"Faith Alone" gets a bad wrap. At least, I think it does.
Images of shyster preachers in shiny polyester, hair groomed about a decade beyond acceptable, sweat shining on their foreheads as they work up a lather: "If you ... uh ... buh-leeve! If you buh-leeve!"
And that image seems paired with another, even more depressing. Desperate people in great distress: perhaps poverty, perhaps disease, perhaps anguishing family crisis. They have gathered at the feet of the shyster. They seem to hope if they will just say, "I buh-leeve! I buh-leeve!" with enough summoned intensity that dawn will break over their darkness. Riches will come. Health will return. Families will heal.
Of course, the two images presented above are caricatures. Theatrical absurdities. Such calls to faith and such cries of faith do happen but they are in the minority.
The shyster preacher does not represent the historic call to Christian faith. For every snake-oil salesman, church history could supply hundreds, if not thousands, of humble pastors who thoughtfully and winsomely called people to Christ.
The desperate, oh-so-easily manipulated listener is not indicative of those who, down through millennia, have believed. The wide net of the gospel has gathered many, many ... many different types of believers, from all strata of society, holding all shapes and sizes of needs and/or questions and/or doubts.
But those bad images stick, don't they? As though the whole notion of "faith in Christ for salvation from sin" is a hoax propounded by the unscrupulous and accepted by the unthinking. And if the whole idea, itself, is a pig-in-a-poke then its not hard to dismiss it. No such thing as sin. No such thing as any need for salvation. "Run along and take your gospel to the blithering idiots who seem to believe they would need such a charade."
Oh, I bristle at the powerful work of the evil one. How he does blind the eyes of the lost!
Does any person doubt something is broken in the people of the world? In spite of historians we keep on repeating the same tragedies, killing ourselves in the same wars. In spite of teachers and philosophers we can't seem to educate ourselves out of deceit, or greed; can't seem to cultivate an enduring culture of compassion, or mercy, or generosity. We no more than set up islands of flourishing than they are swamped by the rising waters of self-interest and self-protection.
To say, in earnest and with full, heart-felt conviction, "I believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for me and rose from the dead," will not bring back lost manufacturing jobs. Saying it will not cure cancer, stop earthquakes or bring Daddy back home. But then again, Jesus never said it would. In fact, He promised in this life we would have hardships. He even said He had come not to bring peace, but division.
But accepting Jesus as Savior and following Jesus as Lord does change life! It does! Here and now and ... eternally. Saving faith cleanses me of my sin (oh, yes: sin IS real) and fundamentally alters my life going forward. I live forgiven. Not beleaguered by past guilt. Not lacking purpose for a full life. Now my every action and breath has been redeemed by the grace of God. I do not fear death. I may fear dying but I do not fear death.
Think of how much anxiety and grief in life is drained because I no longer fear death as the end to living. Think of how much more flexibility I have, because of salvation in Christ, to deal with the inevitable crises of life and relationships. Think of how much freedom I have to know, with certainty, not only am I a person of worth but you are, too.
To be saved by faith is not a mere few words said in the passion of desperation. It is a changed and sanctified ... sanctifying ... life. All of life is changed. Life now and life forever.
All because of faith in Jesus. No, not faith in ourselves. Not faith in ... faith. But faith in Jesus. The crucified and risen Jesus. Jesus Who is beyond us but Jesus Who comes to us. Jesus Who lives with us and abides in us ... through faith.