Friday, September 26, 2008

Sola Fide...

Sola Fide is one of the doctrines introduced by Luther as part of his Five Solas. It is one of the two Solas, the other being Sola Scriptura, that most Protestants will agree on. Many of those same denominations denounce the Catholic Church for sharing, what it believes as a faith and works based salvation.

Before I talk about my understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about Faith Alone, I think that it is important to get a better understanding of my interpretation of what Sola Fide means. In essence, it means that after accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, there is nothing that we can do to earn or merit our salvation. It is a divinely given free gift from God to an unworthy wretch like me.

It would probably surprise most readers of this blog to know that this is the exact same teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church does not believe that a person can merit salvation. Instead, it believes that it is a completely free gift of God.

Where the Catholic Church disagrees with Sola Fide is the notion that once you have accepted this faith, there is no responsibility on your part to remain in God's Grace. Your work is done. In other words, the Church teaches that justification is not a one time event, it is instead a continual process over your life. To put it another way, so long as you remain in a state of grace your salvation is assured.

It has been my experience that many people of other faiths believe instead that when you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, from that point on you are justified in the eyes of God. It is faith alone in God that saves you. After listening to many different debates on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that this belief cannot be justified scriptural. Make no mistake, I do believe that we must have faith in order to be saved, I just don't agree with the "alone" part of Sola Fide.

One of the Scriptures that seem to support the idea of faith alone can be found in Romans.

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law"-Romans 3:28

On first glance, this would appear that the Bible is telling us that we are saved by faith and not by works. But notice at the end, Paul is telling us that we are saved by faith and not from "the works of the Law". What is the "the works of the Law" that Paul is referring to? In order to understand Scripture, we all have to be better about cherry picking verses. We should all be challenged to look at the entire context that the Scriptures are speaking. We have to consider to whom this letter was addressed, and why it was written.

Without going into a lot of detail at this time in Early Christianity, you had two very different cultures within the God's Church. You had the Jews (God's chosen people) and the Gentiles (everyone else). There were Christians in the Jewish culture who believed that it was not enough to believe in God. They wanted the Gentiles to also follow the traditions of their culture under the old covenant - namely to be circumcised (Acts 15). Paul is telling the Church in Rome that justification comes to us apart from the Law - Mosaic Law. In other words, the Gentiles do not need to be burdened with the disciplines of the Old Law under the Old covenant. Man's justification before the Lord comes through not our faith of the Old Covenant, but of the New Covenant through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This context can be better understood, once we read the remaining verses
"Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also?..."-
Rom 3:28

So what are we to understand from this? Paul has just explained to the Church that we are saved by faith and not by the works of the old covenant law. Also notice that Paul never said that we are saved by faith alone. As a matter of fact the words "faith alone" never appears anywhere in the Bible...well there is one place:

"You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone"-
James 2:24

Here is the one spot where the words faith and alone appear together. I think that the point that James is making is that we are not saved by faith alone, but instead we are saved by faith and works. The two complement eachother and are absolutely critical. He even takes the time to explain what faith is if it does not have any works to complement it:

"Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself"-
James 2:17

"For just as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead"-James 2:26

This is how the Apostle James shows how works is vital to faith. He compares it to the relationship between the body and spirit. You cannot have one without the other.

Just to make sure that I am not setting the stage for a match between what the Apostle James is saying and what the Apostle Paul is saying, I do not believe they are saying anything contradictory. As a matter of fact, if you read the entire Letter from Paul to the Romans (which I would recommend everyone doing), you will come upon these verses:

"God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life..."-Romans 2:6-11

...he has done.
Notice how Paul is not saying according to how much he believed only. Instead Paul is saying that God will judge according to what he did.

Righteousness, justification is not a one time event. We must continually persist in God's grace.

I have merely scratched the surface of this topic. There are many other scripture passages that are worth examining further. This is something that I personally have wrestled with in order to get a better understanding of what God is asking from all of us. I at one time also believed that we are saved and justified through faith alone. In light of things that I am learning, I just can no longer accept that position.

Peace be with you all...


Carlus Henry said...

It is definitely worth noting that recently, there has been an agreement reached between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation regarding Justification. If interested, that document can be read here.

Adam Sova said...

Hey Carlus.

I was reading your post and I immediately thought of another passage that seems to support the idea of faith alone. I'm curious for your comments on it.

