This post is the first in a series I’m writing to respond to objections to the Solas of Christianity. You may know the concepts like sola fide or sola scriptura, even if you have never heard them called that. We tend to emphasize them more in reformed churches, but most of the concepts apply to all protestant denominations. This particular post will be responding to objections and defending sola fide, or “Faith Alone.”
What is Sola Fide?
The five Solas are central doctrines clarified during the protestant reformation. As such, many of these are what separate a protestant from a catholic. Sola fide, or “faith alone,” is the idea that salvation comes only through faith in Jesus and not works.
“For it is by grace 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 NIV).
This diverges from the Catholic teachings that our works can influence salvation. Some have characterized Catholicism as having a “works-based salvation,” but what exactly that means gets debated. Most Catholic sources I find say that we are saved by grace through faith but that our love and works are still a necessary part of the process. While grace is still important there, the Catholic view is closer to the countless other religions that preach we must work our way to Heaven.
Objection 1: The Words “Faith Alone” are not Biblical
I kept reading this argument from different Catholic apologists that the words “faith alone” are only found in one verse in the Bible. That verse, James 2:24, seems to say the opposite of sola fide. “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” If scripture does not explicitly say it, can it be an essential doctrine?
Frankly, this is a really poor argument. First, by that logic, several other essential teachings, like the trinity or Jesus’ divinity, would be tossed out as well. Regardless of the phrasing, is the concept taught? Passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:28 explicitly say faith, not works, saves us. Verses like John 3:16, Acts 16:31, and Romans 10:9 lay out the requirements for salvation and make no mention of works. Unless there is something besides faith and works in the equation, that seems pretty clear to me.
Objection 2: What About James 2?
To quickly respond to James 2:24, it does sound like it contradicts sola fide if read in isolation. However, if you read that entire chapter and the rest of the New Testament, it fits just fine with sola fide. James is very blunt. If you are not doing good works, you do not have faith. That does not mean that the works saved you, but that someone who is saved ought to be doing good works.
Both protestants and Catholics seem to agree on the necessity of good works but differ on their role in salvation. The Protestant says that I am saved because of my faith in God, and out of love and gratitude, I will do good works. The Catholic says I express my faith through love, and through both am saved.
Objection 3: Sola Fide Never Existed Before the Reformation
Another common objection is that if sola fide is so important, why was it never brought up for 1500 years? Why didn’t any of the church fathers preach this before Martin Luther? This makes a similar mistake as the first objection. Just because the words “faith alone” were not used does not mean that Luther invented this idea.
First, you may have heard of the heresies of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Both taught that man played some part in meriting salvation through works and free will apart from the grace of God. Both were deemed heresies a thousand years before Luther. This issue was not new.
However, even if it had never come up before, that would not make it wrong. First, it still follows from reading the New Testament, regardless of the interpretation of councils. Second, The doctrine only needed to be clarified because the Roman Catholic church had gone wild in teachings of purgatory and indulgences. The need to emphasize that faith, and not works, saves us was perhaps never more needed than at that time. The teaching did not change, but sometimes human culture does, demanding a reformation.
Those are just a few ways of defending sola fide. If you know other objections, let us know on our discussion group here. . Next time we will cover objections to sola gratia, or “Grace Alone.”