Reformation 500_ Sola Fide- Faith Alone
On the 31 October 1517, Protestants all over the world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. This was the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, this incident symbolically marked the start of the Christian Reformation.
In the next few weeks we will be looking at the 5 creeds that came out of the Reformation. Most of you know them already, they are:
- Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
- Sola Gracia – By Grace Alone
- Sola Christus – By Christ Alone
- Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
- Sola Deo Gloria – For God’s glory alone.
Salvation is by grace, through faith alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone as revealed in Holy Scripture alone.
This morning I am going to look at Sola fide – The doctrine of Justification by faith alone.
Martin Luther said that Sola fide “preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this [doctrine] the world is utter death and darkness.” J.I. Packer agrees, he says “that when this doctrine [Sola fide] is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in medieval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death.”
The problem was that during the 15th century, the Roman Church had been teaching a false gospel. Traditional Catholicism was a central and basic part of community and individual lives in Europe during this time. Religion and tradition was very important to the people of pre-Reformation Europe. Uneducated church goers were unwittingly manipulated to buy indulgences from the priest so that their sins could be forgiven. Pilgrimage to the tombs of saints was, if anything, on the increase in the fifteenth century.
The Reformation was to a large extent the re-evangelization of an essentially pagan Europe. For many were hearing the message of biblical Christianity for the first time. The reason that Martin Luther said that, “without the doctrine of Sola Fide (Justification by Faith alone) the world is utter death and darkness”, is because the medieval world was in utter darkness because of the failure of the church to preach and teach this biblical doctrine. Martin Luther and the reformers argued that we are saved by ‘faith alone in Christ alone’, the Catholics would teach that we are saved by ‘faith plus charity’ or faith plus good works. The issue was whether man was capable of fulfilling the demands of God. The Reformers claimed that it was not possible- that the commands in scripture to perfect behaviour only highlight mans imperfection and inability to live up to God’s standard. Recognising his helplessness, man can only cease to rely on himself and throw himself wholly on God’s mercy. The doctrine of Justification by faith alone taught that a person is declared just or right before God only through trusting in Christ.
The Catholic Church argued that man’s deeds do contribute something – that man can in a sense cooperate with God in salvation; to which Luther replied that it was therefore no longer by faith alone. It was a contrast between a view in which man was only and utterly dependent on God, and one on which man could actively cooperate in his path to heaven. The Roman Church taught that the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.
Martin Luther wrote. “The sight of a crucifix was like lightening to me and when his name was spoken I would rather have heard that of the devil, because I thought I must do good works until Christ, because of them, became friendly and gracious to me.”  As disciplined as a monks life was, he soon realised that no amount of penance or good works was going to absolve him of his sins.
I recently finished my research paper on the effects of Justification by faith in Nashik and Kolhapur, which uncovered some very troubling statistics. Here are some of the results:
- 77% incorrectly said that God does not punish everyone for the sin of Adam. (Q.3)
- 77% incorrectly said that Justification is about a change of nature and not a change of status. (Q.10)
- 96% incorrectly said that Justification makes someone righteous before God. (Q.12) God’s Justification does not make us righteous it declares us righteous before God....
- 72% incorrectly said that a person needs to be baptised in order to go to heaven. (Q.14)
- 79% incorrectly said that the righteousness of Christ is infused into a believer. (Q.24.)
- 71% incorrectly said that a sinner is justified through ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. (Q.37)
- 72% incorrectly said that a sinner is justified through faith in Jesus Christ plus good works. (Q.38)
- 83% incorrectly said that Christians can lose their salvation. (Q.45)
Lets us turn to the book of Romans, to see why this doctrine is so crucial to our understanding of the biblical gospel.
Rom 1:17 – “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
What troubled Luther in Romans 1:17, was the phrase ‘God’s righteousness’, he used to think 'God's righteousness' in the gospel 'was revealed', not in giving perfect righteousness freely to sinners forever apart from the fact they were sinners, but in punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous.
Look at verse Romans 1:18, it says “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
This is our situation, this is what Luther realised was his relation to God, and the question we should all ask, just like Luther did is ‘How can we be right with God?’
