One could argue that the greatest staple of the Protestant Reformation is the idea that justification of the believer comes by faith alone, or in Latin, Sola Fide. The Apostle Paul has a vast body of work on this subject, especially in the books of Romans and Galatians where he gives a clear defense for this doctrine. When we say that we are saved by faith alone, it begs the question, what is faith? Faith is defined by the author of Hebrews as the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen. That sounds great rolling off the tongue, but what exactly does this definition of faith mean? Is faith simply a verbal declaration? Are we justified simply by intellectually confirming that Jesus is Lord? We hear people make verbal affirmations of faith all the time. Are all people who express a verbal faith in Christ truly saved by faith? Let’s look at some truths in scripture about this subject.
- Firstly, true faith is never based on the fear of condemnation. We do not believe simply because we are afraid of the wrath of God against unrighteousness. We believe because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). I’m not bellyaching about fire and brimstone sermons. There does exist a great need for the preaching of God’s disapproval towards sin, and certainly we must affirm the doctrine of Hell because Jesus spoke so clearly and extensively on this topic. We must be careful though, not to make Christianity simply an easy way to bypass Judgment. The basis for our faith should be deeply rooted in Christ ability to perfectly save to the uttermost, and to understand true faith does not come merely from fear of the unknown.
- Justification by faith alone does not equal “cheap grace.” The Apostle Paul poses the question of cheap grace in Romans 6:1 for this very reason. He knows that if salvation is only by faith that many will see grace as a license to sin. He asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound all the more?” His answer is an emphatic, “God forbid!” The marvelous grace of God goes beyond what can be understood within our mortal hearts. However, the Bible is clear in teaching that when saving grace is given to us that the fruit of our salvation will indeed be good works as evidence of the living faith that is within us. The old saying goes something like this; we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. A true living faith will always produce works. That is precisely why 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that when we are in Christ we are a new creation. A miracle has occurred and our desires have turned from self-centered to God-centered.
- Despite what you have been taught, your works do not help save you. Jesus tells us in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Paul also makes this point in Ephesians 2:8-10. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You see, the Jews of Jesus day tried works righteousness, and it was insufficient. In Romans chapter 10 Paul explains, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Our righteousness does not come from ourselves or from our works. Our righteousness is filthy rags before God. It is only the righteousness of Christ that is received by faith that is sufficient to justify us. Trusting in Christ for righteousness is the epitome of faith, whereas trusting in self for righteousness is the opposite of faith.
- The Bible makes a clear distinction between a living faith and a dead faith. The Book of James teaches in chapter 2, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” and later, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” When James asks, “Can that faith save him?” he makes a clear distinction between a dead faith that does not produce good works, and a living faith that creates a desire to please God and keep his commands. James is not preaching a different gospel than Paul. In fact, he is emphasizing the same point. The point is this; if we have a true faith and are born of God, that faith will produce a desire in us to do his will and to keep his law. Whereas a faith that is only verbal and does not produce good fruit, is not a true faith at all. Hence, faith without works is dead.
But aren’t there more practical things to write about? Sola Fide is an antiquated term for a theological position that people argue about all the time. Brothers and sisters, this could not be further from the truth. Our understanding of Christ propitiatory death is essential to our trusting in him, and if our trust is resting in our own righteousness, then our faith is not truly in Christ. At the end of this life the only thing that matters in light of eternity is whether or not we trusted Christ for salvation. Therefore, it is vital that we take the time to rightly understand the means by which he has saved us, namely by grace through faith.