Faith: The Only Way to Be Saved
Passage: Philippians 3:1–11
How can you fill your life with joy? First, completely abandon making yourself righteous before God. Second, completely embrace Christ’s righteousness as a gift.
How many of you have prepared a resume? That whole process can make you feel really vulnerable. You work hard at recording all your jobs while highlighting skills and experiences that are relevant to the job for which you are applying. Then you give it to someone who is going to look it over and weigh whether you are a good fit. They judge whether you are worthy and have done enough. Afterwards, they will decide if you should get the job. They might tell you that you don’t have enough experience or that they are going in a different direction. They may ask you questions about it, “It seems you had really short tenures at a couple jobs? What’s that about? It seems you didn’t move up much at this company?”
Perhaps sometimes we wish we could have someone else’s resume. If you could have Bill Gates’ resume when applying for a tech job, that would be awesome. You could have way more confidence. People would immediately recognize your name and be impressed. Or maybe you want a home remodeling job. If you could hand in Chip and Joanna Gaines’ resume, you’d be set. Maybe we think, “Man, they would never have a problem finding a job. Everyone would recognize them right away and they have such a good resume.”
Today, we are in our third message in a five part series called “Five Truths About Salvation.” This year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation so we are taking time to learn about the five truths at the heart of it. These truths state that salvation is 1) by grace alone 2) through faith alone 3) in Christ alone 4) revealed in Scripture alone 5) for God’s glory alone. These are called the five “solas.” “Sola” means “alone” or “only” in Latin. The “alone” is very important, as we will especially see today.
So far, we have heard of Martin Luther’s stand against the authority of popes and church councils, arguing that Scripture alone is the #1 authority for our knowledge of salvation. Last week, we heard how Martin Luther never felt like he was doing enough to be made right with God. His resume was never good enough. He finally found relief when he discovered his right standing before God was by grace alone. A worthy resume with God is totally a gift. Luther wasn’t the source of his right standing before God. The source of salvation is completely from God.
This week, we are talking about the way we become saved. How do we receive salvation? What do we need to do to be saved? How do we get a perfect resume? The answer that Martin Luther and others gave was: through faith alone. Faith in Christ is the only action necessary to be right with God.
To get a deeper understanding, we will be looking at Philippians chapter 3, verses 1 through 11. The big question this passage answers is: how can you fill your life with joy? How can you fill your life with joy?
Before we answer that big question, let’s talk about how faith alone played a part in the Protestant Reformation
Faith Alone and the Protestant Reformation
In order to understand why Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and other reformers in the 16th century put so much emphasis on faith alone, we need to understand what they were reacting against in the Roman Catholic Church. I spent three hours this week over at St. Mary’s talking to a few of their staff members to make sure I had this right.
In Martin Luther’s day and still today, the Catholic Church believes that justification is by grace through faith. But not by faith alone. What do they teach? Luther was brought up believing that for God to “justify” someone meant to “make” them righteous. “Justification” is a process whereby over time you are made righteous.
How does God make us righteous? For the Catholic Church, God gives you grace and you need to do your best. You have to cooperate with God’s grace in order to become righteous. God gives grace, but you need to do something with it.
How do you get God’s grace into your life? Through the sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, the Eucharist, confession, and so forth. Baptism initiates you into your justification - into being made righteous - by giving you God’s grace. Then you do good works to cooperate with that grace and you receive more grace through the other sacraments like taking the Eucharist and going to confession. These give you more grace in your life and are imparting spiritual life to you. The sacraments always give you grace unless you are knowingly breaking one of God’s commands. But you need to cooperate with the grace. As you do so, you are made righteous.
Let me make something really clear. I’d actually suggest you write this down because I think it is a really common misconception about Catholics that isn’t true. Catholics do not believe you can be saved by works alone apart from God. Catholics do not believe you can be saved by works alone apart from God. They do not believe that if you just do enough, you will be saved. They do not believe that a human can be made right with God apart from God’s grace. Our good works are not enough to save us. Catholics believe everyone needs God’s grace. You, as a guilty sinner, cannot make yourself right with God on your own.
Only with God’s grace do our good works make us righteous. Because of his grace, he looks upon our good works as meriting us justification. Don’t tell Catholics they believe they are saved by their works. It isn’t true. They believe their works contribute to their salvation. But they do not believe works will save them apart from God’s grace.
In sum, the Catholic Church teaches that if you want to be righteous before a holy God, you need to be made righteous. In order to be made righteous, you need to receive God’s grace through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. But then you need to do your best and work with God’s grace in order to be made righteous over time. God’s grace plus your good works makes you righteous. “Justification” is a lifelong process and you may even spend time in purgatory to complete it before you are allowed in God’s presence. All of this is a gift from God flowing from his grace.
