“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
These words from Saint Paul comprise one of the great passages of the Reformation. When Martin Luther read it the Lord revealed to him this great truth of salvation by faith alone. Luther realized that this truth was one which the Roman Catholic had either ignored, hid, or misunderstood. He hoped by bringing it to the attention of the Church authorities, including the Pope, they would realize their error and repent thus freeing all believers from the bondage of the Law. The church authorities did not agree. They continued to proclaim and enforce a gospel of works.
Luther went on to proclaim the truth of the Gospel that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, not by our good deeds, works of charity, not even by our keeping of God’s Law. Today many people are blessed by Luther’s proclamation. But billions more think they can balance the scales of God’s justice (whatever form that may take) and atone for their sins by such good works. The fact is, however, that no one can. To think so is itself the sin of pride.
It is the Lord Jesus who makes make us right with God. Because of what Jesus has done, Almighty God justifies us, declares and makes us righteous and enables us to do good works. He does not excuse or ignore sin, nor does He merely forgive it for sin is a serious matter to Him. There really is nothing we can do to atone for our sins. So in love, Almighty God has taken the necessary steps to make us right with Him by offering up His Son Jesus as our propitiation, our sin offering.
The work of salvation is all God’s work, and we human beings add nothing to this, for even the faith to accept it comes from God. He enables us to see our sinful depravity and our hopeless state. As we stand on the edge of the abyss of despair, He reaches out to us with His offer of mercy in the cross alone and grants us the faith to believe.