- How can man be just with God?
- How can he be right with the holy one?
- Even more accurately we should be asking how can sinful man be just with God?
The answer of course, is that we cannot be right with him; we are all wrong with him. And we are all wrong with him, because we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The answer to this question points out the necessity of a complete reversal in our relation to God. Justification is the solution. Justification is the act of Gods free grace. Romans 8:33 says ‘It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns?’
After much heart searching which led Luther to study the scriptures, he discovered that the Greek word for justification that was in the New Testament, was the word ‘dikaios’, ‘dikaiosune’, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous.
The Roman Catholic Church at this time used the Latin word ‘justificare’ in their translation of the bible. And it came from the Roman judicial system. The Roman Church taught that the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.
Through his study of Romans, he came to realise that this was not what the scriptures were teaching. We are not made righteous by our works, we are declared righteous, by His grace alone.
Listen to how Roger Weil explains it. He says Justification by faith alone is “a purely judicial act of God which only affects the moral status of a man before God. God does not say that the unholy person is now suddenly holy; he simply declares that through Christ’s sacrificial death on the sinner’s behalf. Our relationship to the law and it’s just demands have been satisfied on the basis of Christ’s fulfilling the law for us, and his death in our place (1Peter 2:24, 2Corinthians 5:21). Our own moral character is not the ground of the declaration that we are justified, and is not affected by it.”
And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. Eventually Luther understood that what Paul was speaking of in Romans was a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God. He had discovered (or recovered) the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This discovery changed Luther’s life and ultimately changed the course of church history and the history of Europe. Remembering the experience that transformed his life, he later said:
“That expression ‘righteousness of God’ was like a thunderbolt in my heart... I hated Paul with all my heart when I read that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel [Rom.1:16-17]. Only afterward, when I saw the words that follow-namely, that it’s written that the righteous shall live by faith [1:17] – (and in addition consulted Augustine), I was cheered. When I learned that the righteousness of God is his mercy, and that he makes us righteous through it, a remedy was offered to me in my affliction.”
The biblical doctrine of justification was also a major concern for the apostle Paul. For him it was the heart of the gospel (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-5:21; Gal. 2:15-5:1) shaping both his message (Acts 13:38-39) and his devotion and spiritual life (2 Cor. 5:13-21; Phil. 3:4-14).
If Paul could convince the Jews that Abraham was justified by faith, then they would have to agree that his teachings were neither new nor unfaithful to the faith of Israel in the Old Testament age. Paul used the Old Testament in Romans 1-5 to base his argument on the premises of biblical Old Testament texts. In Romans 4, Paul appeals to what the Old Testament says about Abraham (father of the Jews) as the father of all who believe (4:16). The main text in Paul’s argument is Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3). Abraham was a justified man as soon as he was a believer, not as soon as he was circumcised. Paul makes the argument that sinners are not accepted by God because of their nationality, caste, circumstance or any external ritual or even Church privileges but by the same way as Abraham, through faith in the Messiah.
Sadly the Jews contended that they were justified before God by their works they performed as well as the privilege of being Abrahams children. Dr A. T. Robertson explains, “[the] rabbis had a doctrine of the merits of Abraham who had a superfluity of credits to pass on to the Jews.” But Paul proves that Abraham could not boast before God because he was justified by faith, not works. In Romans 4:1-8 Paul, identifying with the Jews (being a Hebrew of the Hebrews: Abraham our father) contradicts this false understanding of the Old Testament. He says; “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).
The Jews trusted in the Law; they trusted also in Circumcision: and the Apostle Paul cuts the sinews of their confidence in the Law, by reminding them, first, that ‘the Promise was not to Abraham or to his seed, through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith’ (Rom. 4:13) and that ‘if they which are of the Law be heirs, faith is made void, and the Promise made of none effect:’ and he equally cuts the sinews of their confidence in Circumcision, by reminding them, secondly, that Abraham, the father of the faithful, was justified before he was circumcised. ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision: and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised. (Rom.4:9-11)
In the passage above Paul reminds us that his salvation, just like that of Abraham, was all by grace through faith with no merit of his own. Abraham, before his conversion was an ungodly Chaldean idolater, who needed to be saved from his sins. There was no merit in Abraham that earned his right standing before God (righteousness). The example of Abraham who ‘believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness’ (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-3) illustrates his doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone, apart from all human works. In Romans 4:6-7, Paul quotes David’s words from Psalm 32:1-2, to help us see the negative side of the reckoning which occurs in the justification of the sinner. God’s way of salvation has never been by works, and has always been by grace through faith alone.
