Sola Fide in the Reformation
In the 16th century there were a few courageous believers that stood up against the Catholic Church and their many abuses. The ‘five solas’ were the calling cry for all those who wanted to return to Biblical truth. One of those solas was sola fide which is Latin for ‘faith alone.’ This was the doctrine of justification by faith alone that those reformers received persecution for, and the Catholic church hated them because they opposed their doctrine.
The Catholic Church taught that justification, which is the doctrine of how a holy God can accept a worthless sinner, was a process and not a one time event. The church taught that faith and the ongoing process of receiving the penances (baptism, Eucharist, etc) were necessary for one’s salvation. In other words, the gift of righteousness from the atonement was infused over time and not imputed as the reformers taught. Grace was given to the masses through the penances and those alone. It was an abuse of the highest magnitude.
A German monk started to read the Scriptures and started asking questions about the church’s doctrine. Horrified by indulgences sold by the Catholic church, it prompted him to act on what he believed the Scriptures taught. This was Martin Luther, and he says in his 95 Theses which started the Protestant Reformation (#37): ‘Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.’ This lowly German monk started a revolution based on the salvation of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He then translated the New Testament into German, and it was proven again that the Scriptures when read and studied changes lives most assuredly.
It should be no surprise that the Gospel is still under attack today. Not just by those who are Catholic but also by those who claim a different lineage. It’s almost ironic that that what Martin Luther opposed (the use of works in justification) is still being taught today. The doctrine known as baptismal regeneration, or that one must be baptized in order to be justified and reconciled to God is of a similar vain. It is an attack on the Gospel and cross of Christ. As Biblical Christians, we must stand up for the work accomplished once-for-all on the cross (Rom 6:10; Heb 7:27, 9:12; 1 Pet 3:18). It is a beautiful thing that’s worth dying for, but it’s also what gives us life: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10b).
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.’ (Hab 2:4)
Exegesis of Pertinent Texts
I believe that there numerous texts that attest to the truth that sinners are justified by faith alone. The Bible teaches both processes of justification and also sanctification which is the growing in holiness of the Christians until he joins the Lord forever and the process is complete. The two are separate but both important. The Catholic church included sanctification in the process of justification,1) and those holding to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, or anything else that takes away from faith as the only instrument for justification do the same.
- An example of the Catholic confusion over justification and sanctification is prevalent in their catechism:
“The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, Part III, Article I, Chapter III.I [Back]