For You or By You: Faith Alone?

Is Christianity primarily a revelation of something done for you, or is it a calling to works done by you? The core of Christian belief rests on faith alone; however, that is much more than a facet of salvation. From start to finish, the Gospel is good news that comes from outside of us.

For You or By You

The bent of the human heart is merit, and the human mind turns everything into ways to better achieve. We cannot believe that the Christian life is all gift. We are offended by the notion that we are sinful, helpless, and dependent on something or someone outside ourselves. The good news is that God is so rich in mercy that he sent his only Son to bear the wrath we deserved and that we are forgiven by simply trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection for our redemption. It is what Christ did for us, not what is done by us. However, the nature of Christianity as pure gift continues past justification.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

Justification for You

We give an emphatic nod to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We understand the significance of this linchpin of orthodoxy, but it goes against the grain of our sinful inclination of self-sufficiency. Scripture is replete with reminders that works do not justify us. Paul belabors that point to the church in Galatia.

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:16

Sanctification for You

Justification by grace through faith destroys any notion of our merit contributing to salvation. We acknowledge that our glorification is entirely the work of God, yet we lamentably and consistently try to drag sanctification back into the “by you” category. However, we must attribute our righteousness to the work of God from beginning to end.

Luther called justification by faith alone the “head and cornerstone of the church.” We check the box on sola fide for justification, then quickly tend to advance to sanctification as faith plus our own efforts. Is sanctification done for you or by you?

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Surely, we are called to do good works, to spiritual growth, and to fight against our sinful natures. However, we must not mistakenly suppose that those works, growth, or fight are in our strength, by our own will, or of our own doing. The preceding verses to 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 give us a list of works to do and an admonishment to abstain from evil. Yet despite the effort and abstaining, it is God who sanctifies. He is faithful. He will surely do it.

Glorification for You

God is the one working from beginning to end. It’s marvelous and offensive. Our hearts should be overjoyed, and our minds should be set at peace because of the Lord’s sovereign, loving, sufficient, and efficacious work in our lives from justification to glorification.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

The past tense verbs are all completed by God. That doesn’t mean we have no part to play, but it does mean our part is absolutely dependent on the work of the triune God.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

Is the offensive teaching that our justification, sanctification, and glorification are of God’s own doing true? Is the part we play really as utterly dependent on God, his grace, and the word of promise as the Scriptures teach? You better believe it! Christ has done it for you. He is doing it in you. He will bring it to completion. All that you can do is receive and live in the overflow of grace.

Photo by Inesa Cebanu on Unsplash

Chris Dunn
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