“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NRSV)
As Christians who follow Lutheran traditions, we profess the doctrine that we are justified by grace (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide). Justification by faith is at the heart of what we teach and what we wholeheartedly trust is true. We live our lives knowing that by grace alone through faith alone we receive God’s forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to him, which we long for as children of a fallen humanity. In order to fully live in God’s grace as heirs to his kingdom, we must have faith. For it is by faith alone (sola fide) that we can come to trust, fully and completely, in the promises of God – that he sent his only Son to die for each of us, that Jesus rose from the dead, and in his resurrection, we are freed once and for all from the bondage of sin and death.
But what does it mean to have faith? Does it mean that we simply “believe” the Word of God as revealed in the Bible? No, it goes much deeper than that. After all, even Satan “believed” in God and “believed” that Jesus was God’s Son. (see Luke 4:1-13).
Martin Luther defines faith as trust – complete and unmitigated trust in God’s Word and promises. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in – mountaintop or valley, good times or bad, God is with us. He will not forsake us. He will never leave us. At the end of time, he will call the faithful home to the eternal Kingdom, where we will live with him, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever. Living in this state of complete trust is the essence of true faith.
How is it, then, that we come to this kind of faith? Scripture makes it clear that we receive faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Luther insisted that, as with grace, we cannot come to faith on our own. By our own devices, faith will not take root and live and breathe within our souls. Nothing we can do brings us to the faith that saves. It is the grace of God, through the Holy Spirit which stirs up within us faith. The Apostle Paul also comments on the importance of the Spirit in the development of our faith: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Roman 8:26a, NRSV). It is God’s desire and the Spirit’s work that we be strengthened in faith.
Hear the words of the Apostle Paul: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3b, NRSV). “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with Scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13, NRSV). In reading and studying God’s Word, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the truth. In the proclamation of the Gospel, our faith is strengthened as the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV).
Open your heart to the Spirit and live a life of sola fide. Trust wholly and completely in him and live life full of hope, peace, and joy (even in the hard times), bearing good, God-pleasing fruit. Amen.