Martin Luther described saving faith as that “faith which throws itself on God.”

The protestant Reformation stands or falls on the doctrine of justification by faith. This article of faith is often called the “material” or content principle of biblical Christianity. As popularly defined, it teaches that God, on the sole condition of faith in Christ, receives me, a sinner, just as if I’d never sinned. That is not quite adequate because it suggests that in justification God brings us back into a kind of neutral relationship to himself. Better, it should read: on condition of faith, God receives me just as if I had never sinned but all along had always lived just as I ought.

God receives me with full and complete acceptance as his beloved child. In my own right I stand guilty before God—a rebellious sinner justly condemned by the righteous Judge of the universe. But God out of his infinite self-giving and forgiving love comes to me in Christ and accepts me, just as I am, into his fellowship. I do not even tremble; I stand unafraid in rapturous astonishment and unbounded gratitude, resting content in the promise of my faithful God and basking joyfully in his forgiving love.

Older theologians analyzed saving faith in terms of notitia (knowledge), assensus (intellectual assent), and fiducia (trust or personal commitment). To be saved in the biblical sense, we must know something—grasp certain ideas about ourselves and about God—namely, the good news of God’s abundant grace offered freely in Christ to humans lost in their sin and helpless to do anything to get themselves out of their predicament. We must also agree that these ideas are as a matter of fact true. And, not least, we must make an act of personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior from sin and as Lord of our lives. In biblical language this is an act of the heart, but modern English has so preempted the word heart to denote merely emotional response that it is better understood if we describe this as an act of the whole person: everything I am I commit to the safety of my gracious and loving Savior. All the great leaders of Protestant Christianity and many in other branches of Christendom (with more or less clarity) have witnessed to this central affirmation.

Martin Luther described saving faith as that “faith which throws itself on God.” His greatest protégé, John Calvin, with characteristic precision defined justification as “a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our mind and confirmed to our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.” And John Wesley wrote: “Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction, that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,’ but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that he loved me, and gave himself for me.

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The ancient quarrel over “faith alone” should never have risen. The biblical teaching is clear. We are saved on the condition of personal faith in Christ, and this is the only condition (“by faith apart from works of law”; Rom. 3:28 and Eph. 2:8). In the strictest biblical sense, we are not even saved by faith. We are saved by Christ. It is the work of God. God does not save us because we have been so good as to believe. Our faith is not the ground of our salvation. Rather, the ground of our salvation is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf offered freely to all who will accept it.

But the kind of faith that represents the biblical condition for salvation never stands alone in the human heart. True faith is always accompanied by the New Birth and by the initial sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. That is the point of the apostle James when he writes: “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). A mere intellectual faith that stands alone is the wrong kind of faith; that faith saves no one. But the right kind of faith—what the Bible calls saving faith—is a commitment of the whole person. By the power of the accompanying Holy Spirit it produces good fruit of sanctification.

These invariable results of the only kind of faith that saves, in turn, justify us before our fellow creatures and enable them to judge that we have truly exercised saving faith and been brought to life in Christ. Luther, stalwart defender of justification by faith alone, nonetheless writes: “Faith always justifies and makes alive, and yet it does not remain alone … it always justifies alone. But … it neither is nor remains idle or without love.” Jonathan Edwards put the matter simply and beautifully: “Men are not saved on account of any work of theirs, and yet they are not saved without works.”

Modern Roman Catholic theologians are widely divided in their understanding of this essential doctrine. Many still adhere to the ambiguities of the post-Reformation Council of Trent. Some, including the world-famous Karl Rahner and even more explicitly, Hans Küng, assert that we are not saved by our good works, or by faith considered as a good work by which we might merit justification. Küng even writes: “Justification occurs through faith alone.” Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer, adds: “Faith alone saves us … we on our part, have nothing to add to it.” Roman Catholic charismatics, drawing their faith directly from the wellsprings of Holy Scripture, tend to emphasize personal trust in Christ as the sole condition for salvation, although they do not always take care to bring other elements of their heritage into harmony with their new-found faith.

