8 For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works,
so that no one may boast.
Reformation focused on Scripture (inspired, infallible, inerrant) as the ultimate authority in maters of faith, not tradition. Jesus Christ is the ultimate power as God and also human through the incarnation. He was the God/man. All others people are mortals. Jesus Christ has the power to save. Saints, living and living eternally, have the power to stand with us in prayer but they do not save us. So today we come to our third point of tension and controversy, the role of faith and works.
One of the spiritual practices at the time of Luther was the selling and buying of indulgences and the honoring of relics. It was believed that an indulgence could remove years in purgatory, between heaven and hell. Saying a certain number of prayers honoring a relic also removed years in purgatory. Luther struggled to find a loving God and not an angry God who had to be appeased and for whom the human was always trying to do enough good works. For many of us we live in the tension of faith and works. The book of James tackles this tension because faith without works is dead but works alone without relationship with God is just being a do-gooder. Luther had an epiphany when he read Romans 1:16-17,
“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith”
Hebrews 11 is called the “Faith Chapter” as it goes through the lives of the heroes of the Bible of every generation who lived by faith. The author defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews (11:1).” After reading about the men of faith, the author concludes “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better (verse 39).”
At Halloween the tradition of giving candy to children was originally a way of appeasing spirits who might be looking to do you harm. Good works appeased spiritual wrath. Luther would say no. Good works are products of our love for a God who saves us. We give candy out of love and not out of fear.
The image that has helped me put my limited mind around this great foundational concept is electricity. Electricity runs through our house and cannot be seen but can be experienced at heat in the stove, as sound from the radio, and as light from the bulb. We talk about God as a Trinity but One. All are experiences of electricity. Faith is the switch turning on and tuning into each aspect of electricity, connecting us with God. It is Christ who saves but it is faith that accesses that truth. Perhaps let us look at Hebrews 11 and choose just one hero that inspires you. What inspires you by this person’s life? Spend a moment in prayer to talk with God about that characteristic in your life.