Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." (Romans 4:4-8, NASB)
One of the great truths of the Gospel that was recaptured and rightly emphasized through the Reformation was the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone was so foundational to the work of reformation that it became embodied in one of the slogans of the Reformation--Sola Fide (Faith Alone). It is not the only "sola" of the Reformation and there is a need to see it in combination with the other solas to understand the full picture. But such an examination is outside the scope of this little note. We are going to focus our attention on sola fide and will leave the broader examination for another time.
During the Reformation, "Faith Alone" was set in contrast to the Roman Catholic concept of works of merit done in a state of grace for which it was fitting (in the Catholic view) for God to judge them as worthy of reward. But the Reformers uncomprisingly held to the Biblical witness that our salvation is based SOLELY on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not on anything done in us or by us. The Reformers held that God's judicial verdict of "righteous" in favor of us could be based solely on our sin being counted to Christ and correspondingly Christ's perfect righteousness being counted towards us. How can our sin be laid upon Jesus and His righteousness made ours? By placing our faith in Jesus as Savior, trusting Him to save us. This faith in Jesus has, at times, been described as "resting in Jesus".
"Faith Alone", like all Biblical doctrines, can be misunderstood. One way it is misunderstood is when people hear "faith alone" and think it means the following:
God does not justify us because of our good works. He justifies us because of our faith. Our faith stands in the place of good works. Our faith is what deserves our justification before God. In other words, faith becomes the one good work which we must do so that we deserve to be saved.
In such a view, faith itself is seen as being our righteousness, not as the means of connecting us with the righteousness of Christ. In this view, faith replaces the work of Christ and becomes the basis upon which God gives salvation to us. Repeatedly throughout the years, as I have discussed "faith alone" with people, I have been conscious of the danger of misunderstanding "faith alone" in such a way. As I was thinking about "faith alone" and how to overcome this misunderstanding, the imagery of resting in Jesus came to mind. Let me describe what unfolded in my mind's eye.
As I thought on the phrase "resting in Jesus", an illustration came to mind which might help us see why faith itself is not why God will justify us. Now, this is an illustration, and no illustration is perfect. Think of your bedtime. At the end of a long, wearying day you look forward to a night of restful sleep. When bedtime arrives, you sit on the edge of the bed, turn off the light, pick your feet up off the floor, and rest on your bed. When you pick your feet up and lay down, your full weight is carried by the bed beneath you. You are "resting in bed". It is the bed which is holding you up. It is bearing the burden of all your weight. You cannot lay on it harder or softer. Your entire weight is all you have and no amount of "laying down harder" will put any additional load on the bed. We don't speak of laying down hard or soft. It's not a matter of degree. Laying down is not done in parts. It's all of you. When we speak of "resting in Jesus", it is this kind of resting that is being described. This kind of "full weight laid upon another to bear the load" is what I have in mind for "resting in Jesus".
Well, if you misunderstand "faith alone" to mean that you are saved by your work of faith instead of by Jesus' righteousness, how would that change the illustration? You would probably want to do the best job you could of laying in bed. So once you pick your feet up off the floor, you may think this way, "I must lay down as good as I possibly can. I am doing such a good job of laying here. I'm certain that this bed is going to recognize the quality of my laying here and reward me for it. Others can see that I am doing my best at laying here. I will continue to do my best at laying here." Perhaps you will think you should lay down harder, bearing down on the bed with all of your might (which really accomplishes nothing and certainly does not contribute to your rest). Or maybe you become convinced that you should lay lighter, but how would that be done? Perhaps you should stand and merely lean on the bed? Once again, you will not find true rest in such a posture. Are you really contributing anything to the bed's ability to hold you up as you lay there? Of course not! It is the bed that is upholding you and not anything to do with your laying will make you to be held up any better or more than you already are.
You see, "faith alone" is "resting in Jesus". This resting is a placing of all your weight on Jesus for HIM to bear you up. This resting, like physical resting, is not something which can be done more fully through exertion. It is a trust in HIM to uphold your full weight. It is a resting in HIM from the weariness of sin. Who does the work? Jesus does the work in holding you up, just as the bed alone holds you up and you contribute nothing to it without ruining your rest. And when people look to your resting in Him, what will they see? Not the fact that you are resting so well that God should forgive you, but that Jesus is holding you up entirely and perfectly. When you look to your own resting, what will you see? Not your resting, but the Beloved One who holds you up.
Do you see that faith alone does not point to your resting, to your faith, but to the one upholding you. He is the one bearing you up fully and completely. This is "faith alone". This is for His praise and glory. Amen.