FAITH ALONE PLUS
1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
— 2 Peter 1:1-7, ESV
“Sola Fide,” or Faith Alone, is the third of the five pillars of the Great Reformation. To recount them all, “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone) teaches that salvation is by “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone) through “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) in “Solus Christos” (Christ Alone) for “Soli Deo Gloria” (the Glory of God Alone). Today we will take a text that touches all five pillars, but we will make our stand on the middle pillar of faith.
Faith is something with secular and spiritual connotations. It requires faith for non-religious people to get on an airplane, eat at a fast food restaurant, or have an exclusively evolutionary view of the cosmos. We all believe in things we cannot explain or completely prove.
Faith is multi-faceted in the religious realm, as there are many faiths in many different gods for a person to choose in whom, or in none, they trust. Atheism is the fastest growing faith among Americans today, and, yes, it takes a strong faith in one’s self to completely turn your back on God.
Of course, the faith that is our subject today is the uniquely Christian faith. Simon Peter, perhaps the preeminent Apostle of Christianity, has written this epistle to the faithful about faith. To be a Christian one must have this particular faith, alone, and prove it with a few pluses.
Peter mentions “faith” in the first verse, but offers no definition. He did the same thing in 1 Peter, but did state there how much faith is worth, noting is it “more precious than gold that perishes” (ref. 1 Peter 1:7). Whatever faith is, you want it, because it is more valuable by far than any commodity on earth.
The best biblical definition of faith is found in the book of Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen … and without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (ref. Hebrews 11:1,6). For the second generation of Christians and beyond, faith is believing in a person you have not seen, who did something you did not witness, that gives you something you cannot earn, so that you may live with abundance now and in eternity forever. You don’t want to leave your home, this church, or the planet without Christian faith.
This one faith that saves is the bedrock belief in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you believe God exists in the person of Jesus Christ, and that He came to us two thousand years ago in the flesh, and that He lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death, rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, all to give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life, then you have been, are being, and will be, saved, by grace alone through faith alone.
The definition of faith, saving faith, should be plain. But the doctrine of faith alone has been muddied over the years. It is the reason the Great Reformation came in the first place, and a subject all confessing Christians, Catholic and Protestant, should look into continuously.
I mean no disrespect to the LGBTQ+ community with what I am about to say, but when will the pluses end? I agree with the Babylon Bee that if acronyms keep being added, the name of the movement will stretch all the way across the globe. I think by continually adding pluses to their list, they water down and broaden the movement so much that it cannot accomplish any narrow or specific goal.
Some people who profess faith in Jesus Christ do the same thing. They add pluses to faith and proclaim a salvation by faith plus. One very independent branch of the Christian church says salvation is by faith plus baptism. The Baptists I grew up with preach salvation by faith plus, with the plus being a decision you make by walking an aisle and praying a prayer. Catholic theology is complex, but it definitely ties faith with sacramental pluses that must be accomplished in order to receive said faith.
The problem with all the pluses is they are human works. They require human energy and ingenuity. Participating in ordinances and sacraments takes effort. Making a decision requires mental energy. And another important text, Ephesians 2:8-9, declares invalid any godward faith that requires a human plus.
This is not to say that all Church of Christ, Baptist, and Roman Catholic persons are hopelessly duped and doomed. You can find true Christians in almost every tradition or denomination in church history. Yet so many who experience true grace and genuine faith simply do not understand the great transaction that birthed them into the Christian church. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, no pluses.
And the faith that alone saves you does not come from you, it comes from God, and God alone.
What I’m about to say will not find agreement with most Christians today. This is because I am a Calvinist, while the majority of members of Christian churches today are Arminians. For those who do not understand the history and meaning of these terms, know that I am not saying at this point one is superior to the other, they are just different.
A Calvinist puts the emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation, while an Arminian stresses the free will of man. As the great theologian Forrest Gump said, “Both things are happening at the same time.” Yes, but one must ultimately trump the other, and the side you choose will depend upon how you define the origin of faith.
If faith is an idea you have, a decision you make, or a stand you take on your own free will, independent of God or man, then you are an Arminian. You are saved by faith alone, and such faith came from you. If faith is a gift from God, a supernatural occurrence that overcomes your sin and spiritual inability, that causes you to believe the gospel and be saved, then you are a Calvinist. You are saved by faith alone, and such faith is a gift from God.
I think experientially, especially in democratic America, salvation seems like the former. But the more I’ve studied the Bible, the more I’m convinced it is the latter. Let me touch a few texts, then dive into the one at hand.
John 3:16 does not say “whoever will,” it simply says “whoever believes,” or “the one who believes.” This famous verse teaches any person with Christian faith is saved. But how did you get the faith, where did it come from? Ephesians 2:8 says faith this “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Acts 11:18 says repentance, the flip-side or the evidence of faith, is a gift from God, “God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Simon Peter, who addresses “the elect” in 1 Peter, begins 2 Peter by reminding Christians the faith they have is faith they “have obtained” (ESV, KJV) or a faith they “have received” (NIV, NASB), as a gift or decree from God. He goes on to tell us God has “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (vs. 3) and “granted to us his precious and very great promises”(vs. 4). A grant is a gift, a gift is received, and what God gives to save us is faith, and faith alone.
Christians do not give their faith to God until they get their faith from God. Then afterward, there are pluses to be added, by the free will and energetic effort of the true believer. Faith is a free gift, but faithfulness to God proves the gift has been given.
Faith is a gift from God. Faithfulness is your gift to God. Simon Peter encourages us to receive faith and display faithfulness. One is proven by the other.
If you have God-given faith, then there are seven things you, by your own free will, will add to saving faith. They are virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. This could be seven sermons, but let me summarize these evidences of faith succinctly.
“Virtue” is good moral character. God did not give you saving faith because of it, but saving faith should produce a higher quality of it. Being good means making good decisions and doing good things. But what defines good?
“Knowledge” comes from understanding and experiencing truth, particularly the truths given in the word of God. God considered creation good when He made it, and sin has marred it. God, in His word, tells us what is good and what is sin. We must take time to read, study, and apply it.
“Self-control” is the exercise of your free will to choose and do the good rather than the sin. It is the part you play in the sanctifying aspect of saving faith. It entails all the things the modern world hates, like denying self, delaying gratification, and choosing holiness over happiness.
“Steadfastness” is required because we do not always get it right, and their is always opposition to those who strive to be faithful to God. Like Rocky Balboa, you have to train yourself, face your opponent, get off the mat when you are knocked down, and make it your ambition to go the distance with God.
“Godliness” describes the character of those who put these pluses onto their God-given faith. God made us in His image, He saves us to restore the spiritual aspect of that image, and more pluses we add the more we look like Him.
“Brotherly love,” philadelphias, is a general love for all people, a willingness to help, a positive application of all the pluses to other people.
“Love,” agapē, is the last word, the bottom line, the gift and the motivator of the supremely Christian life. When you realize the great gift of salvation, when you receive the gifts of grace and faith from God, then you will love Him and worship Him and serve Him, even unto the sacrifice of your own life, whether it be in the rare rush of martyrdom, or the daily sacrifices of adding all of these pluses to your Christian faith.
We are saved by faith, and faith alone. But faith is never alone. It has pluses. Find them in Scripture. Owe them to grace. Exercise them by faith. Use them in following Christ. Do them for the glory of God.