spiritual milk from God’s Word. By consuming it they will grow up to salvation. Again, not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. Those who really are have tasted that the Lord is good. The rest have not and, therefore, are not genuine Christians.4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,“The stone that the builders rejectedhas become the cornerstone,”8 and“A stone of stumbling,and a rock of offense.”They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV) Jesus Christ was the living stone rejected by men. However, to God the Father, He was chosen and precious. Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of their Sins as they submit to the Lordship Jesus Christ, are regenerated by God. They are growing from this new creation as living stones that fit together in the Body of Christ, the True Church, as a spiritual house. They are also to be a holy priesthood that will serve and minister to their Lord for eternity. Their lives as living sacrifices are acceptable sacrifices to God through their Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 12:1-2) All who believe on Him, the precious chief cornerstone, will not be put to shame because their sins are forgiven. They are God’s precious children who have believed the truth and become one in spirit with the Son. However, those who have not believed the truth are still in their sins. They have rejected Christ as their Lord and Saviour, but they are not aware that the one they have rejected is on the throne right now, ruling and reigning His Kingdom. He is the cornerstone, but to those who have rejected Him, He is the stone of stumbling, a rock of offense. God destined these to eternal punishment because of their disobedience and unbelief. Judgment on unbelief is as divinely appointed as salvation by faith. (Romans 9:22; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16)Those in Christ are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Christ bought them with His blood. Why? He did this so that they may proclaim the Excellencies of the Father who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. (Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13) All who are in the light now were formerly in darkness. They have received mercy in their regeneration through which they were made able to believe. They now have faith through which they live. They are now the just who live by faith.11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV)
“Peter points out here that no believer is completely perfect and pure. Some think this passage refers only to sinners. As if believers don’t have any evil desires. But study Scripture carefully and take note: On one hand, the prophets sometimes speak of believers as if they were pure in every respect. On the other hand, they also speak of them as still having evil desires and struggling against sin. Some people cannot get comfortable with both truths. So look at Christians as having two parts—the inner being, which is faith, and the outer being, which is the sinful nature. If you look at Christians only according to faith, they appear pure and totally clean, for the Word of God finds nothing impure in them. When faith enters a person’s heart and the heart accepts it, the Word makes it completely clean. Therefore, all things are perfect in faith, and we are kings, priests, and God’s people. But because faith lives in us and we still live on earth, we at times feel evil inclinations, such as impatience, fear of death, and so on. These are sill short-comings of the sinful nature, for faith doesn’t yet have full power over our outer being.”“In Luke 10:30-37, a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers who beat him and left him lying half-dead. Later, a Samaritan bound his wounds, took him, and had him cared for. Because this man was being taken care of, hw was no longer deathly ill and was sure to live. He had life, but he didn’t have complete health. In the same way, we have Christ and we are certain of eternal life, but we don’t yet enjoy total health. Some of our evil desires still remain with us. – Martin Luther
As we see, Martin Luther made much spiritual progress after leaving Rome from his pilgrimage. He no longer believed the lie that religion is the answer for our sin problem. Instead, he knew that the just shall live by faith and they can do so because they are New Creations whose hearts are brand new and capable of living that way. This is why we must never stop preaching the truth from God’s Enduring Word about the Living Stone through whom God’s chosen people receive mercy by being drawn from darkness to His marvelous light to become His Holy people. Soli Deo Gloria!