A Close Look at “Sola Fide” (Part5)

January 22, 2006 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  Last week we learned the nature of faith. Saving faith includes three aspects: (1) knowledge or understanding, (2) assent or agreement, and (3) trust and commitment. Let me explain those three aspects again by using Wayne Grudem’s explanation from his book, Systematic Theology: [1]   Personal saving faith, in the way Scripture understands it, involves more than mere knowledge. Of course, it is necessary that we have some knowledge of who Christ is and what He has done, for “how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” (Ro 10:14). But knowledge about the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us is not enough, for people can know facts but rebel against them or dislike them. For example, Paul tells us that many people know God’s laws but dislike them: “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Ro 1:32).  Even the demons know who God is and know the facts about Jesus’ life and saving works, for James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (Jas 2:19). But that knowledge certainly does not mean that the demons are saved.   Moreover, merely knowing the facts and approving of them or agreeing that they are true is not enough. Nicodemus knew that Jesus had come from God, for he said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus had evaluated the facts of the situation, including Jesus’ teaching and his remarkable miracles, and had drawn a correct conclusion from those facts: Jesus was a teacher come from God. But this alone did not mean that Nicodemus had saving faith, for he still had to put his trust in Christ for salvation; he still had to “believe in Him.” King Agrippa provides another example of knowledge and approval without saving faith. Paul realized that King Agrippa knew and apparently viewed with approval the Jewish Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament). When Paul was on trial before Agrippa, he said, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do(Ac 26:27). Yet Agrippa did not have saving faith, for he said to Paul “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian!” (Ac 26:28).   In addition to knowledge of the facts of the gospel and approval of those facts in order to be saved, I must decide to depend on Jesus to save me. In doing this I move from being an interested observer of the facts of salvation and the teachings of the Bible to being someone who enters into a new relationship with Jesus Christ as a living person. . . . John 3:16 tells us that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here John uses a surprising phrase when he does not simply say, “whoever believes Him” (that is, believes that what He says is true and able to be trusted), but rather, “whoever believes in Him”… with the sense of trust or confidence that goes into and rests in Jesus as a person.   . . . With this understanding of the New Testament faith, we may now appreciate that when a person comes to trust in Christ, all three elements must be present. There must be some basic knowledge or understanding of the facts of the gospel. There must also be approval of, or agreement with, these facts. Such agreement includes a conviction that the facts spoken of the gospel are true, especially the fact that I am a sinner in need of salvation and that Christ alone has paid the penalty for my sin and offers salvation to me. It also includes an awareness that I need to trust in Christ for salvation and that He is the only way to God, and the only means provided for my salvation. This approval of the facts of the gospel will also involve a desire to be saved through Christ. But all this still does not add up to true saving faith. That comes only when I make a decision of my will to depend on, or put my trust in, Christ as my Savior. This personal decision to place my trust in Christ is something done with my heart, the central faculty of my entire being that makes commitments for me as a whole person.     Today, I intend to conclude our study of sola fide by answering certain questions:  
  1. Is it proper to use the term sola fide when nowhere does Paul say “alone” when speaking of the faith that justifies?
  2. Why did God choose faith to be the means to obtain justification?
  3. Why did James say that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone?
  4. Doesn’t the teaching of justification by faith alone lead to a tolerant attitude toward sin?
  5. Does repentance have any place in the doctrine of sola fide?

1.   Is it proper to use the term sola fide (faith alone) when nowhere does Paul say “alone” when speaking of the faith that justifies?