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Justification by faith or, as it is often put today, salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, is the true fundamental of biblical Christianity. That is not all to which the church is commanded to bear witness, but without this all else is lost. On Reformation Sunday 1980, October 26, the church would do well to honor our forefathers in the faith by preaching and teaching with renewed vigor and clarity this essential doctrine lying at the heart of biblical and historic Christianity.

Desmond Ford, brilliant Seventh-day Adventist theologian, stands under discipline of his denomination, and a pall of fear hangs heavily over many, especially the younger clergy, whom he has influenced during recent years. The issues at stake touch the essence of biblical Christianity: (1) What is the final authority for determining Christian teaching? and (2) How do sinful human beings find forgiveness and a right relationship to a holy God? Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists acknowledge Holy Scripture to be the final authority for discovering God and his truth. On this basis they vigorously teach the necessity for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath and condemn all bodies that reject this teaching, willfully choosing to worship on Sunday. Yet they also have accepted the teachings of Mrs. Ellen White as the authoritative and infallible interpretation of Scripture.

This ambiguity toward the sole authority of Scripture has brought to focus the second issue now troubling the denomination. Ford argues for the basic biblical and evangelical doctrine of justification by faith and the rejection of good works as a ground for divine forgiveness and acceptance. Most Adventist theologians, we are told, are in basic agreement with Dr. Ford, but they and their denominational leaders are unwilling to make the bold and dangerous move to set the denomination upon a solid biblical doctrine of justification by faith and to reaffirm unambiguously and firmly the sole authority of Scripture to determine the teaching and preaching of the church of Christ.

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This is not a time for pleasers of men. Adventists have won the admiration of evangelicals for their uncompromising witness to the truth as they see it, no matter what the cost.

We who look on from the outside can only express our deep concern and assure our Adventist friends of our earnest prayers. To us it seems a clear-cut choice between expediency and obedience to God. We commend to them the example of another defender of the sole authority of Scripture and of its precious gospel of salvation by grace through faith—Martin Luther. In a moment of destiny, with all the world looking on and pressing him to compromise his convictions (ever so slightly), the great Reformer uttered those noble words: “My conscience is bound in the Word of God: I can not and will not recant anything since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me!”

Of such stuff are heroes made—and the kingdom of God goes forward.

Television evangelism carries the gospel to audiences undreamed of short decades ago. But coast-to-coast television gobbles up huge amounts of money and places TV evangelists in a bind.

Nobody suggests they should ignore their financial needs, but lately, we believe, some television evangelists have been too strident in their appeals for money. The viewer looking for an excuse to reject the gospel has one ready made: the preachers are in it only for the money.

Not for a moment do we believe this charge is true—for most, at least. Ministers of the electronic church are predominantly good men of godly purpose. But the truth of the charge is beside the point. It is being made and people are listening. Granted, the secular press has not been noted for its charity toward gospel preachers; the cynical tone of the current press has become even more severe. Conscientious evangelists must therefore bend over backward to avoid offense in these matters.

There once was a man who gained worldwide significance as he built an astounding organization. He could not begin to pay the bills himself, but he never had to. Nor did he plead with others for money, because he never had to. George Müller pleaded only with God, and people are still publishing books about the miracles God wrought for him in nineteenth-century England. Solely through his prayers, and those of the people around him, he built five orphanages that cared for 10,000 orphans. He helped pay for Sunday schools that taught 100,000 children. He gave away 2 million Bibles and 3 million other books and tracts. To do it all, he raised nearly 8 million nineteenth-century dollars without ever—even once—asking anybody but God for anything.

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We are not suggesting that George Müller’s way is the exact pattern we must follow in our twentieth century. But we can all learn much from his godly dependence upon the Lord.

The ministers in the electronic church, even good men of godly purpose, are beginning to bump up against the law of diminishing returns. The harder they try to reach the lost, the harder they must beg for money. The harder they plead, the more hearts they harden—as the unfriendly news stories show.

For too long, television evangelists have been confined to the Sunday morning ghetto of religious programming. Suddenly, in 1980, they are catching the nation’s attention. It is imperative that they do nothing to taint the nourishment they offer.

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