We learned last week how distraught Martin Luther was about this process. He carried with him a sense of dread, anxiousness, and foreboding doom because he always felt like he fell short of doing his part. Therefore he was always a condemned sinner in the presence of a just and holy God.
Luther discovered that when the Bible talks about “justification”, it doesn’t mean to make someone righteous but to declare someone righteous. Justification isn’t progressive but is a one time event. It isn’t a process but a status that God gives to unrighteous sinners as a gift. So how do you get it? Through faith alone. God offers us a gift and we accept that gift through faith. We trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and in his finished work on the cross for our righteousness. You don’t have to do anything for it. You don’t have to do good works. You don’t have to work with God’s grace. You don’t have to do your best. You simply receive your righteous status through faith alone.
How did the Catholic Church in Luther’s day respond to this? Not good. Protestants were denying a lot in saying we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. First, you don’t need the sacraments. How do you receive God’s gift of righteousness? You don’t need baptism or the Eucharist or confession. You just need faith. Second, you don’t need good works. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus. Not grace plus works and not faith plus works. Even though you continue to sin, God views you as righteous because of what Christ has done. The Catholic Church rejected this. You need good works to be righteous before God and it is a process over time. You bring something to the table.
The Reformation started with Martin Luther and his 95 Theses in 1517 and much discussion and debate occurred. In 1541, there was a discussion between prominent Catholics and Protestants where they tried to heal some of the divide. Actually, they landed on a definition of justification that leaned in the Protestant direction but eventually the discussion broke down. From 1545 to 1563, the Catholic Church created a council that met in Trent, Italy. When the Council of Trent came to a final decision about the matters of justification, they declared that anyone who holds to justification by faith alone apart from any requirement to co-operate with God’s grace to obtain justification, is accursed. In other words, they are excommunicated from the church and damned to hell. They also said anyone who claims you can be justified by faith alone without the sacraments of the Catholic Church is damned to hell.
So there you have it. This truth about salvation we are talking about today was officially rejected and condemned by the Catholic Church a little under 500 years ago.
In resume terms, the Catholic Church teaches that you need to build your resume. God extends grace and you need to work with that grace by doing your best and that builds your resume. When you die, if your resume isn’t complete you will need to spend time in purgatory until it is perfect. Then you will be able to enter heaven.
Let’s turn to Philippians chapter 3 to see what Scripture has to say about this topic.
Remember, the big question this passage answers is: how can you fill your life with joy?
The apostle Paul says in verse 1:
1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (Philippians 3:1)
Paul is commanding them to rejoice in the Lord. Be glad in Jesus. Be filled with joy in your Lord, Jesus Christ. Usually we think of commands as, “Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Give money to the poor. Help others.” Here, he is pushing them to be happy and joyful. He says he has talked to them about this before but he isn’t bothered that he is writing it again and actually it keeps them safe. It safeguards them. Against what?
In verse 2 he warns them about the danger from which they need to be kept safe:
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. (Philippians 3:2)
3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— (Philippians 3:3)
Who are the dogs, the evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh? Paul taught that justification is through faith alone. Paul spread the good news that through trusting in Christ, you can be in right standing with God. Through faith alone in Christ, you can be declared righteous in God’s law court.
However, there were some Jews in Paul’s day who said, “No, you need more than just faith in Christ if you want to be righteous. You need to obey the Law in the Old Testament.” Many places Paul went, he encountered these opponents whom today we call “Judaizers”. They were Jewish people who said that non-Jewish people basically needed to become Jewish. One of the markers of the Jewish people was circumcision. They would say, “If these people are going to really be part of God’s people, they need to follow all the Old Testament Laws and they especially need to be circumcised.”
Well, we can see how Paul feels about these people. He calls them dogs and evil doers. They want people to be circumcised, but Paul just calls this mutilating the flesh.
Why shouldn’t they give into these people? Because, Paul says, “we are the circumcision.” Circumcision was the marker of God’s people in the Old Testament, but Paul flips the tables here. Paul and his readers are the circumcision. They already are God’s people. Whether they are physically circumcised are not. What are the marks of the people of God now?
First, he says, they worship by the Spirit of God. This isn’t talking about how we gather in worship and sing songs. This is referring to worship with our lives. It means we serve and live for God by the power of his Spirit. We don’t serve God by our own power.
