An Overview of “Sola Fide”
What is Sola Fide?
Sola Fide is the doctrine, recovered in the Protestant Reformation, of salvation by faith alone. Sola Fide holds that believers are justified by faith alone.
First, Sola Fide says believers are justified by faith. To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. This is a legal statement. God is declaring a sinner to be righteous because Christ’s perfect righteousness has been imputed onto the sinner. This justification comes through faith. Faith in what, though? To be justified – declared righteous – one must have faith in Christ Jesus as Savior. Faith must always have an object, and for believers, the object is Jesus Christ. There are three aspects of saving faith: Knowledge of the object, assent, and trust. First, we must know about Jesus to have faith in Jesus. We must have a basic understanding of Christ and the gospel (Romans 10:14-17). This comes through the reading of Scripture and the means of grace. Second, we must give intellectual assent to the to knowledge we’ve received. This means we must affirm the truth-claims of the gospel and Scripture. We must agree with the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, we must trust in the object of faith – Jesus Christ – for salvation. We must give our lives to Christ, knowing that he is more than enough for our justification. Those three aspects (knowledge, assent, and trust) combine for justification.
Further, Sola Fide says believers are not simply justified by faith, but faith alone. I believe this is made evident by examining the whole of Scripture. God has always justified his people by faith alone. There is no other basis on which one can be saved except by faith alone. Faith cannot be combined with works to produce justification. We are justified by faith alone, and the object of that faith is Christ alone. Paul, writing to the church in Galatia, makes this clear: “…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).”
Why was Sola Fide important during the Protestant Reformation?
Sola Fide was recovered during the Protestant Reformation. Why was this necessary? The Roman Catholic Church had long abandoned the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church holds to justification by faith, but not faith alone. As shown above, the whole counsel of God teaches that justification comes by faith alone. Medieval Roman Catholic theology taught people can be justified by faith in addition to works. During the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent responded to the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the sixth session with this quote: “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” Roman Catholic theology holds that justification is increased through good works, which is opposed to biblical theology. The Reformers rediscovered a more biblical theology which led to a rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Martin Luther certainly knew the importance of justification by faith alone. He said: “Because if this article [of justification] stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses.” A church that denies justification by faith alone denies the gospel, and will collapse. The Reformers made sure that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was made clear in every confession and catechism written in the Reformation age.
Why is Sola Fide still relevant?
I am arguing that Sola Fide is still relevant today, and we should be careful to remember its importance. I would like to give three reasons why Sola Fide is still relevant to believers today.
- Protection of Biblical Doctrine: We are called to always protect the gospel and the implications of right biblical doctrine. By remembering Sola Fide we can protect these doctrines and preserve the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Unity in the Church: Sola Fide protects unity within gospel communities. As the body of Christ, we should seek unity, and that comes through common doctrine. If the church truly rises and falls on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we should be willing to seek unity with those who hold to this orthodox doctrine.
- Gospel Freedom and Assurance: Sola Fide produces in the believer freedom and assurance. There is no freedom or assurance to be found apart from justification by faith alone. A works-based justification produces no freedom. In works-based justification theology, people are chained to their own works, a false righteousness with no hope. Faith alone in Christ alone produces freedom and assurance. We are free in Christ, and assured by his finished work on the cross.
Still today, Sola Fide must remain at the forefront of our theology. Only through this Christ-centered, God-glorifying theology can sinners find life.