The Solas and Advent: Sola Fides
In just four days we will come to the last day of Advent and also the first day of Christmas, and your holy desire to remember rightly the birth of Christ Jesus, our Saviour, is with you solely because of the faith that you have in Him—the faith that you are given by the grace of God, through the Word of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To all those in the world without faith in Christ, Christmas will be just another day, or at best, a day that will attempt to be something wonderful, but will likely end up failing miserably at living up to expectations. And even if expectations are met, what sort of expectations for the day can one have without faith in Christ? That you get the presents you want? That no fights and arguments arise among those gathered together? That Uncle Monty doesn’t get too far in his cups? That the dinner isn’t a flop?
When you and I sing, as we did with the Sunday School last Sunday, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” we have faith to believe that all of our expectations for Christmas are met in Christ. He has accomplished everything that He was born to do. He has set us, His people, free from our fears and from our sins; He has given us rest in Him. He has delivered us from the dominion of the evil one and now He reigns in us forever, giving us life and salvation through His life given over to death in our place, even death on a cross. What, therefore, is anything wrapped up with a bow, any meal with family and friends, or any worldly thing, compared with what we receive from Jesus? There’s no comparison. Through faith, you believe that Jesus, promised of old, has come, and that in His coming, He has done everything for you that you want and need. And this, dear friends, is the real joy of Christmas for you.
Now the thing is, my dear fellow redeemed in Christ, everything that Jesus has done for you, through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, He has done for everyone. As we heard in the Gospel Reading from last Wednesday, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Christ was sent through the Father’s love to be the Saviour of the whole world, and this is exactly what Jesus did. His death on the cross provided the full payment for the sins of everyone who was, who is, and who will be. But the forgiveness and salvation won through His sacrifice is given only through faith—Sola Fides, as the third sola of the Reformation states. You heard Saint Paul in the second reading tonight say that, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The righteousness of God is what He demands—what He requires—of those who will live with Him in His kingdom. There is no place at all for sin in God’s holy presence.
What the apostle is saying here is that because you are by nature a sinner—corrupt through and through—there’s no way for you to become righteous on your own. Trying harder to be good won’t do it. Righteousness and holiness must come to you, not through the Law as something that you do, but from God, as His free gift in Christ. It’s the only way. So when the apostle says that this righteousness—this holiness that God demands—has been made manifest through faith in Jesus Christ, he means that faith both shows you your lack of righteousness and your need for it. And it’s through faith also that you are given to receive the righteousness of Jesus to be your own. There is no other way to be righteousness except through faith. Sola Fides. Only through faith—only through “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
In the reading tonight from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells His disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” The disciples had been telling people not to bother Jesus by bringing their children to Him so that He could bless them. Their attitude toward the little children was not only rather unloving, it also showed that they truly didn’t understand the nature of faith. Jesus, therefore, takes this moment as an opportunity to teach them about it.
The disciples had wrongly figured that faith is a product of the person who has it. Many today also believe this, and for this reason they don’t baptize children. They say that the little ones have to grow up enough to decide to believe. But as Luther rightly teaches in the Small Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Not only can babies and little children have real saving faith, because it is God who gives it, the faith that they have, as Jesus says, is to be an example to all of us, for those little ones simply believe as they are given by God to do. “For to such belongs the kingdom of God,” Jesus says of the little children. The things of this world and all the evil therein are not yet so much a part of their lives or a hindrance to faith as they are for those of us with more years under our belts.
Growing up and getting older may make it more difficult to have faith like the little child, but not impossible. You can be like the little children in their believing—and you must be, for Jesus also says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” On your own, though, there’s no turning back of the clock—there’s no unhearing or unseeing or undoing of all the sinful stuff that comes upon you in life and that, because of your sinful nature, you include in your life. But there is forgiveness and renewal of spirit. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does [Christ] remove [your] transgressions from [you].” The forgiveness that Jesus gives you through His Word and Sacraments, dear friends, strengthens you in your faith and restores you to be like that little child, that only trusts and believes.
Sola Fides! Along with Sola Scriptura and Sola Gratia the Reformation emphasis and focus of salvation in Christ alone is complete. Only through sacred Scripture are you given faith to believe and take hold of the gracious gift of God through Christ to redeem you from sin and death and give you life everlasting.
In four days when you join with the angels in their song of praise and sing “Glory to God in the highest” for the eternal blessings that you have, remember that there is no other way to be saved than through Him who is born for you, who lived for you, and who died and rose again for you. To Him be all glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.