The passage I'm referring to is Eph 2:8-10. My take on this passage is that our salvation is a gift from God through our faith. Good works do not count towards our salvation.

Are we here to do good works? Absolutely. Are they required for salvation? I don't believe that they are. I think that our good works are a result of us understanding what is desired of us. When someone truly believes in Christ, they will follow him. When someone follows him they try to understand what we're here for and what is expected of us. I don't do good works because I think that it's going to get me closer to God, I do good works because of my love for God.

I look forward to your response.

God Bless


Carlus Henry said...


We both believe that Holy Scripture is from God - therefore incapable of being contradictory.

Before I begin, I would like to bring to mind that this verse never states faith alone. To say that these verses support faith alone, is just not true. If anything, one can misinterpret it to say that we are saved outside of works - but not faith alone. Never in the Bible does it say faith alone are we saved, which is the point of this blog entry. Faith Alone, my argument is not Biblical.

So what do we make of this scripture passage? It falls completely in line with what the Church teaches, specifically:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works so that no one can boast
Eph. 2:8-10

We are saved through grace alone...which is one of the Five Solas that the Church does agree with. Nothing but the undeserved merit of Jesus Christ on the Cross is going to allow anyone into Heaven.

So what is Paul talking about his letter to the Ephesians? James just said that we are saved by faith and works and definitely not by faith alone while Paul just said we are saved by grace through faith apart from works. What are the works that Paul is referring to? I believe that the works that Paul is referring to, are once again the works of Mosaic Law. We can see that this is his message in this letter because in the verses following, he starts to talk about the Gentiles and the Jews again - once separated by the Law of Moses, which no longer applies in the new covenant open to Gentiles (Ephesians 2:12-15)

After doing a little bit of reading from Scripture Catholic, I found this interchange. This by itself is worth reading, along with the other email interchanges that he has shared on this page.

Adam Sova said...


I did some reading this weekend in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and James to gain more more of a background on the subject we're discussing.

I think that James was making the point that we don't need anything but the right kind of faith to be saved by God and that our faith produces deeds/works. He uses Abraham as example in the passage to show that Abraham had true faith in God. He trusted God so much that he was willing to offer his son on the altar. That didn't earn him anything with God, but it did show/prove that his faith was authentic.

Paul and James both used Abraham in their passages about faith. Paul used him in a way that shows he was justified on the basis of real faith. James used him to show that Abraham's faith was proven to be real because it worked.

I guess what I'm getting at is I don't think that Paul and James were contradicting each other, I just think that they were driving home different points. I think that James is really driving the point home that we don't just receive our salvation and then think that we're good to go. Faith without deeds is dead.

I don't think that we can have authentic faith and not do good deeds/works. The right faith leads to the right actions. It's our faith though that is the basis of our salvation.

So is faith enough? Yes. Faith will drive our behavior to show if it's real faith or not.

God Bless!


Carlus Henry said...


Let me first commend you on the stance that you are taking, because most of what you said I completely agree with.

If you are saying that only the right kind of faith, the faith that is necessary for justification and righteousness, cannot exist without works, then we absolutely agree.

If you were to tell me, which you didn't, that we are saved and justified before God through Faith Alone I could not agree with you.

One of the dangers in believing in Faith Alone without works, is that it can lead people to be lazy for Christ. Since their salvation is assured, the work is done and there is nothing more to do - Faith Alone justifies me.

Like you said, it has to be both faith and works working together, through the Grace of God which is what Catholics believe.

Regarding Abraham and his justification. Abraham believed in God and was therefore justified (Romans 4) because of his belief. Abraham also was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac and because of that action was considered justified (James 2:21-26). You see, justification is not a one time occurrence, but an ongoing process. We both agree that you cannot simply respond to the altar call, and consider your salvation sealed.

Carlus Henry said...

To be clear on this topic, the works that I am talking about are not the works of Man, but of God.

We are all saved by God's Grace Alone. It is completely undeserved. However, it is a daily choice of ours to work within that Grace to do God's Work. Not my work because I do not have neither the will or desire to do it, outside of God's Grace. We have to cooperate with the Grace that God gives us.

The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.(CCC 2008)

At the same time, I believe that it would be a sin to deny working within the Grace that God has given. It is basically saying NO to God. In this fashion, I do believe is what Jesus separated the sheep from the goats(Matthew 25:31-46)

I hope that this point clarifies my position more.

Peace to you all...