A Close Look at “Sola Fide” (Part4)

January 15, 2006 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  Today we continue to look at the meaning of sola fide or faith alone. This doctrine was at the center of the conflict during the 16th century. This is one of the main reasons why there are Evangelicals or Protestants. We are called Evangelicals because we believe that the Bible is the sole and final authority for our faith and conduct—not popes, pastors or bishops; not creeds or councils; not impressions or visions or dreams; not the majority or passage of time; not practicality or modernity. Evangelicals believe that the Bible alone is God’s written Word. It alone binds the conscience and teaches all that is necessary for salvation from sin. It alone is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.   The second main reason why we are Evangelicals is because we believe in sola fide. This is a Latin phrase that is used to represent the doctrine that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from works. Justification is the judicial act of God wherein, by His free grace, He does two things to the sinner: He subtracts and adds something to the sinner. (1) In subtraction, God forgives all of his sins—past, present and future, and He removes all guilt and punishment. (2) In addition, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the sinner or, to put it differently, God accounts or regards a sinner as perfectly righteous in His sight and restored to His favor. Now God does all these, not because of any good works we have done but because of Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice on behalf of sinners. And the means or the channel by which justification comes to us or actually becomes ours is faith alone.   Last week we have seen that the doctrine of sola fide is not some new doctrine and that it is biblical. The two books of the New Testament that are our main source of understanding what justification means are the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Galatians. Today, I would like us to look in more detail into the nature of faith.   Let me read from James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (pp. 137-138). Boice writes:   But what is faith? For many evangelicals faith is only a mental assent to certain doctrines. It is something we exercise once at the start of our Christian lives, after which we can live more or less in any way we please. It does not matter in terms of our salvation whether or not this “faith” makes a difference. Some evangelicals even teach that a person could be saved and secure if he or she possessed a dead or dying faith, or, incredible as this seems, if he or she apostatizes, denying Jesus.   In contrast to such an eviscerated faith [“eviscerate” means to take away a vital or essential part of], throughout church history most Bible teachers have insisted that saving, biblical faith has three elements: “knowledge, belief, and trust,” as Spurgeon put it; “awareness, assent, and commitment,” as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said; or notitia, assensus, and fiducia, to use the Latin terminology.  

1.   The first element of saving faith knowledge (notitia).

  James Boice writes, “We begin with “knowledge of the truth (or “content”),” because faith starts here. Faith without content is not true faith at all… Genuine faith rests upon knowledge, not upon pious ignorance.” And he gives this funny illustration:   There is this story about a man who was being interviewed by a group of church officers before being taken into membership. They asked him what he believed about salvation, and he replied that he believed what the church believed. What does the church believe?” they probed. “The church believes what I believe,” he answered. The committee was a bit exasperated by this time. But they tried again: “Just what do you and the church believe?” The man thought this over for a moment and then replied, “We believe the same thing.”   Spurgeon, All of Grace: “Faith, what is it? It is made up of three things--knowledge, belief, and trust. Knowledge comes first. "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" I want to be informed of a fact before I can possibly believe it. "Faith cometh by hearing"; we must first hear, in order that we may know what is to be believed. . . A measure of knowledge is essential to faith; hence the importance of getting knowledge… Faith begins with knowledge.”   R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (pp. 187-188): “Saving faith is composed of information, intellectual assent, and personal trust. Saving faith involves content. We are not justified by believing just anything. Some have said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” That sentiment is radically opposed to the teaching of the Bible. The Bible teaches that it matters profoundly what we believe. Justification is not by sincerity alone. We may be sincerely wrong. Right doctrine, at least in the essential truths of the gospel, is a necessary ingredient of saving faith. We believe in the gospel, in the person and work of Christ. That is integral to saving faith. If our doctrine is heretical in the essentials, we will not be saved. If, for example, we say we believe in Christ butt deny His deity, we do not possess the faith that justifies.”   The Bible often highlights the knowledge aspect of saving faith by using the phrase “believe that,” followed by the statement of the truth that you need to believe in:
  • Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
  • Jn 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."
  • Jn 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
  • 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.
  • 1Jn 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
  This is why Paul sometimes calls the gospel “the word of truth.”
  • Col 1:5-7 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. 7 You learned it from Epaphras…”
  Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives this comment on that passage: I would like to call your attention to this because there may be some who have the notion that the gospel is not something that you understand and receive with your mind. They say that you cannot describe nor analyze the gospel. They say that it is just something that comes upon you and suddenly makes you happy or feel better. It is not something vague or indefinite, obscure, indistinct or nebulous. Paul calls the gospel, the word of truth. You can hear it, you can understand it, you can learn it, you can pass it on. Or in other words, the gospel is a teaching, or better, a body of teaching or a body of doctrine. That is why the gospel is a message that first comes to our mind and to our understanding. It does not first address our emotions or our will but our mind.   This is the reason why we see Paul’s approach in evangelizing includes much reasoning, explaining and proving.
  • Acts 17:2-4 for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.
  • Acts 17:17 reasoned with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, not only in the synagogue, but also with all those who happened to be in the marketplace day by day.
  • Ac 24:24-25 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." [Paul spoke about faith in Christ Jesus by discoursing on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come to an unbeliever. A “discourse” is a formal, lengthy exposition of a topic.]
  C.H. Spurgeon, “FAITH, WHAT IS IT?”   What is faith? It is made up of three things--knowledge, belief, and trust. Knowledge comes first. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" I want to be informed of a fact before I can possibly believe it. "Faith cometh by hearing"; we must first hear, in order that we may know what is to be believed. "They that know thy name shall put their trust in thee." A measure of knowledge is essential to faith; hence the importance of getting knowledge.   Know the gospel: know what the good news is, how it talks of free forgiveness, and of change of heart, of adoption into the family of God, and of countless other blessings. Know especially Christ Jesus the Son of God, the Saviour of men, united to us by His human nature, and yet one with God; and thus able to act as Mediator between God and man, able to lay His hand upon both, and to be the connecting link between the sinner and the Judge of all the earth. Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavour especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ; for the point upon which saving faith mainly fixes itself is this-- "God was in Christ,  reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Know that Jesus was "made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Drink deep of the doctrine of the substitutionary work of Christ; for therein lies the sweetest possible comfort to the guilty sons of men, since the Lord "made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Faith begins with knowledge.   Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation. That is one way of describing what faith is.  

