Have We Understood the Justification by Faith Since Protestant Reformation 500 Years Ago?

Martin Luther
Martin Luther
By Hui Zhi LingMarch 10th, 2017

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Religious Reformation started by Martin Luther, who advocated for reform centered on "Justification by Faith." After that faithful moment in history, have we understood the relationship between faith, good work, salvation, and the essential difference between Christianity and other religions? 

Many people believe that it is no different between believing in Christ and Buddha. They claim that both teach people to do good works to become a morally good person. As a matter of fact, all people are sinful and none of us can become a good person on our own in the eyes of God. Nothing a man does can remove the consequences of his sins. The core teaching in Christianity is that each Christian is saved by God's grace because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to redeem them according to Paul in Romans 3:24. However, many people cannot see the drastic difference between Christianity and other religions. 

The perception "Justification by Faith" means that one believes that man cannot save himself ever since Adam sinned and brought death into the world as the consequence of sins, except when he relies on God's grace in sending His son Jesus Christ to die for us in order to become a righteous person. After man became a sinner, he lost his 
good nature of God and the image of God. He became a slave to sins, unable to love others as God loves others. This reality is universal. Good works and morals a man may build up for himself can only give him temporary peace in conscience without the power to remove his guilt feeling before God. 

God, knowing that we cannot save ourselves, prepared salvation for humankind. Man can be saved by believing in this grace of God. This salvation does not mean that once saved, a person becomes righteous before God right away; but, he is regarded as righteous by God due to God's grace. 

Though the truth about Justification by Faith is clearly written in the Bible, people have been wondering about the way to salvation for a long time until Martin Luther discovered it again. In his era, many nuns and religious people relied on penance to gain eternal life. Some even wanted to receive it by buying some indulgences issued by the church. 

After reading the Bible carefully, Martin Luther finally discovered the precious truth about salvation and discovered that a sinful man can be saved only by God's grace in Jesus Christ. He also noted that buying indulgences was ridiculous, which could only bring about God's wrath on sinners. 

Since justification is by faith according to Luther, some people wonder whether it is OK for any believer to sin.  Impossible. Luther said clearly that true believers of God would control their body to live a life pleasing God. True believers cannot become the greatest sinners in the world. Only non-believers dare to commit the greatest sins recklessly. 

A significant number of Chinese think that Christianity places a heavy moral burden on believers. That is a great misunderstanding. Good works are not the cause but the effect of salvation. According to Luther, what is required from believers is only faith and the good works are the fruit of faith. Whatever good works a believer does is due to his faith in God's grace, for the sole purpose of pleasing God. 

Since sincere faith fulfills the law, it naturally bears good fruit of good works. A true believer does good works in joyful heart and in freedom to repay God's love, instead of showing off themselves before the world. Christianity is meant to bring about peace to a man's soul so if anyone feels burdensome because of his faith, it meant that he has not understood his faith. 

After Luther realized that faith has something to do with man's relationship to God alone, any mediators are unnecessary and a religious reform was unavoidable. 

From Luther's personal experience of intense struggles in his heart in faith, which has brought about a great change in the society and even the whole world, we must understand it more clearly that nothing can bind man's souls or become obstacles between God and man and that man's relationship to God is the core of faith. Let us rely on faith only to enter into His truth. Only by the blood of Christ can we be saved from all kinds of sins and be justified before God, inheriting God's promise of eternal life. 

Translated by Alvin Zhou

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