Second, they glory in Christ Jesus. “Glory” could also be translated as “boast.” The people of God boast in Christ Jesus. It’s another way of saying you trust and put your confidence in Christ.
Third, they put no confidence in the flesh. Since they serve by the power of the Spirit and boast in Christ Jesus, they put no confidence in themselves - in what their flesh can do.
This passage is all about joy. Paul has set up a contrast. There are people who put confidence in themselves to be made right with God but the true people of God boast in Jesus Christ - their confidence is in him. In the remaining verses, Paul will answer our big question by explaining how he has tried these two approaches to being made right with God in his life.
Answering the Big Question (3:4-11)
Paul puts no confidence in the flesh, but in verse 4 he says:
4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
Basically Paul says, “If we are going to compare resumes, mine is far better. In a stack of resumes, mine would be put at the top above everyone else’s as the most prominent candidate.” If being made right with God is about how impressive our own resumes are, then Paul’s is pretty unbeatable. The items on his resume are all things the Judaizers would have valued. If righteousness before God is about what we bring to the table, Paul has good reason for confidence because he has a lot to bring.
But look at what he says in verse 7:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Philippians 3:7-9)
So Paul has this impressive resume from a human perspective, but counts it all as loss. He is willing to forfeit it all. He is willing to give it all up. Why? Because of Christ. Indeed, he even counts everything, not just his resume, as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. He is willing to give up everything. Why? Because knowing Jesus is better than all of it.
He goes on to say that for Jesus’ sake he has suffered the loss of all things and counts it all as rubbish. Rubbish is a pretty tame translation. Really he says he counts it as dung, refuse, excrement. He values it as a pile of crap. Why does he value everything so lowly? Because of how valuable Christ is! In comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, everything else is dung. He has given up everything else in order that he may gain Christ.
He also says, in verse 9, that he gives up all things in order that he may be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of his own but a righteousness from God through faith. Being found in Christ means he is united with Jesus. What is true of Jesus is true of him. Jesus’ righteous status gets applied to Paul. So Paul can throw away that old resume that he built himself. He forfeits it. He doesn’t want it anymore. He counts it as a pile of crap. Why? Because he is found righteous in Christ. His righteousness does not come from him but from God.
If you put your faith in Jesus - if you trust in him as your Lord - a great exchange takes place. Your resume - with all your sin, all your selfishness, all your imperfections, all your shortcomings - gets given to Jesus. Our resume isn’t just our good stuff but our bad stuff as well. When you are applying for a job, you make it look as good as you can and leave out the bad stuff. But God doesn’t need to call references to find the dirt on you. He knows it all. At the cross, Jesus took upon himself what your resume gets you: death and separation from God. In God’s law court, your resume would be evaluated by God and earn you condemnation.
So when we trust in Christ, we exchange our resume of sin for his resume of righteousness. When you trust in Christ, you are found in him. God looks at you and sees Christ’s righteousness. God holds it out as a gift. He says, “You are guilty and condemned because of your sin. But you can be forgiven and declared righteous. All you must do is trust in Jesus and what he has done for you.” Through faith alone, we can be made right with God. How are we saved? Not by our works by through faith alone.
The big question this passage answers is: how can you fill your life with joy? There are two answers.
First, completely abandon making yourself righteous before God. Completely abandon making yourself righteous before God. Take your resume of your accomplishments, your good deeds, your generosity, your church attendance and flush it down the toilet. It is worth nothing when it comes to making you righteous before a holy God.
Second, completely embrace Christ’s righteousness as a gift. Completely embrace Christ’s righteousness as a gift. Put your confidence in Jesus and his resume. Receive it as a gift through faith. Don’t put your confidence in yourself and what you can do. Put your confidence in Jesus Christ. Boast in him. Boast in what he has done on your behalf not on what you have done.
This is what it means to have faith. Faith includes believing that Jesus died for our sins AND trusting in Jesus as a person - as our Lord. We too often can reduce it to the first, “yeah I believe that Jesus died for my sins.” But that isn’t enough. That is accepting a fact. You also need to put your faith in him as a person. You need to trust Jesus. Faith means you are looking outside of yourself. It means you are putting your confidence in someone else.
One of the best illustrations of this is a trust fall. How many of you know what a trust fall is? In a trust fall, one person stands behind another. The person in front is crosses their arms on their chest and falls straight backwards. They have to trust the person behind them will catch them. They have to trust the person behind them will catch them. Faith means we completely abandon all our efforts to make ourselves right with God. We “trust fall” into Jesus and his righteousness on our behalf.
