Sola fide (by faith alone), also historically known as the justification by faith, is a doctrine that distinguishes Protestant denominations from Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, Restorationism in Christianity.
The doctrine of Sola Fide or Faith Alone asserts that it is on the basis of God's grace through the believer's faith alone that believers are forgiven their transgressions of the Law of God, rather than on the basis of any good works.
- 1 A Protestant distinctive
- 2 Sola fide and Scripture
- 3 Excerpts of Protestant confessions which support sola fide
- 4 Non-denominational Evangelicals
- 5 Unofficial Ecumenical statements
- 6 See also
A Protestant distinctive
Sola fide asserts that, although all people have disobeyed God's commands, God declares those people obedient who place their confidence, their faith, in what God has done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. They account Christ's obedience as their own, and the only meritorious, obedience. Their assurance is that God's work in Christ is their commendation for acceptance by God. Conversely, the doctrine says that those who trust God in this way do not trust what they themselves have done (which has no worth, because of sin). The doctrine holds that it is not through personal goodness that sinners are reconciled to God. Reconciliation is only through the mercy of God himself, made effectual for forgiveness through the sacrifice of his son; thus it is only through the obedience of Christ given in substitute for the disobedience of believers, who for their sake was raised from the dead, that they have confidence that they are in fact heirs of eternal life.
The doctrine of sola fide, as formulated by Martin Luther, is accepted by most Protestants, including Lutherans, Reformed and Baptists; and as ordinarily articulated by Protestants, it is rejected by Catholics, who say through God's Grace, and our response to that Grace through our faith and works, we are saved. They also add a distinction between the good works, as those in Matthew 25, and the works of law.
Origin of the slogan
Martin Luther elevated sola fide to the principal cause of the Protestant Reformation, the rallying cry of the Protestant cause, and the chief distinction between Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. John Calvin, also a proponent of this doctrine, taught that "every one who would obtain the righteousness of Christ must renounce his own." According to Calvin, it is only because the sinner is able to obtain the good standing of the Son of God, through faith in him, and union with him, that sinners have any hope of pardon from, acceptance by, and peace with God. While this precise terminology—"by faith alone"—does not appear in the Bible, it is claimed to summarize the teaching of the New Testament, and especially the Pauline epistles, which systematically reject the proposition that justification is by obedience to the Law of Moses. Protestants base this on the fact that the New Testament contains almost 200 statements that imply faith or belief is sufficient for salvation. For example: "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (john 11:25 NIV)
Luther's German translation of the New Testament added the word allein (alone) to Romans 3:28, rendering "...is justified by faith..." as "...is justified by faith alone... " (emphasis added).
Status of the doctrine
The doctrine proposes that faith in Christ is sufficient for sinners to be accepted by God, to count them among his people, and to equip them with the motive of trust, gratitude and love toward God from which good works are to be done. Some Christian groups such as Catholics believe that faith is necessary for salvation but not sufficient; that is, they assert that sola fide is an error because, in addition to believing, God also requires obedience as a prerequisite for acceptance into his kingdom, and for the reward of eternal life. This is in line with the traditional view of faith as faithfulness [to God] in the Old Testament.
The precise relationship between faith and good works remains as an area of controversy in some Protestant traditions. Even at the outset of the Reformation, subtle differences of emphasis appeared. For example, because the Epistle of James emphasizes the importance of good works, Martin Luther sometimes referred to it as the "epistle of straw." Calvin on the other hand, while not intending to differ with Luther, described good works as a consequence or 'fruit' of faith. The Anabaptists tended to make a nominal distinction between faith and obedience. Recent meetings of scholars and clergy have attempted to soften the antithesis between Protestant and Catholic conceptions of the role of faith in salvation, which, if they were successful, would have far reaching implications for the relationship between most Protestants and the Catholic Church. These attempts to form a consensus are not widely accepted among either Protestants or Catholics, so sola fide continues to be a doctrinal distinctive of the Reformation churches, including Lutherans, Reformed and many evangelicals. Nevertheless, some statements of the doctrine are interpreted as a denial of the doctrine as understood by other groups.
There is a semantic component to this debate as well, which has gained new attention in the past century. Both Latin and English have two words to describe convictions: one is more intellectual (English belief, Latin verb credo) and one carries implications of "faithfulness" (English faith, Latin fides). But Greek and German have only one (German Glaube, Greek pistis). Some historians have suggested that this semantic issue caused some of the disagreement: perhaps Luther's supporters may have understood "salvation by faith alone" to mean "salvation by being faithful to Christ", while his opponents understood him to mean "salvation by intellectual belief in Christ". Since there are passages in Luther's works that could be taken to support either of these meanings, both sides were able to quote passages from Luther defending their interpretation of what he meant.
Sola fide and Scripture
Various Biblical citations have been used to support and refute the doctrine of sola fide.
New Testament verses used to support sola fide
- John 3:16
- For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- John 6:28-29 (explaining Matthew7:21)
- Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?"
- Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
- Acts 16:31
- Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.
- Acts 26:18
- ...that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me...
- Romans 1:17-18
- Therefore the just shall live by faith. The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who supress the truth by their wickedness.
- Romans 3:28
- Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith [alone] apart from the deeds of the law. (Martin Luther inserted the word "alone" in his translation of this verse.)
