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Sola fide

Sola fide (by faith alone) is the doctrine held by some Protestant denominations of Christianity but rejected by other Christians, that God once and for all declares sinners righteous, on the basis of faith in Christ's work, death and resurrection, and not on the basis of good works which they have done. Thus, it is only through Christ's righteousness imputed to them, that believers have hope of eternal life. This doctrine as accepted by many Protestants, including Lutherans and Baptists, is rejected by Catholics.

As stated by Martin Luther, sola fide was the principal cause of the Protestant Reformation. As expressed by John Calvin, "every one who would obtain the righteousness of Christ must renounce his own". The doctrine asserts that faith in Christ is both necessary and sufficient for sinners to be accepted by God, to count them among His people, and to equip them with the motive of trust, gratitude and love toward God from which good works are to be done. Some Christian groups such as Catholics believe that faith is necessary for salvation but not sufficient.

The precise relationship between faith and good works is an issue of continuing controversy in Lutheran and other churches. Even at the outset of the Reformation, subtle differences of emphasis appeared. For example, because the Epistle of James emphasizes the importance of good works, Martin Luther sometimes referred to it as the "epistle of straw". Calvin on the other hand, while not intending to differ with Luther, wrote of the necessity of good works as a consequence or 'fruit' of faith. The Anabaptists tended to make a nominal distinction between faith and obedience. Recent meetings of scholars and clergy have attempted to soften the antithesis between Lutheran and Catholic conceptions of the role of faith in salvation, which, if they were successful, would have far reaching implications for the relationship between most Protestants and the Catholic Church. These attempts to form a consensus are not widely accepted among either Protestants or Catholics, so that sola fide continues to be a doctrinal distinctive of the Reformation churches, including Lutherans, Reformed and many evangelicals. Nevertheless, some statements of the doctrine are interpreted as a denial of the doctrine as understood by other groups.

Table of contents

Sola Fide Apparently Supported by the New Testament

Acts 16:31
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.

Acts 26:18
...that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me...

Romans 3:28
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Romans 5:1
...having been justified by faith...

Romans 10:9
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and belive in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Sola Fide Apparently Rejected by the New Testament

James Chapter Two (Excerpts)
...What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?...You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?...Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Sola fide in Protestant Confessions (Excerpts)

Anglican

Article XI
Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1571)

Lutheran

Article IV Of Justification
Our churches by common consent...teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
Augsburg Confession, 1530

Mennonite

[MENNONITE CONFESSION OF FAITH (1963) (http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/art.8)] - copyrighted

Summary:

A typical Anabaptist confession of faith.
Salvation is variously expressed, sometimes as 'justification by faith', in which case it means that the just person has accepted the offer of a covenantal relationship, and lives according to that covenant.

Reformed (Continental)

Article 23: The Justification of Sinners

We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.

And the same apostle says that we are justified "freely" or "by grace" through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God's approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.

In fact, if we had to appear before God relying-- no matter how little-- on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.

Therefore everyone must say with David: "Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified."
Belgic Confession 1561 (French revision, 1619)

Reformed (Presbyterian)

I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
Chapter XI. Of Justification -- Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

Reformed Baptist

XXVIII.
That those which have union with Christ, are justified from all their sins, past, present, and to come, by the blood of Christ; which justification we conceive to be a gracious and free acquittance of a guilty, sinful creature, from all sin by God, through the satisfaction that Christ hath made by his death; and this applied in the manifestation of it through faith.
'First' London Baptist Confession (1644)

Chapter XI of the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 is the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith

United Methodist

We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Article IX--Justification and Regeneration (The Discipline of The Evangelical United Brethren Church 1963)

We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.
-Article IX--Of the Justification of Man (THE ARTICLES OF RELIGION OF THE METHODIST CHURCH, the Discipline of 1808)

Non-denominational Evangelicals

The justification of the sinner solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
British Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith

We believe in...The Salvation of lost and sinful man through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith apart from works, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit...
World Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith

Unofficial Ecumenical statements

Evangelicals and Catholics Together

The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of justification is received through faith. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the gospel, the good news of God's saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole persons involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).
The Gift of Salvation (1997)

Lutheran-Catholic

4.3 Justification by Faith and through Grace

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God's gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.
-JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION (1997)

See also:

sola scriptura



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