Your Faith Has Saved You

More Than A Healer

Bob Godfrey preached the evening sermons last night. His text was in Luke 8:40–56. It is a challenging passage, as he observed, but I was struck by one verse in particular and by the difference between the Greek text and the ESV. I was reading the former while Bob was reading, as he should, from the latter from the pulpit. As he read v. 48 we heard, “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” What I was reading, however, …‘Daughter, your faith has saved you…’” (ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν). The root sense of the verb there (σῴζω) is “to save” or “to deliver.” It can signify “to preserve” or “to rescue” e.g., from death. In this case, the woman who was healed was delivered from a terrible affliction and possibly death—I am not a physician and I do not play one on the internet but years of bleeding cannot be good for one’s health.

The translators were within their rights to restrict the translation to a supernatural healing from a medical disease but I doubt that choice does full justice to the text. They followed the majority report since Tyndale, that the verb refers chiefly to her healing. Even the Vulgate reads is this way: “filia fides tua te salvam fecit” (Daughter, your faith has made you well/whole).

To be sure, Jesus did heal her the woman with the issue of blood. He did make her whole. All those translations are not utterly wrong but I still doubt that Luke was chiefly interested in the woman’s physical well-being. The Geneva Bible, an early English translation (which was supplanted in the 17th century by what we know as the KJV) published in the 1550s and 60s (and beyond) by the Reformed Church in Geneva, got it right. In at least two editions it read, “thy faith has saved thee…” (1559; 1599; some editions say, “thy faith has made thee whole”). What the woman needed was salvation from death, of which her medical symptoms (as real as they were) were but a symbol. After all, Jesus saved all his people by his obedience, death, and resurrection. He did not heal everyone he might have. He did walk past some people and left them in their state and presumably some of them believed. He did not come to bring physical healing but salvation from the judgment to come and from the effects of the fall.

Your Faith

Properly, faith does not save. Jesus used a synecdoche, a figure of speech whereby the part stands for the whole. Faith is the instrument through which she received Jesus the Savior and the salvation which accompanies him. Jesus perceived that “power had gone out from him.” He took that opportunity to make a point, as he so often does. He called attention to what had quietly and imperceptibly to others taken place. Salvation had happened. How? By faith. Not by faith and works. Not by faithfulness, not by obedience, not by moral transformation, but by faith. Indeed, it is not too much to say that it was by faith alone. Faith is the only instrument that Jesus mentioned. There is not “future grace” here. There is no second stage of salvation or justification. She was completely saved right then and there. She received salvation just then.

This is especially important for us to notice in a time when people seem devoted to revising the biblical and Reformed doctrine of salvation to say that we are initially saved by grace alone, through faith alone but finally saved through good works, which they usually hasten to add, are wrought in us by the Spirit. Just today I saw a fellow on Twitter announcing the the doctrine of final justification on the basis of works is fine, and completely in accord with sola fide because the works by which we are finally saved are worked in us by the Spirit.

This is utterly wrong.

The basis or ground of our salvation is the righteousness of Christ that was accomplished outside of us (extra nos) and for us (pro nobis) by Christ. The ground for our justification (and our salvation) can never be within us, inherent to us. This is one of the principal causes of the Reformation. This is why sola fide is so important, because it tells us that we receive justification and salvation only through faith. It is, as we say in the Belgic Confession (1561) the “sole instrument” of our justification and our salvation. We confess:

We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God—for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”

However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us—for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness crediting to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits…. (emphasis added)

Faith does not look to the work of the Spirit in us (even though he is at work in us) for salvation. It does not look to itself. Faith looks to Christ. It is, as Luther said, an empty hand that receives Christ. He is the Savior. He saves. We are the saved. This would seem fairly obvious from Scripture but we do seem to struggle with this glorious truth do we not?

The instinct to attribute everything to the work of the Spirit is right but we need to understand what the Spirit is doing and how he is working. He grants new life and true faith. It is through faith alone that he saves because faith alone apprehends Jesus the Savior. He also works sanctification in us, which is a product and a grace of salvation but that sanctification and the resulting good works never become the instrument of salvation. Faith is that instrument.

Finally, we must stop talking about two stages of justification and/or salvation. Both are serious errors. We take title to salvation through faith alone and we come into possession of it (i.e., we are sanctified and eventually glorified) through the course of our lives but our lives, which 2 Peter 2:11 calls our “entrance into the eternal kingdom” never becomes the instrument of our salvation. This is a distinction we must maintain or we risk, as the Belgic (and the Heidelberg Catechism) warns, making Jesus into “half a Savior.”

Praise God that Jesus is not half a Savior but that he accomplished it all and freely gives it away to all his elect who receive it freely, through faith alone.

Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works”

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16 comments

  1. I regret I do not read Greek or Latin. I am grateful you do.
    Why did the translators alter the translation of Luke 7:48, connecting faith to healing rather than salvation, Faith in Christ’s completed work on the Cross, Christ’s Righteousness?

