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Faith Alone

I am taking a church history class and have been so blessed by studying the Reformation again. I remember the first time I studied the Reformation in my undergrad ten years ago. It was life changing. In that class, the Lord opened my eyes to understand true Christian faith. I realized faith is not simply believing God exists. It is not some self-discovery or inner peace. Faith is not even about calling yourself a Christian or going to church.

Rather, as John Calvin puts it, faith is “a firm and sure knowledge of God’s favor toward us, based on the truth of a free promise in Christ, revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” The knowledge involved in faith is not merely an intellectual act. Faith is about who we know. Faith knows God. It personally knows of God’s character as a loving father. It is sure of his love because he sent his Son to die.

In my undergrad class, I went from a student memorizing a list of divine attributes to a child who loved her father. God went from an abstract idea to someone I knew personally. As Calvin would put it, I had for the first time a “firm and sure knowledge of God’s favor towards me”. I became sure of his love because he sent his son for me. I had faith not based on myself, but “based on the truth of a free promise in Christ”.

I can’t express the impact the Reformers continue to have on me. Not because there is something magical in the Reformers. Rather, they never fail to show me the beauty of Christ. This time around, I got to read Martin Luther’s treatise, On Christian Liberty. Luther says faith is like a wedding ring.

By the wedding ring of faith he (Christ) shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride's. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned.

As a loving husband, Christ gives his life for the sake of saving his bride. He takes our sin. He takes our death. He takes them as if they were his own. Yet, the story doesn’t end there. By faith, we are promised to receive all that is Christ’s. Just as he took our sin and death upon himself, we receive his righteousness and eternal life as rightfully ours. As Luther says,

Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom.

This is the story of the gospel. One the Reformers loved to tell.

To this day, I remember one lecture from my undergrad class. We were going over Psalm 131 which reads, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” I was struck by the psalmist’s image. I wanted to be held by God’s arms like a weaned child. In fact, what struck me was not how much I wanted that kind of relationship with God. It was the sure knowledge that I already had it. I know now that this was not a work of my own doing. This was the work of God’s Spirit that revealed this truth to my mind and sealed it to my heart. It was a gift of faith.

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