The Apostle Paul was the first New Testament writer to clearly lay out the doctrine of Salvation by Faith. One of Paul’s clearest statements on faith is found in Romans 5:1-“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Paul was the Church’s first great theologian and articulated in his letters the fact Salvation is a gift from God on the basis of an individual’s faith. As he writes in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
After the original apostles died, a group of Church Fathers continued their teaching. In 367 AD, the Canon of the New Testament was finalized. As the Church got farther away from the time of the apostles and the Church Fathers, however, they also got further away from the teaching of the Scriptures. Church Traditions were established that were not based on Scripture. By the time of the Middle Ages, Church Services were still conducted in Latin, even though only the clergy and the very educated could understand Latin. The Scriptures were finally translated into a common language in the 1380’s, when John Wycliffe produced a hand-written English translation. William Tyndale produced and printed the first English translation based on the original Greek manuscripts in the 1520’s. Wycliffe only had the Latin manuscripts at his disposal.
Martin Luther was a German monk and seminary professor who had become more and more disillusioned with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was especially angered over the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were sold by the Church as a means of offering forgiveness of sins. The more money one spent, the more forgiveness they were able to buy. In 1517, Luther was studying in preparation to teach Paul’s letter to the Romans. When he came to 1:17, Luther came to understand salvation in a new way. Paul says in that verse, “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
Luther saw Paul’s emphasis on faith as how our salvation is accomplished. It is not our works or purchase of indulgences. Salvation comes as we exercise our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. When Luther came to understand that he could not earn his salvation, “I felt entirely born again and was led through open gates into Paradise itself. Suddenly the whole of Scripture had a different appearance for me. I recounted the passages which I had memorized and realized that other passages, too, showed that the work of God is what God works in us… thus St. Paul’s words that the just shall live by faith, did indeed become to me the gateway to Paradise.”
It was Luther who is credited with launching the Protestant Reformation. One of the primary tenants of Reformation Theology is Salvation by Faith Alone. Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522. As the Scriptures became available in more languages, people could read the Word of God for themselves. As people continued to read the New Testament, most of them came to the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul had taught Salvation by Faith all along. It was the Roman Church that had drifted away from the truth of the Scriptures.
Today, Salvation by Faith is a common belief among most Christian Churches. Most churches and Christian organizations have very similar doctrinal statements. Even though most of us believe in Salvation by Faith, however, there is always a tendency to drift away from the simplicity of the Gospel and try and make it more complicated than it really is. We must never forget that salvation is a gift from God. Our faith allows us to enter into a relationship with Him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
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