A couple of days ago, Sarah and I stopped in for tea at a coffee shop, and just by chance I saw “Associates Only” written on the office door. After taking a moment to think about what it meant, I realized that it has an exclusive connotation. In other words, ‘Only’ plays the role of modifying, “Associates”.
The usual Korean translation of “Associates Only” is “No entering except Associates”. This Korean translation emphasizes the term ‘No entering’ as it focuses on the outsider. While the both seem similar, there is a slight difference in the meaning between the two terms. While “Associates Only” in English has a positive and inclusive meaning, “No entering except Associates” in the Korean translation, involves a negative and exclusive meaning.
The same is true of “faith only,” which Luther emphasized in the Reformation Age. When he said “faith only”, it put emphasis on the “faith”. In other words, it means that anyone who has “faith alone” will enter the Kingdom of God. However, many Korean Christians often misunderstand this as the very inclusive and negative meaning, for instance, “Nothing except faith”. Therefore, it seems many Christians would think that they do not need to have interest in good works and social problem; only faith.
But, “faith only” focuses on the centrality and importance of faith. It does not reject the good works and efforts by humans. Rather, the Kingdom of God will be entered by “faith only”. In other words, the Kingdom of God will not call anyone who gets faith by doing good works. Only true faith can lead us to do good works.
For this, the Bible said: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18)
This “faith only,” also means true faith in Jesus Christ. It is not the faith of silence and docility for injustice and discrimination, but the faith to preach the Word of God without yielding to the constant threat of violence and death.
Luther, who, through the church's excommunication, was practically declared a heretic, was invited to Worms (1521) by the Emperor who had been pressured by a few princes. Both the church and Emperor wanted Luther to recant his teachings while he was there. However Luther states,
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."
Even today, Jesus Christ is finding those who have faith: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”(Luke 18:8). Never forget “faith only.”
Reverend and Doctor Jin O, Jeong is an assistant pastor for Korean congregation at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, IL. He graduated from Luther University and received a Ph.D from Yousei University. He was also a Research Fellow at Hebrew University and Visiting Scholar at Yale Divinity School. Tel: 618-920-9311 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org