New Flash: Justification by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, is Not Something New in the Church’s History
Roman Catholics often like to accuse the Lutheran Church of having invented the idea that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church teaches we are saved by grace alone, it is the faith alone part, that it is so desperately wrong about. Rome, in spite of all the nuanced subtlety in how they explain it, still teaches that we are saved through a formula that goes like this: faith + works = justification. But adding works in a discussion of how we are saves will always result in one of two things: proud Christians who think that, in some way, however small, they are contributing to their justification before God, or Christians who despair when they recognize that they can not do what God demands. The pure Gospel message that salvation is 100% a result of God’s grace and God’s work is the only true and lasting comfort a person can have. So, how “new” is this teaching?
When you start digging around in the Early Church Fathers you discover, without too much difficulty, that in fact they did preach and teach what the NT teaches and preaches on this point. For example, St. Chrysostom once said:
‘What does he mean when he says: “I have declared your justice?” He did not simply say: “I have given,” but “I have declared.” What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone (ἀλλʼ ἀπὸ χάριτος μόνης). Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest independently of the Law.” The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (δικαιοσύνη δὲ Θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and not through any labor and suffering.’
John Chrysostom (349-407), from ‘Adversus Judaeos’, VII, §3, PG 48:919; translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 7.3.2 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 186-187.
HT: Mark Henderson.