The Faith That Possesses Nothing (and Everything): Bo Giertz’s Faith Alone

“What Then Would Carry Us to God? What Would Be Able to Make a Bridge Over the Bottomless Abyss?”

Mockingbird / 1.12.21

The late Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz has long been an Mbird favorite. Whether it be his novels, sermons, or devotional, he’s been a thoughtful resource over the years for his brilliant expositions on law, gospel, justification by faith. Our friends at 1517 recently published an English translation of his 1943 book, Faith Alone: The Heart of Everything and it does not disappoint. Set in 1540, Giertz tells the story of two brothers separated by religion and a civil war. The story is often moving, and the frequent theological debates of the characters are an added bonus. Here is an excerpt from a sermon in the book:

What then would carry us to God? What would be able to make a bridge over the bottomless abyss? Nothing in either heaven or earth except for the Mediator that God himself put between him and us. Nothing other than Christ, God’s own Son, who became our brother to build a bridge across the abyss. He has built it with his perfect obedience. All that God asked, he fulfilled perfectly. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death on the cross. He did it in perfect love and with a pure heart. He is the one who on our earth, and with his good deeds, built a solid and high bridge up to the gates of heaven.

But he does not want to walk into God’s heaven on this radiant heavenly bridge alone. In his inconceivable mercy, he has also opened a way for his lost brothers. Before he went to heaven, he gathered up all sin that was in our works, all the shame, guilt, misdeeds, and lust that barred the way to God and laid it upon himself. Then he bore it upon the cross. There he atoned for all when he in our stead suffered a horrible death.

Then on that day, he opened a path to God for sinners. He atoned for the thief’s sins, and he took him by the hand as a brother, he carried him in across the high arch of the bridge of righteousness and said, “Fear not.” What you have broken shall never be counted. You can walk over the depths borne by my righteousness alone. Only believe. Your sins are forgiven you. The righteousness that you do not possess yourself, you may take from me. You can now walk in peace on the path I have built into my Father’s heaven. Today you shall be with me in paradise. Then he carried the thief in, so he has power and authority to carry every sinner into paradise. And until the end of time, he shall wander, tirelessly and mercifully to seek out sinners and — perhaps in the eleventh hour, when the abyss and death open their mouths wide — to save them in his Father’s house. […]

To whom does this apply? […] for all who believe. Here God’s word speaks clearly and powerfully. Because God knows so well that not even our best works are without stain if he were to try and test them. So in his love, he has prepared us a salvation that depends on faith alone. He has let Christ prepare a perfect redemption so that nothing more is proven than that we in faith receive this work that is already completed. And this faith is not a work that we do. That which we achieve with our own faith — that which is strong and perfect, or a faith that we embellish with love or good resolve, with that we immediately make it into a wretched visible work of man, and then we have shoved a new work and a new sin between God and us.

Now, this true faith is nothing other than this, that the soul that is poor, destitute, and naked receives the Savior who is rich, righteous, and holy. He who has nothing may receive him who possesses everything. He who is not able and who has nothing to come with is visited by him who is Lord over heaven and earth and who carries the forgiveness of sin, heaven’s blessedness, and eternal life with him. And all this one receives through faith alone, the naked, poor faith that possesses nothing in itself.