Offended by Faith
Joanna, Mary, and Salome, Myrrhbearers
3 August 2018
Everyone is offended these days. As long as the mantle of offense surrounds our indignation we are free to be as extreme as we want about it, like the man that testified before a west coast city council about how offended he felt that trees were being tortured by being pruned by city works crews. Because he played the trump card of offense, he not only was not laughed out of the council chambers, but listened to respectfully, wasting the council's time; time that should have been used on the people's business. Unfortunately, outrage rather than reason controls public discourse today. Yet, people have always tried to trump the truth by taking offense to it. Martin Luther faced this when people called into question his simple and elegant translation of Rm 3:28, in which he used the words, "by faith alone."
 
Perhaps there is a value in taking of offense. It tells us what the offended person holds dear, such as the pain felt by tortured trees. However, one does wonder why infants in the womb tortured by abortion are never worthy of such indignation. In Luther's day there was great outrage and indignation levied against his contention that if justification by faith without works was to mean anything at all, it must be justification by faith alone. The phrase "by faith alone" was wielded by Luther to clearly distinguish the divine doctrine of justification from all intrusions and additions of the law to the preaching of the gospel. It was a kind of methodological razor to separate the truth from falsehood. If we posit that faith alone saves, it must by definition cut works away from justification in the presence of God. If faith in Christ alone saves it simplifies the way of salvation to slice away the contention that works must be added to faith for faith to be truly genuine. There is a profound simplicity to the teaching that faith alone saves.
 
This is not the simplicity of the dullard, however. For example, some opponents of the Lutheran position on justification have argued that justification by faith is a kind of "fideism" that excludes Christ from justification by encouraging faith in faith. However, the faith that is alone is alone in Christ. Faith must always have a proper object, a thing that it grasps or receives. The object of faith alone is Christ. Faith alone is of no value if it does not grasp Christ and His word as Savior. Christ Himself invites our faith: "Believe also in me" (Jn 14:1). Faith that saves is alone because it is in no way by works and it is entirely in Christ alone. That same faith alone in Christ is also the cause of the life of good works that must spring from it. Faith bears the fruit of holy life and obedience not vice versa. In this sense, faith alone saves, but faith is never alone. If we are truly offended by faith alone, then we should also be offended when Paul excludes our works from justification in the presence of God by the famous exclusive phrases: "without the works of the law," etc.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"When, in Rm 3:28 I inserted the word solum (alone), actually the text itself and the meaning of St. Paul urgently require and demand it. For in that very passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the law. And Paul cuts away all works so completely, as even to say that the works of the law-though it is God's law and word-do not help us for justification (Rm 3:20). He cites Abraham as an example and says that he was justified so entirely without works that even the highest work-which, moreover, had been newly commanded by God, over and above all other works and ordinances, namely circumcision-did not help him for justification; rather he was justified without circumcision and without any works, by faith, as he says in Rm 4:2, 'If Abraham was justified by works, he may boast, but not before God.' But when all works are so completely cut away-and that must mean that faith alone justifies-whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of works will have to say, 'Faith alone justifies us, and not works.' The matter itself, as well as the nature of the language, demands it.
 
"'But,' they say, 'it has an offensive sound, and people infer from it that they need not do any good works.' Land, what are we to say? Is it not much more 'offensive' that St. Paul himself does not use the term 'faith alone,' but spells it out even more bluntly, and puts the finishing touches on it by saying, 'Without the works of the law'? And in Gal 2:16 and many other places he says, 'Not by the works of the law,' for the expression 'faith alone' is susceptible of another interpretation, but the phrase 'without the works of the law' is so blunt, offensive, and scandalous that no amount of interpreting can help it. How much more might people learn from this 'that they need not do any good works,' when they hear this preaching about the works themselves put in such plain, strong words, 'No works,' 'without works,' 'not by works'! If it is not 'offensive' to preach, 'without works,' 'no works,' 'not by works,' why should it be 'offensive' to preach, 'by faith alone'?
 
"And what is still more 'offensive,' St. Paul is here rejecting not just ordinary works, but 'works of the law.' Now someone could easily take offense at that all the more and say that the law is condemned and accursed before God, and we ought to be doing nothing but evil-as they did in Rm 3:8, 'Why not do evil that good may come?' This is the very thing that one factious spirit (Thomas Müntzer) began to do in our time. Are we to deny Paul's word on account of such 'offense,' or stop speaking out freely about faith? Land, St. Paul and I want to give such offense; we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that the people may be offended, stumble, and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they are not saved by their good works but only by Christ's death and resurrection. Now if they cannot be saved by the good works of the law, how much less shall they be saved by bad works, and without the law! For this reason it does not follow that because good works do not help, therefore bad works do help, any more than it follows that because the sun cannot help a blind man to see, night and darkness must, therefore, help him to see."

Martin Luther, On Translating: An Open Letter
Romans 4:1-14

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
 
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. (ESV)
Prayer
O Holy Spirit, keep us from being offended by the teaching that faith alone saves. Free us from our law-bound presuppositions that would always harness faith to works. Keep our faith focused in Christ alone, that we might be justified by faith alone. Amen.
 
For all the lost sheep of the house of Israel, who are searching for the flock of God's people, that they might be found by the good Shepherd and brought into a church home where the gospel is preached and the sacraments rightly administered
 
For Joanna Karner, that the Lord would be with her as she lives her life under His gracious care
 
For all those who are involved in the growth of commerce, that in the midst of their blessings they might confess that their true treasure is Christ
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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