Why would we want to hand in our own resume any way? When you stand before the holy, awesome God of the universe, will you really feel that bringing forth your list of good things you have done can measure up? We will all feel a deep sense of inadequacy before God and will know that there is nothing within us that could ever measure up and if we are going to be declared righteous in his sight that it will necessarily have to come from somewhere besides us.
Know that Jesus is the only one who can make you righteous in God’s sight. Your resume can’t. Only his resume can. You are completely dependent on him if you want to be righteous instead of guilty.
And yet, we continually look inside ourselves to make ourselves right with God. We want to make ourselves righteous. We look at what we have done and either feel prideful or despair. We compare ourselves to others to feel more righteous and like we deserve salvation more than the next. Trying to make ourselves righteous isn’t a Catholic problem. It’s a human problem. We look within ourselves to do what only God can do.
It’s usually really hard for people to do the “trust fall” exercise for the first time. They are really nervous and keep looking back to see if the person is there. They keep asking, “You’re going to catch me, right? You aren’t going to let me fall, right?” The reason is because you are completely relying on another person to not let you fall on the ground. Sometimes people go up on a platform so they are five feet in the air and fall back into the arms of a group of people. The stakes are even higher. Spiritually, we stand at the brink of hell. And we are nervous about letting someone else keep us from falling into the pit where the fire will not be quenched. And we continually ask Jesus, “You’re going to catch me, right? You aren’t going to let me fall in condemnation in hell, right?” There is great relief when you fall backwards and are caught.
Notice what this passage is telling us about joy. There is a direct relationship between your joy and the one you trust for your righteousness. If you put high confidence in yourself for your right standing before God, your joy is going to be low. If you put high confidence in Jesus for your right standing before God, your joy is going to be high. High confidence in self, low joy. High confidence in Jesus, high joy. When we let ourselves fall into Jesus’ arms to catch us and we put full confidence in his resume for our right standing before God, there is great joy to be had.
We need to believe that God is both good and great. When he promises to save us, his goodness assures us he will keep his promise. He is will catch us in the trust fall. We aren’t saved by our good works but by his goodness to keep his promises. When he promises to save us, his greatness assures us he is powerful enough to do so. It doesn’t do us much good if the person catching us in the trust fall isn’t strong enough to hold us up. God is powerful enough to do it. We aren’t saved by the strength of our faith but by the strength of the one we are looking to.
Here’s a question to ask yourself this week: What are you trusting in for a right standing with God that you need to count as garbage? Then, thank Jesus for giving you a right standing with God. Thank him for his resume. You don’t need to build yours. You just have to trust him and rest in his righteousness.
Faith Alone and Roman Catholics Today
The Catholic Church no longer views Protestants as damned sinners but as estranged brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet, the major differences still exist. Protestants believe salvation is both a status and a process. Roman Catholics believe it is all process. We believe that we are already declared righteous in God’s sight but we are not yet perfectly holy. God is progressively growing us to be more and more like Jesus even while we enjoy his righteous status in God’s sight. Catholics believe it is all not yet: I’m not yet righteous.
Both Protestants and Catholics believe works are a necessary part of salvation. The difference is that Catholics believe works are a necessary contribution to our salvation. We believe that works are a necessary product of our salvation.
There is a process to the Christian life and there is work for us to do. Paul makes that clear. He is enjoying standing in the righteousness God has given, but he also knows he is in process. Look at verse 10. Paul gives up all things in order:
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)
Paul knows, because he is found in Christ, that he has already been given the status of righteous in God’s sight. But because he is not yet perfect, he wants to grow to become more like Jesus. He presses forward because Christ has made him his own.
Because of these differences, the Catholic Church has gotten the gospel wrong or at least they lack the fullness of the gospel. The gospel is the good news of God’s radical grace in giving us justification. Though we are ungodly sinners, God declares us righteous even when we are not all because of what Christ has done. That was a scandalous message in the apostle Paul’s day and it still is today. The gospel is better news than what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
The big question we are answering is: how can you fill your life with joy? First, completely abandon making yourself righteous before God. Second, completely embrace Christ’s righteousness as a gift.
Trying to making ourselves righteous is a problem we all have. The tendency in the human heart is to boast in ourselves. We want to find something within ourselves that gives us a right standing before God. Our goal when we talk to Catholics or anybody isn’t to make them Protestant. Our goal is to introduce people to Jesus. Our religious labels and church associations aren’t what make us righteous. That’s just resume building. Only Jesus can make us righteous.
If you want to have the greatest joy in life, receive the greatest gift you’ll ever be given: a righteousness not your own but given by God as a gift.