One Word Makes All the Difference
One word can make all the difference. When I worked up my courage to ask my wife to marry me, I thought the hard part was over. I assumed she would immediately say, Yes! Instead, she didn’t give me an answer for several weeks. It was not fun waiting. My whole life would change dramatically depending on one word.
Theology is no different. We can’t assume that someone who says “I believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ” means what you think it means. It turns out that many cults and false-gospel preachers will happily agree with you: “Sure, of course we believe salvation is by grace through faith in Christ!”
But there is one word missing to make this sentence biblical.
Centuries ago, the Roman Catholic Church had a grip on nearly all parts of society. They had convinced people that they could buy “indulgences”* to assure that a dead relative would be freed from purgatory and go to heaven. Yet, if you had asked, “Well, do you believe in Jesus, and that salvation is by grace through faith?” the Church would have gladly said, “Of course we do.”
That’s what the Reformation was about. It boiled down to one word: alone. The Reformers, and many believers since, have faced persecution, many to the point of martyrdom, because of this one word. The true gospel says salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.
The desire to be inclusive of Roman Catholics and other groups (like Mormons) causes Christian people to stumble on this crucial point. Someone may believe that Christ has a lot to do with salvation, but in truth their doctrine asserts that they need something more – like their own works and the traditions and actions of the Church – to get them to heaven. Salvation is, they believe, by grace and through faith plus works, plus the church, plus confession, plus the rosary, plus veneration of the saints, plus prayer to Mother Mary. And the list goes on.
Don’t be fooled! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone!
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesian 2:8,9
*By the way, the Roman Catholic Church still uses indulgences. One glaring example you might remember: when Pope Francis held “World Youth Day” in Brazil July 2013, he decreed that you could gain an indulgence if you went to confession, took communion at Mass, and prayed for the Pope’s prayer intentions. And if you couldn’t make it to Rio, you could gain an indulgence by following the conference on television or radio, or social media.