  The Roman Catholic Church has always objected to the use of sola (“alone”) attached to fide, contending that nowhere does Paul say “alone” when speaking of the faith that justifies. This is true enough but we should insist that the absence of the word “alone” does not mean that its use as a description is wrong. Would it be wrong to use the phrase “Christ alone” since you never find in the New Testament the word “alone” attached to Christ? But how else would verses such as John 14:6 or Acts 4:12 or 1 Timothy 2:5 be interpreted but that Christ alone is Savior?
  • Jn 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
  • Ac 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
  • 1Ti 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  Similarly, even if Paul does not connect the word “alone” to faith iw would not be wrong to say salvation is through faith alone. Consider these passages:
  • Ro 3:20-22: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. . . . 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. . . . 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
  • Ro 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
  • Ro 4:5: “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
  • Ro 4:14: “For if those who live by law are heirs [of Abraham], faith has no value.”
  • Gal 2:16: “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
  • Gal 2:20-21: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
  • Gal 3:11: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
  • Gal 3:1-5 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing--if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
  • Gal 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
  • Eph 2:8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Phil 3:9: “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
  • Tit 3:5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.”
  I like what Robert Reymond wrote: “When Paul declares (1) that a man is justified “by faith apart from works of the law,” (2) that the man “who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked” is the man God regards as righteous, (3) that a man is “not justified by works of the law but through faith,” and (4) that “by the Law no man is justified before God . . . because ‘the righteous will live by faith,’” he is asserting the “aloneness” of faith as the “alone” instrument of justification as surely as if he had used the word “alone,” and he is asserting it even more vigorously than if he had simply employed “alone” each time.[2]  

2.   Why did God choose faith to be the means to obtain justification?[3]

  Wayne Grudem:   But we may ask why God chose faith to be the attitude of heart by which we would obtain justification. Why could God not have decided to give justification to all those who sincerely show love? Or who show joy? Or contentment? Or humility? Or wisdom? Why did God choose faith as the means by which we receive justification?   It is apparently because faith is the one attitude of heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Christ in faith we essentially say, “I give up! I will not depend on myself or my own good works any longer. I know that I can never make myself righteous before God. Therefore, Jesus, I trust You and depend on You completely to give me a righteous standing before God.” In this way, faith is the exact opposite of trusting in ourselves, and therefore it is the attitude that perfectly fits salvation that depends not at all on our own merit but entirely on God’s free gift of grace. Paul explains this when he says, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants” (Ro 4:16). This is why the Reformers from Martin Luther on were so firm in their insistence that justification comes not through faith plus some merit or good work on our part, but only through faith alone. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Paul repeatedly says that “no human being will be justified in His sight by works of law” (Ro 3:20); the same idea is repeated in Galatians 2:16; 3:11; 5:4.    

3.   Why did James say that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone?[4]

  Wayne Grudem:   But is this consistent with the epistle of James? What can James mean when he says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone? (Jas 2:24). Here we must realize that James is using the word justified in a different sense from the way Paul uses it. In the beginning of this chapter we noted that the word justify has a range of meanings, and that one significant sense was “declare to be righteous,” but we should also notice that the Greek word dikaioō can also mean “demonstrate or show to be righteous.” For instance, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Lk 16:15). The point here was not that the Pharisees went around making legal declarations that they were “not guilty” before God, but rather that they were always attempting to show others that they were righteous by their outward deeds. Jesus knew that the truth was otherwise: “But God knows your hearts” (Lk 16:15).   Similarly, the lawyer who put Jesus to a test by asking what he should do to inherit eternal life answered Jesus’ first question well. But when Jesus told him, “Do this, and you will live,” he was not satisfied. Luke tells us, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Lk 10:28-29). Now he was not desiring to give a legal pronouncement about himself that he was not guilty in God’s sight; rather, he was desiring to “show himself righteous” before others who were listening. Other examples of the word justify meaning “show to be righteous” can be found in Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35; Romans 3:4.   Our interpretation of James 2 depends not only on the fact that “show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified, but also on the consideration that this sense fits well in the context of James 2. When James says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (v.21) he is referring to something later in Abraham’s life, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, which occurred in Genesis 22. This is long after the times recorded in Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed God “and reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Yet this earlier incident at the beginning of Abraham’s covenantal relationship with God is one that Paul quotes and repeatedly refers to in Romans 4. Paul is talking about the time God justified Abraham once for all, reckoning righteousness to him as a result of his faith in God. But James is talking about something far later, after Abraham had waited many years for the birth of Isaac, and then after Isaac had grown old enough to carry wood up the mountain for a sacrifice. At that point Abraham was “shown to be righteous” by his works, and in that sense James says that Abraham was “justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar” (James 2:21).   To put it another way, Paul and James are looking at justification from two different perspectives. Paul is referring to what a person needs to do in order to be justified and he says all he needs is (repentant) faith while James is talking about what a man needs to show in order to prove that he is justified and he needs good works.   Wayne Grudem continues:   The larger concern of James in this section also fits this understanding. James is concerned to show that mere intellectual agreement with the gospel is a “faith” that is really no faith at all. He is concerned to argue against those who say they have faith but show no change in their lives. He says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith (Jas 2:18). “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2:26).  James is simply saying here that “faith” that has no results or “works” is not real faith at all; it is “dead” faith. He is not denying Paul’s clear teaching that justification (in the sense of a declaration of right legal standing before God) is by faith alone apart from works of the law; he is simply affirming a different truth, namely, that “justification” in the sense of an outward showing that one is righteous only occurs as we see evidence in a person’s life. To paraphrase, James is saying that a person is “shown to be righteous by his works, and not by his faith alone.” This is something with which Paul also would certainly agree [Eph 2:8-10; Gal 5:6; 1Th 1:3].  
  • Eph 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
  • Gal 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
  • 1Th 1:3: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith…”