When faith is diluted (mixed) with works, sola fide is abandoned. This was the error of the Galatian legalists & Paul called it ‘a different gospel’ Gal 1:6,9. The error is found in virtually every false cult........
- In one of my questions I asked “was Abraham – in the Old Testament, justified by works?” 64% of the participants answered YES.
- 40% of these professing protestant participants said that a sinner is justified through faith in the Church of Jesus Christ.
- 72% said that it is necessary to be baptised in order to go to heaven, and 51% said that a person needs to participate in Holy Communion in order to go to heaven.
- 79% of the protestant participants agree with the catholic teaching that the righteousness of Christ must be infused into a believer and not imputed.
- An overwhelming 83% of the participants said that we do not need an ‘alien righteousness’ to go to heaven. Just in case the question may have been misunderstood, I asked the question another way, ‘Does a person need an ‘intrinsic’ righteousness, to go to heaven?’ 74% of the participants affirmed their first answer by saying, YES!
The influence of Roman Catholicism is still very much a part of the Protestant Church in India. Not only do biblical churches have to contend with this false gospel, but we also have to avoid the cultural false religious influence in the church as well.
If the research done in Kolhapur and Nashik is a micro-reflection of Indian Christian culture, then we have objective proof that the church in India is not standing but falling, and a new reformation call in India is indeed the need of the hour. Syncretism has crept into the Indian Christian mindset, and we now see ‘works based’ religions like Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam influencing the theology of the Indian Evangelical church. The church is teaching similar Hindu dogma that suggests that the quality of your life is dependent on your karma (conduct or action), and by living a righteous life and fulfilling your dharma will enhance the chances of being born again and make your circumstances better. Justification by works is the order of the day. God’s grace in the justification of sinners is no longer yearned for, practised or preached as it should be.
Dr. John MacArthur says, “True salvation cannot be earned by works. There are, after all, only two kinds of religion in all the world. Every false religion ever devised by mankind or by Satan is a religion of human merit. Pagan religion, humanism, animism, and even false Christianity all fall into this category. They focus on what people must do to attain righteousness or please the deity. Biblical Christianity alone is the religion of divine accomplishment. Other religions say, “Do this.” Christianity says, “It is done” (cf. John 19:30). Other religions require that the devout person supply some kind of merit to atone for sin, appease deity, or otherwise attain the goal of acceptability. Scripture says Christ’s merit is supplied on behalf of the believing sinner.”
The professing evangelical church needs to, once again, become evangelical. ‘Biblical Christianity alone is the religion of divine accomplishment’. Just like Israel’s apostasy, the Indian church’s apostasy will be rooted in their abandonment of justification by faith alone: "For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). Scripture itself makes sola fide the only alternative to a damning system of works-righteousness: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favour, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Romans 4:4-5).
As already mentioned, the implications of a departure from this doctrine could be disastrous for the evangelical Church in India, and a new Reformation call may be what is needed.
 Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed E.M. Plass, 3 vols. Wartburg Press, Ohio (1944), p.705
 J.I. Packer, ‘Introductory Essay’, in James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, Banner of Truth, London (1961), p.vii.
 Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed E.M. Plass, 3 vols. Wartburg Press, Ohio (1944), p.705
 Birkett, K., The Essence of the Reformation, Matthias Media, Kingsford, Australia (2009), p.72.
 Roger Weil, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Grace Publications, London, (2007) p. 144.
 Martin Luther, Table Talk, ed Theodore G. Tappert, 55 vols. Fortress, Philadelphia (1967) 54:308-9
 Archibald T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Broadman Press, Nashville (1931), IV, p.350
 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, Banner of Truth, London (1961), p.54
 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, Nashville (1993), p.99