Sola Fida (Faith Alone)
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). The words about faith in Paul’s letter to the Roman church were an epiphany for Martin Luther. He had struggled for years with his feelings of guilt due to awareness of his own sins and with the way many in the Catholic Church used works related methods to justify salvation, or less time in Purgatory. The selling of indulgences bothered him, making it seem you could buy spiritual benefits. But when he read the words of the Apostle Paul, his understanding completely changed. Faith was the key!
It was a person’s faith in Christ that saved them, by grace (not earned, but due to Christ’s sacrifice). And so, the phrase Sola Fide came from this, or faith alone. This concept bothered me for years, and an improper perspective of it still does. Why? Because I knew that the only place in the Bible where you find the phrase “faith alone” was in the book of James. Here’s what it says: “You see that a person is righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). How do we reconcile these two seemingly opposite viewpoints: 1) that we are saved by faith apart from works, and 2) that we are saved by what we do and not by faith alone?
One thing to keep in mind is that when the apostles wrote about “works” they often had “works of the law” in mind. We are not saved by the Law of Moses, we are saved through Christ. In addition, we are unable to justify ourselves through doing good things, as the last article on Sola Gratia discussed. We are saved by grace, we don’t earn anything. It’s not a matter of the good outweighing the bad, because we are still imperfect humans facing a perfect God. We must have Christ! All of that said, there are things we must do that provide definition to our faith. We must mentally believe in Christ. We must turn from our sins and follow Christ. We must identify with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through baptism, and thus cloth ourselves with Christ. We haven’t earned anything in these efforts, but they are things we must do (remember James 2:24, “a person is righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”). This is real, active, saving faith; a faith that follows the one we’ve placed faith in: Jesus!
Kuligin and Yarbrough talk about this in their book “In Christ Alone” which discuss the five “sola” statements, when they say, “As the reformers insisted, we are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. In this way the teaching of both Paul (Eph. 2:8) and James (James 2:24) is reconciled.” It is interesting to me that when the author of Hebrews spends a chapter talking about people of faith, in each instance it is what they did that defined their faith (Hebrews 11).
Martin Luther and the reformers were on to something. The pendulum had swung too far in the direction of a works salvation. Don’t be guilty of swinging the pendulum too far the other way, turning faith into simple mental gymnastics that were never intended. If you have faith in Jesus, follow him!
Cross Point: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews10:22).