4.   Doesn’t the teaching of justification by faith alone lead to a tolerant attitude toward sin?

  I like what Robert Reymond wrote in his Systematic Theology: “A good test of the correctness of one’s theology is whether one meets the same objections to it that Paul met.” Let’s look at how Paul anticipated some of the objections to his teaching regarding justification by grace alone received through faith alone.
  • Ro 3:7,8 Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8 Why not say--as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say--"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.
  • Ro 6:1,2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
  • Ro 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
  The presence of these questions is, in one sense, a test of whether or not one’s gospel is really biblical. I really like what Lloyd-Jones observation on this. Let me paraphrase some portions of what he said. He says,   The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the NT gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand and misinterpret it, to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”   What does he mean by that? What he means is this. That if a man preaches justification by works, no one will ever raise this question in Romans 6:1. If a man’s preaching is, ‘If you want to be saved and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must do good works and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make become Christians, you will be reconciled to God and you will go to heaven.”   Obviously, a man who preaches in that way will never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to such a man, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound?” because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you will surely go to hell, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. So that misunderstanding can never arise.   You can apply that same test to any other type of preaching. If a man preaches that you are saved by the church, or by sacraments, and so on, this kind of objection will not arise. This particular misunderstanding can only arise when the doctrine of justification by faith only is presented.   In a sense the doctrine of justification by faith only and by grace alone is a dangerous doctrine; dangerous in the sense that it can be misunderstood. People who listen to his preaching may say, “Ah, there is a man who does not encourage us to live a good life, he seems to say that there is no value in our works, he says that ‘all our righteousness are filthy rags.’ Therefore what he is saying is, that it does not matter what you do, sin as much as you like.”   He adds:   Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Roman Catholic Church, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said, ‘This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust and so on”. “This man,” they said, “is an antinomian and that is heresy.”    