2.   The second element of saving faith assent (assensus)

  James Montgomery Boice: “[This element] is what Spurgeon called ‘belief.’ The idea here is that, important as is the biblical content of faith, it is nevertheless possible to know this content well and still be lost—if the teaching has not touched the individual to the point of his or her actually agreeing with it.”   Assent can be illustrated by what Paul wrote in 1Co 11:18: In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.   R.C. Sproul: “Though it is necessary to have correct understanding of the essential truths of the gospel in order to be saved, a correct understanding of them is not enough to be saved. A student can earn an A on a Christian theology exam, grasping the truths of Christianity, without himself affirming that they are true. Saving faith includes the mind’s assent to the truth of the gospel.”   Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (p. 728): “It is important to realize that it is entirely possible for an uregenerate person to know the propositions of the gospel and to have a keen comprehension of how they contribute to the gospel proclamation as a whole and yet still not believe that they are factually true or that they address his deepest spiritual needs. Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976 German theologian who challenged the authenticity of the Gospels,], for example, had as good an intellectual grasp of the content of the Christian gospel as the most orthodox theologians, but he denied that Jesus was actually born of a virgin, performed the mighty miracles ascribed to him, died on the cross as a sacrifice for sin, and rose from the dead…   The New Testament examples of this element in saving faith:
  • Jn 5:46,47 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"
  • Jn 10:37,38 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."
  • Jn 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

3.   The third element of saving faith is trust and commitment (fiducia).

  R.C. Sproul: “Even If people understand the gospel and affirm or assent to its truth, they may still fall short of saving faith. The devil knows the gospel is true, but he hates it with every fiber of his being. There is an element of trust in saving faith. It involves personal reliance and dependence upon the gospel.” Terry Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism (pp. 94,95): Justifying faith ‘is not a bare knowledge of the history of Christ’… One who truly has faith does not merely know the content of the gospel and believe that it is true. There must also be personal trust (fiducia), or what we might even call commitment or surrender to Christ.… Saving faith is not placed in God generically, nor in the church implicitly but rests upon Christ particularly.
  • Jn 3:15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
  • Ro 10:11 As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
  • 1Ti 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
  • 1Pe 2:6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion,   a chosen and precious cornerstone,  and the one who trusts in him   will never be put to shame."
  James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (pp. 140-141):   The third element of faith, which Spurgeon calls “trust” and Lloyd-Jones calls “commitment.” Is a real yielding of oneself to Christ which goes beyond knowledge, however full or accurate that knowledge may be, and even beyond agreeing with or being personally moved by the gospel. This must be the case, because even the devil believe in the first tow, limited senses. They know what the Bible teaches; they know that it is true. But they are not saved. James was acknowledging this when he described some persons’ inadequate faith by writing, ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas 2:19). In other words, believing the truths of Christianity itself, if we do not go on to this third necessary element, only qualifies one to be a demon! Commitment is the point at which we pass over the line from belonging to ourselves and become the Lord’s true disciples. I t is what was seen in Thomas when he fell at Jesus’ feet in worship, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). We can also say this by pointing out that fiducia, the third element of faith, involves a radical change of values. Let’s take the case of the chief demon, Satan. Satan has the notitia; he knows the gospel. He also believes the gospel in the sense that he knows that it is true; in this sense he has the assensus. But Satan resists Christ. He is opposed to all he represents. He despises Christ. Therefore, Satan does not have faith in Jesus in a saving sense. For Satan to be saved he would have to have a change in values from passionate hatred to a love of Christ, from passive indifference to a passionate pursuit of salvation. The third element of faith produces such a change, which is why the born-again person now pursues intensely what he or she previously despised. Before, the person saw nothing that was desirable about Jesus. Now, the person cannot imagine life without Him. This is why in Jesus’ parables the man who discovered the treasure in the field “went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Mt 13:44), and why the merchant also “sold everything he had” to purchase the pearl of great price (v. 46). It is why Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Mt 11:12). They lay hold of it because they cannot imagine it to be any other way. Nothing will keep them from what they have found to be the greatest of all treasures.     Closing illustration: Tightrope Cyclist and his son.