- Romans 4:5
- But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
- Romans 5:1
- ...having been justified by faith...
- Romans 10:9
- That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.
- Romans 11:6
- But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
- Romans 14:23
- ...and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
- Ephesians 2:8-10
- For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
- Philippians 3:9
- and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
- Galatians 2:16
- Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
- Galatians 2:21
- I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
- Galatians 3:1-3 ... 9-14 ... 21-25 ...
- O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
- This only would I learn of you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith?
- Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?
- So then they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
- Because as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: because it is written, 'Cursed is every one that does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the law to be done'.
- But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, 'The just shall live by faith'.
- And the law is not of faith: but, 'The man that does them shall live in them'.
- Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:
- So that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
- Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, certainly righteousness should have been by the law.
- But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
- But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up from the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
- Therefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith.
- But after faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
- Galatians 5:4,5
- Christ has become of no effect to you, whoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.
- For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
- Hebrews 11:6
- Without faith it is impossible to please God.
New Testament verses used to refute sola fide
- Matthew 5:48
- Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 7:21 (part of the Sermon on the Mount)
- Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 12:36,37
- I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;
- For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
- Matthew 24:10-20
- Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 25:31-46
- When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
- The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
- Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
- They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
- He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
- Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
- Luke 8:21
- But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.
- John 5:29
- And will come out--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
- Romans 2:6,7; 13
- For he will repay according to each one’s deeds
- To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
- For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who obeserve the law will be justified.
- James 2 Chapter Two (Excerpts)
- ... What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? ... Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? ... Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
- Philippians 2:12-13
- ... work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.
- Revelation 20:13
- All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
- Revelation 22:12
- Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.
- 1 Peter 1:17
- Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning.
- 2 Corinthians 5:10
- For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.
- James 2:24
- See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
For a deeper understanding, it is important to note, that there is a distinction between the works necessary for salvation, and the works of the law. One such example is Romans 3:28, which teaches whether circumcision is needed as a work of the law. In contrast, there are works, such as those described in Matthew 25 (see above).
Excerpts of Protestant confessions which support sola fide
- Article XI
- Of the Justification of Man
- We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
- Article IV Of Justification
- Our churches by common consent...teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
- Augsburg Confession, 1530
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) - copyrighted
- A typical Anabaptist confession of faith.
- Salvation is variously expressed, sometimes as 'justification by faith', in which case it means that the just person has accepted the offer of a covenantal relationship, and lives according to that covenant.
- Article 23: The Justification of Sinners
- We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.
- And the same apostle says that we are justified "freely" or "by grace" through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.
- That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God's approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.
- In fact, if we had to appear before God relying-- no matter how little-- on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.
- Therefore everyone must say with David: "Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified."
- Belgic Confession 1561 (French revision, 1619)
- Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
- Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
- Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?
- Answer: By no means; for the holy scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
- Heidelberg Catechism 1563
- I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
- Chapter XI. Of Justification -- Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
- That those which have union with Christ, are justified from all their sins, past, present, and to come, by the blood of Christ; which justification we conceive to be a gracious and free acquittance of a guilty, sinful creature, from all sin by God, through the satisfaction that Christ hath made by his death; and this applied in the manifestation of it through faith.
- 'First' London Baptist Confession (1644)
Chapter XI of the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 is the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith.
- We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
- -Article IX--Justification and Regeneration (The Discipline of The Evangelical United Brethren Church 1963)
- We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.
- -Article IX--Of the Justification of Man (The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Discipline of 1808)
- The justification of the sinner solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
- British Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith
- We believe in...The Salvation of lost and sinful man through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith apart from works, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit...
- World Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith
Unofficial Ecumenical statements
Evangelicals and Catholics Together
- The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of salvation is received through faith. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the gospel, the good news of God's saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole persons involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).
- The Gift of Salvation (1997)
Lutheran World Federation-Catholic
- 4.3 Justification by Faith and through Grace
- 25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God's gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.
Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
- 5.... Regarding the way in which salvation is appropriated by the believers, Lutherans, by teaching that justification and salvation are by grace alone through faith (sola gratia, sola fide), stress the absolute priority of divine grace in salvation. When they speak about saving faith they do not think of the dead faith which even the demons have (cf. James 2:19), but the faith which Abraham showed and which was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3,9). The Orthodox also affirm the absolute priority of divine grace. They underline that it is God's grace which enables our human will to conform to the divine will (cf. Phil 2:13) in the steps of Jesus praying, "not as I will but as You will" (Matt. 26:39), so that we may work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12). This is what the Orthodox mean by "synergy" (working together) of divine grace and the human will of the believer in the appropriation of the divine life in Christ. The understanding of synergy in salvation is helped by the fact that the human will in the one person of Christ was not abolished when the human nature was united in Him with the divine nature, according to the Christological decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. While Lutherans do not use the concept of synergy, they recognize the personal responsibility of the human being in the acceptance or refusal of divine grace through faith, and in the growth of faith and obedience to God. Lutherans and Orthodox both understand good works as the fruits and manifestations of the believer's faith and not as a means of salvation.
- Salvation: Grace, Justification, and Synergy, 9th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission, Sigtuna, 7 August 1998
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