5.   Does repentance have any place in the doctrine of sola fide?[5]

  Adapted from Wayne Grudem:   Scripture puts repentance and faith together as different aspects of the one of coming to Christ for salvation. It is not that a person first turns from sin and next trust in Christ, or first trusts in Christ and then turns from sin, but rather that both occur at the same time. When we turn to Christ for salvation from our sins, we are simultaneously turning away from the sins that we are asking Christ to save us from. …   Illustrate. The person who genuinely turns to Christ for salvation must at the same time release the sin to which he or she has been clinging and turn away from that sin in order to turn to Christ. Thus, neither repentance nor faith comes first; they must come together. John Murray speaks of “penitent faith” and “believing repentance.”   Therefore, it is clearly contrary to the New Testament evidence to speak about the possibility of having true saving faith without having any repentance from sin. It is also contrary to the New Testament to speak about the possibility of someone accepting Christ “as Savior” but not “as Lord,” as if that means simply depending on Him for salvation but not committing oneself to forsake sin and to be obedient to Christ from that point on.   Some prominent voices within evangelicalism have differed with this point, arguing that a gospel presentation that requires repentance as well as faith is really preaching salvation by works. They argue that the view advocated [here], that repentance and faith must go together, is a false gospel of “lordship salvation.” They would say that saving faith only involves trusting Christ as Savior, and that submitting to Him as Lord is an optional later step that is unnecessary for salvation. For many who teach this view, saving faith only requires an intellectual agreement with the facts of the gospel.   When Jesus invites sinners, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” He immediately adds, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me” (Mt 11:28-29). To come to Him includes taking His yoke upon us, being subject to His direction and guidance, learning from Him and being obedient to Him. If we are unwilling to make such a commitment, then we have not truly placed our trust in Him.   When Scripture speaks of trusting in God or in Christ, it frequently connects such trust with genuine repentance. For example, Isaiah gives an eloquent testimony that is typical of the message of many of the Old Testament prophets:   Is 55:6-7 Seek the LORD while he may be found;   call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way   and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,   and to our God, for he will freely pardon.     Here, both repentance from sin and coming to God for pardon are mentioned. In the New Testament, Paul summarizes his gospel ministry as one of “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac 20:21). The author of Hebrews includes as the first tow elements in a list of elementary doctrines “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God” (Heb 6:1).   Of course, sometimes faith alone is named as the thing necessary for coming to Christ for salvation. For example:
  • Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Ac 16:31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."
  • Ro 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • Eph 2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
  These are familiar passages and we emphasize them often when explaining the gospel to others. But what we do not often realize is the fact that there are many other passages where only repentance is named, for it is simply assumed that true repentance will also involve faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins. The New Testament authors understood so well that genuine repentance and genuine faith had to go together that they often simply mentioned repentance alone with the understanding that faith would also be included, because turning from sins in a genuine way is impossible apart form the genuine turning to God.
  • Lk 5:31-32: “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”
  • Lk 24:46,47 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
  • Ac 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ac 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
  • Ac 17:30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
  • 2Co 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

6.   What are some practical Implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone?[6]

  The practical implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone are very significant.  
  1. First, this doctrine enables us to offer genuine hope to unbelievers who know they could never make themselves righteous before God: if salvation is a free gift to be received through faith alone, then anyone who hears the gospel may hope that eternal life is freely offered and may be obtained.
  2. Second, this doctrine gives us confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been forgiven on [the basis of] Christ’s merits. Of course, we may continue to suffer the ordinary consequences of sin (an alcoholic who quits drinking may still have physical weakness for the rest of his or her life, and a thief who is justified may still have to go to jail to pay the penalty for his or her crime). Moreover, God may discipline us if we continue to act in ways that are disobedient to Him (see Heb 12:5-11), doing this out of love and for our own good. But God can never nor will ever take vengeance on us for past sins or make us pay the penalty that is due for them or punish us out of wrath and for the purpose of doing us harm. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1). This fact should give us a great sense of joy and confidence before God that we are accepted by Him and that we stand before Him as “not guilty” and “righteous” forever.
  3. Third, this doctrine helps us to understand why today’s evangelism seems to bring inadequate results. Grudem says: When we realize that genuine saving faith must be accompanied by genuine repentance from sin, it helps us to understand why some preaching of the gospel has such inadequate results today. If there is no mention of the need for repentance, sometimes the gospel message becomes only, “Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved” without any mention of repentance at all. But this watered-down version of the gospel does not ask for a wholehearted commitment to Christ—commitment to Christ, if genuine, must include a commitment to turn from Preaching the need for faith without repentance is preaching only half of the gospel. It will result in many people being deceived, thinking that they have heard the Christian gospel and tried it, but nothing has happened. They might even say something like, “I accepted Christ as Savior over and over again and it never worked.” Yet they never really did receive Christ as their Savior, for He comes to us in His majesty and invites us to receive Him as He is—the One who deserves to be, and demands to be, absolute Lord of our lives as well.
[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Leicester, Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pp. 709-712   [2] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 733 [3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Leicester, Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pp. 730-731 [4] ibid., pp. 731-732   [5] ibid., pp. 713-716   [6] ibid., p. 732, 716, 717