Sola Fide is latin for “Faith Alone”. It means that we are saved from eternal damnation from our sins only by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing else besides faith in Christ that is either necessary nor is able to save us. The doctrine of Sola Fide says that that good works cannot gain our salvation, only by trusting in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice can we be saved. But is Sola Fide biblical? What is the biblical evidence for this doctrine?
First, we have Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For it is by grace that 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.” Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear cut; we are saved by God’s grace. God’s grace regenerated us or made us born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17) when we placed our faith in Him. Once we placed our faith in Jesus, God’s grace regenerated us, and God forgave us and adopted us as His children (John 1:12). Ephesians says that we weren’t saved because we did any good works. The passage implies that if we could be saved by good works, we’d have something to boast about. We could go on and on in the afterlife about how much better we were than other saints that were there. “Yeah, you did some nice things Bob. But you should take a look at my spiritual resume. I dare say that I might have out good deeded every member of the Red Cross and Salvation Army combined!” But since we’re not saved by how many good deeds we do, we have nothing to boast about. I am no better for attaining my salvation than any other saved person, and I’m certainly not better than those who aren’t saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that our salvation was granted to us upon placing our faith in Christ. In fact, even our faith would be impossible without grace. In John 6:44 and John 6:65, Jesus says that no one can come to the Father unless the Father draws them. According to John 6:44 and John 6:65, grace is needed in order for us to be able to repent. Even faith would be impossible unless God gave us the ability to choose to exercise it.
Then over in Romans 4, you have Paul saying “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’.” – Romans 4:1-8
Again, we have scripture telling us that good works do not save, but only faith. Paul says that if Abraham were justified before God because of the good works he performed, he would have something to boast about. Paul then quotes Genesis 15:6 which tells us what justified Abraham; his faith. “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” It was his belief in God that saved him, not any good works. Paul then gives a very logical argument against works based salvation. He says that to the one who works, his wages are not a gift, but are his due. If I work several hours at a job every day, come pay day, my employer is giving me what is due me. I worked hard for my money so my boss is both legally and morally obligated to give me money. Therefore, if salvation were gained by works, God would be obligated to let us into Heaven. Heaven would be our due. In other words, God would be in our debt rather than us being in His debt. Paul then quotes Psalm 32:1-2. It would seem then that if salvation were by works, the shoe would be on the other foot. God would be in our debt, rather than us being in His debt. Clearly there is something wrong with this picture. We are in debt to God. That’s what Luke 8:41-45 says. That was the whole point of Jesus’ death for the whole world (1 John 2:2); Jesus’ death paid the debt that we could not pay. Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (Luke )
Moreover, if it were possible to work your way into Heaven, then that means that Christ died for nothing! For why would shed blood on Jesus’ part be necessary if all we had to do in order to get to Heaven was to simply let our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds? And yet in Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not my will but your will be done.” Evidentially, this was the only way to attain our salvation. Jesus clearly didn’t want to suffer on the cross (who in their right mind would?) but He desired our salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4) far more than He desired not to feel pain. His overwhelming love for us is what drove Him to the cross (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). And yet if good deeds could get us past the pearly gates, all of that horrific suffering was unnecessary. Why die on the cross on my behalf if I can get the job done myself?
Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Our righteous acts are like filthy rags to God. Have you ever tried to clean something with a dirty rag? I have. All it does it move the dirt around. It doesn’t get anything clean. In order to clean the thing that needs to be clean, you need a clean rag. If the rag is filthy, all you’ll be doing is moving the dirt around. In the same way, we’ve been made dirty by the stains of our sins. We can’t absolve ourselves by righteous acts. We just move the inequity around.
Some who deny sola fide say that they don’t deny that salvation is by faith, but that salvation comes from both faith and works. Both faith and works attain salvation, not faith alone nor works alone. They’ll also argue that the works we do attain salvation are done by God working through us. The problem with this argument is that in Romans 11:6, Paul says “And if by grace, then it no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
If you want to delve into the topic of Sola Fide further, Richard Bushey has got several different articles on his website ThereforeGodExists.com such as “Is Justification By Faith Or By Faith Alone” and also “Some People Think We Are Justified By Works, Just Not Works Of The Law”, and also “Does James 2 Contradict Romans 4?” and many others. You can see a whole section on Sola Fide posts written by him by clicking here.
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Here are a few out of many articles that I have written on Sola Fide:
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The Catholic Church’s position can be in line with this depending on how “fide” is defined. If it is merely an intellectual assent to God (without any real change in the actions of a person) then the Catholic Church rejects that based on James 2:14-26. If it is a “living faith” (i.e. faith which is lived in concrete action: seeking virtue, works of mercy, prayer, worship, etc.) then yes, Sola Fide!
I know of no protestant theologian who would say “an intellectual assent to God” is what saves us. If that were so, the devil would be saved. The protestant position is that God’s decree that we are forgiven, we are His children, and we have passed from death to life is through trusting in the work of Jesus on the cross. But if a person has truly turned from his life of sin and has truly accepted Christ in his heart, he will display the fruits of a transformed life. Maybe not immediately, but increasingly overtime as he undergoes the process of sanctification. We would understand James 2 to be saying that anyone who simply calls themselves a Christian but lives no differently than a heathen and never displays any change has a dead faith. Living trees produce fruit. The fruits of the Spirit will be evident in a person’s life.
So we are in full agreement, thank God!