Sola Fide, which is Latin for faith alone, also known as justification by faith alone, is one of the twin pillars of the reformation, along with sola scriptura (the Bible alone is the final authority). The doctrine of sola fide was invented by Martin Luther. Sola fide means that only faith is needed for salvation. I’ve actually heard many Protestants say that not only are works not needed for salvation, but works get in the way of salvation.
Sola fide says that works, meaning what people actually do and say, do not play a role in salvation whatsoever. But sola fide is an unscriptural teaching. The only place in the Bible where it says “faith alone” is in James, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (2:24). The only time “faith alone” appears in the Bible is in a negative way. Romans says that “we are justified by faith, and not by the works of the law.” The context of “works” in this passage in Romans is of the Jewish obligatory law, very different than the way James uses the word “works”. No one believed they could be saved by following the Jewish law. Besides, it does not say that we are justified by faith alone. Martin Luther actually added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 to his German New Testament. Never before had this portion of scripture been translated or interpreted with the word “alone” before Martin Luther did. (If you read my post Spiritual Journey part 2, you’ll find that Luther also tried to take the book of James out of the Bible for the same reason he tried to add the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. He tried to change the Bible to fit with his unorthodox theology.)
Many faith-alone Protestants are under the notion that Catholics teach a “works-based” salvation. This is false. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace to us – no man can merit salvation by anything he does. You can check the catechism of the Catholic Church here and here to verify this. The council of Trent states: “We are said to be justified by grace because nothing that precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification. For ‘it is by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise’ as the apostle says, ‘grace is no more grace.’”
Sola fida, or faith alone, had never been taught in the whole history of Christianity until Luther appeared on the scene in the 16th century. Sadly, it is still preached by many non-Catholics today. In fact, many Protestants I know seem to have a “get the right answer, and you’re in!” attitude towards salvation and heaven. It’s a quiz, and it goes something like this: Protestants ask other people: “When you die, and Jesus asks you at the gates of heaven, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ What will you say?” If you don’t get the right answer that states something along the lines of “trusting in faith in Jesus alone,” then I’m not sure if you’re saved; let me explain the gospel to you (again).
However, many Protestants are being swayed by the overwhelming Scriptural evidence and are beginning to accept that good works, supernaturally bound together with faith, actually do play a role in salvation as well. This is the Catholic teaching. James specifically says that we are “justified by works, and not by faith alone.” This completely defeats the doctrine of sola fide with one single hit. It’s straight from the Bible, folks.
As I was learning this for myself, last summer, I began to find that the Protestant twin pillars completely, and boldly, contradict each other. Sola scriptura says that only things taught in scripture are things we can trust for our salvation. Sola fide is a doctrine that is specifically not in the Bible, but rather found outside the Bible. To believe one Protestant twin, you must knock down the other one. Logically, if one is true, the other is false. I was beginning to realize that, actually, they were both false. My Protestant foundation had completely crumbled from beneath me. The ruble didn’t even resemble pieces I could try to glue back together.
So, if I wasn’t a Protestant, what was I? I felt often lost, as if my world was completely upside down. I had no way of knowing which way was up and which way was down. My boyfriend and I had many, many, long talks into the evening as we discussed all the things including church, the Bible, Bible alone vs Scripture & Tradition, faith alone vs faith & works, pope vs no pope, and the list goes on. Jacob let me lead the conversations, just being there as a guide, answering my questions, and asking a few questions to point me in the different, possible directions. But more importantly, Jacob let me wrestle with the tough issues on my own. We had our Bible’s constantly handy. During this time, I often felt confused, betrayed, lost, deep in thought, upside down, emotionally upset, sometimes angry, and I often felt like I was falling with no ground insight. Jacob reminded me that my foundation was in Christ, not in anyone else’s notions of how Christianity should be.
When I wasn’t with Jacob I studied the Word, I prayed, I read these books, prayed some more, and read more of the Bible. My study of salvation, soteriology, ultimately brought me to these verses: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:8-10).
One of my favorite quotes that talks about Ephesians 2:8-10 comes from David Currie in his book Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic:
“Evangelicals try to use [Ephesians 2:8-10] to prove that we are not saved by works. All a Catholic can do is agree! One of our glorious agreements is that we are not saved by works, we are saved by grace. That is what Paul is stating here. He is not pitting works against faith. The passage never tries to focus on the inner workings of justification. He is pitting works against grace (notice the use of the preposition ‘by’, twice!) This verse says that we are saved by grace; that even the faith we have is a gracious gift; and that the works we do are nothing to boast of because they too are a gracious gift –‘God’s workmanship’ in us. It is all grace through and through, from beginning to end. Catholics and Evangelicals alike love this passage.” (Currie, 118)
Ask a Catholic about salvation, about how we get saved, and he will probably bring you to a gospel passage and quote the words of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Jesus did not say that we are saved, get to enter heaven, by our faith alone, but rather by what we do. Jesus speaks about the ideal life as one that is full of good works flowing outward from a vibrant inner faith. Read Matthew 7:24-27, 21:28-32, 25:14-30, 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37.
When one starts with the gospel of Jesus, I believe it is inevitable that a Catholic view of salvation will be developed. Indeed, the Catholic view of salvation was developed straight from the words of Jesus. It had to be that way, because as Catholic soteriology was being developed in the first century, not all of the New Testament letters had been written yet and they weren’t considered a part of the cannon of scripture until the very end of the 4th century. We are saved by grace, justified by faith and works. This emphasis on faith and works makes a tremendous practical difference.
The pieces were beginning to come together in a way far more beautiful than I had ever been able to imagine. Salvation and the Bible were beginning to fit together and make sense, for the first time in my life. And it was so much clearer than it ever had been before.
David Currie (author of Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic) is far smarter than I am; he was a Protestant who had gone through seminary and studied the Bible way more than I have. He converted to Catholicism after being an Evangelical all his life. David Currie verbalized what I felt when he says in his book:
“At the end of my investigation into Catholic soteriology, I found myself buying into an entire systematic theology as I had never been able to do before. Since beginning seminary I had looked for, but had never been able to find, a systematic theology that dealt with all the data of Scripture. Every single one had fudged certain verses or ignored others in order to make its system work. This had bothered me immensely. At last I discovered one that did not have to do this. Catholicism incorporates all of Scripture in its thought. That makes perfect sense when one finally understands that Catholics, with Catholic theological assumptions, wrote the Bible.”
If you’re interested in reading more, here are my sources and suggestions:
Currie, David. Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. Book. (order it on amazon)
Rose, Devin. The Protestants Dilemma: How the Reformations shocking consequences points to the truth of Catholicism. Catholic Answers, 2014. Book. (order it on amazon)
Hahn, Scott & Kimberly. Rome Sweet Home, Our Journey to Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993. Book. (order it on amazon)
Gibbons, James. The Faith of our Fathers. (Free on Project Gutenberg)
Steve Ray, Why I’m Catholic – Baptist convert