Tuesday, October 3, 2023

"The Essentials: Justification by Faith Alone" - Henry Knapp

Faith and My Broken Record

My father was a firm believer in the benefits of education. Growing up in the post-WWII era, he reflected many of the opinions of that generation, including the value of a college education in “getting ahead” in this world. Because of his emphasis on learning, he tended to eschew colloquial phrases and slang terms. If you used “ain’t” around the house, you could guarantee a “corrective directive” (slang, for various forms of “discipline”) from my dad. Of course, one man’s slang is another’s high dictation.

I wonder a bit about “a broken record.” If you are of a certain age, you know exactly what I am referring to—a “skip” in a vinyl recording which creates a repeated phrase or sound; if you repeat something again and again, you are mimicking a “broken record.” However, given the proliferation of digital recordings these days, I wonder if the meaning of “a broken record” is lost on the younger generation—a slang term at best with a vague meaning.

In any case, I fear I run the risk of appearing as “a broken record” when I speak of saving faith. This week we will look at an essential truth of the Christian faith—the fact that we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. There is little as amazing, as stupendous, as outrageous as this teaching—that we benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, not by earning God’s blessing, but simply and totally by faith trusting in Christ. Personally, I get so moved by this, that I can’t help but talk about that marvelous gift of God—faith itself.

But, after preaching here at Hebron for a number of years, it is possible that I begin to hit the same high notes each time I talk about faith—that I sound like “a broken record.” The high notes I would sound are about the nature of faith and the object of faith. But, since I am committed not to focus simply on these characteristics of faith during the sermon this week, I thought I would write about them instead!

The nature of faith. It is easy to fall into two errors here—either “faith” means simply having the right concepts or ideas in our minds or “faith” is some mystical thing that you vaguely possess. Instead, biblical faith is trust, reliance, dependence. Faith is not a doctrine you are convinced is correct—it is embracing that doctrine and depending upon it for life. Faith is not some esoteric feeling but a confident reflection which leads to the confident action of trusting.

The object of faith. We can talk about strong faith or weak faith, and mistakenly believe that we are talking about the strength by which we hold to a teaching. You have strong faith if you do not waver in your trust; weak faith means that doubt creeps in. But, in describing faith this way, we make faith itself the key point. Instead, biblical faith centers on what or who we have faith in; it is the object of our faith that is the focus. The Christian faith speaks, not to the believer’s ability to believe, but to the object, the focus of that faith—Jesus Himself.

OK. Having repeated my favorite themes about faith—that faith is reliance on the Reliable One, Jesus—we can now move past the “skip on the record” and look to other aspects of faith… which we will explore this Sunday in worship together!

In preparation, please read Galatians 2:16.

1. This one verse is the conclusion or the focus of a longer argument Paul is making. But his argument itself arises from a practical dispute between himself and Peter. Read 2:11-14. What does “faith” have to do with the dispute? Why would this event lead to Paul’s discussion of faith?

2. Verse 16 is part of an argument Paul makes from verses 15-21. Read the entire section. How is verse 16 central to the issue at hand?

3. “We know that…” How do we know this? Why does Paul expect his readers to know this? Is this something we can or should take for granted?

4. Paul is rejecting the idea of being saved by works of the law. What would it look like to be saved that way? Describe the kind of faith and life that Paul is rejecting—one where salvation is by “works of the law.”

5. Where is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, central to Paul’s thought here? How do you know that Paul is not just talking about a really strong feeling of belief but of confidence in the God-Man, Jesus?