by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario November 2007
"Justification by Faith Alone" was the watchword of the Reformation. The three key words are based on the New Testament, but taken apart from the richness of the Word of God each of them has landed us in confusion.
For five hundred years there have been attempts by both Roman Catholics and Protestants to avoid the implications of "Alone." Most agree that good works are not needed. But other requirements are slipped in. Baptism is required, a proper confession and absolution are means of assuring one’s place in heaven, there must be submission to some denomination, making a decision by holding up one’s hand or coming forward in a meeting, total faith or commitment is needed : all these with many variations are preached by zealous preachers.
Faith has been defined by philosophers in terms of certainty. We should not have doubts. But in the New Testament faith is simply a direction of looking. We look to the Father for the assurance of being loved unconditionally. We look to Jesus the Son of God for all that he offers freely. We look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and power to serve.
The English word "Justification" used in the King James Version was taken from the Latin translation of the Greek New Testament. It was a Roman law court word which meant that the person was proved legally free of guilt. Christians became obsessed with being freed from the guilt which otherwise would send us to hell. But the Greek words connected with the verb dikaioo had the simple meaning of being made right. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit undertake to put us right in all that we need to function as children of God.
Slogans are always dangerous. They do not help in the complexities of life. Better take the New Testament with all its checks and balances. It has the power to make our simple faith effective, and we find ourselves put right without any attempt to do this by our own efforts.