    What about the translation of Luke 7:50? Most Bibles record Jesus’ statement to “the sinner” (another woman who was touching Jesus), “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

    Is the Greek in Luke 7:50 the same as Luke 8:48?

    • Catherine,

      The Greek is identical. As it is in the following phrase, which literally means ‘Proceed into peace’.

  2. Lu 7:50 Ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε· (Lk. 7:50 BYZ)
    Lu 8:48ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (Lk. 8:48 BYZ)
    the faith of-you it-saved you
    Yep, I would say they are pretty much the same. Someone who uses a critical text can opine on if their computers have something different.

    • Randall,
      Thank you for cutting and pasting these texts in Greek.
      What is the difference between the Ἡ’ and the ‘ἡ’ at the beginning of the line of Scripture?

    • H is a capital eta. Capital letters are used in modern printed texts of Ancient Greek to indicate the beginning of a quotation. In Cp 8, Jesus addresses the woman as ‘Daughter’ before the statement, so it is the theta of ‘Θυγατηρ’ that gets the capital letter. In the autograph text, Luke would not have used lower-case letters as they did not yet exist.

  3. This is an excellent point and a wonderful passage to emphasize the role of faith in salvation. Your assessment of this verse also fits well with Paul’s statement in Romans 5:1 where we have (present tense) peace with God because we have been justified. A completed and final justification gives our peace with God. Jesus is conveying the same idea except he is using the broader term of “saved.”

    Here are some thoughts on why the other translation has been so dominate. First as you mentioned Tyndale. We owe a debt to Tyndale for his desire to translate the Bible into the common tongue. As a number of scholars have pointed out, that Tyndale’s view of justification included the impartation of righteousness not the imputation of righteousness. Therefore his theology may have pointed him towards the view he took of this passage. The Geneva Bible that gets it right was done by those who were living in Geneva after fleeing England under Mary’s reign of terror. They were more firmly grounded in reformed theology. If you have never read it I highly recommend C. FitzSimons Allison’s book “The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from hooker to Baxter.” Allison shows how there was a massive debate underway in England over the formal cause of justification that was taking place during the late 16th and throughout the 17th century. Allison shows that the Puritans increasingly took the position that works play some part in justification, he calls it “moralism.” Most people are unaware that the view of justification as taking place in stages is actually quite old — dating back to the late 16th and early 17th century. The New perspective on Paul and Federal Vision is actually not new at all. They have just given it a new name but it is still old heresy.

    • Kenneth,
      Thank you for this history regarding Tyndale’s view of justification and that it ‘tainted’ (removed from the original Greek text) his translation. I am currently reading Louis Berkhof’s book, History of the Christian Doctrines, to gain a picture of the history of dogma and doctrine. According to Berkhof the seeds of ‘Grace plus works’ thrived in the Church during the Apostolic Fathers.

      Who is C. FitzSimons Allison?
      Is he Confessional and Creedal? Covenantal? Systematic and Reformed?
      Moralism was also very much a part of the Church during the time of the Apostolic Fathers according to Berkof.

      Is the Geneva Bible available?
      Thank

      • Catherine,

        Allison was a good scholar and a conservative Bishop in the Episcopal church. He understood what Richard Baxter was about.

        I disagree with Berkhof’s assessment of the Apostolic Fathers. They are’s 16th-century Protestants but then again we shouldn’t expect them to be. They actually wrote relatively little about soteriology. We can’t ask them to answer questions we’re asking, which weren’t being asked then and certainly not in the terms with which we are familiar after the Reformation.

        A version of the Geneva Bible is online.

        http://www.genevabible.org/

    • Kenneth,

      re: Tyndale, those scholars are relying on one scholar in particular that Tyndale must have corrupted the doctrine of justification. That’s not the best reading of Tyndale. He did grow in his appreciation of the doctrine of progressive sanctification, which some have misinterpreted as legalism or a departure from Luther. Not so.

  4. Have been reading Allison’s book. What an eye opener! The moralism of the FV and the NPP is not new at all. Published in 1966, at least a decade before the Shepherd controversy, this book quotes from Anglican theologians such as Jeremy Taylor, Henry Hammond, Herbert Thorndike, George Bull, and of course, Richard Baxter. Interestingly a lay poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge already pointed to the moralism in Taylor’s preaching in the 1600s.
    Most alarming, Allison shows how it led to Deism in the eighteenth century, and secularism in the twentieth. Finally it has led to Atheism in modern Europe.
    It started soon after the Reformation because it was thought that the doctrines of grace were antinomian and too dangerous. So a gospel of grace and works was developed to control the sinfulness of the masses. Allison describes the problem with this morality as reliance on human ability to perform the law for acceptance with God, thereby eliminating the need of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. So, “implying that the problem of sin is essentially superficial, a misconception that culminates in a false hope of self-justification.” It made the imputation of Christ’s righteousness obsolete. The purpose of preaching changed to using Christ as an example for reminding people of performing their duties.

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