“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16
One of the responsibilities Martin Luther had within the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Protestant Reformation was serving as a church representative for his region of Germany. This position called for periodical trips to Rome to meet with Catholic leadership. It was through these trips that Luther began to realize the many heretical teachings within the Church. With each trip to Rome, both his concerns and frustrations grew. Specifically, he was distraught over the church’s viewpoint on salvation. The Church had muddied up the doctrine of salvation with a collection of extrabiblical teachings. They taught that for a person to be in right standing with God, they had to attach to their faith good deeds and works. In essence, they were teaching that salvation was a formula of faith plus works. Luther wrestled immensely over the issue for quite some time. One day in 1515, he was reading Paul’s letter the church at Rome and came across the following statement in Romans 1:16-17; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith.” For Luther, the passage leaped off the page, and provided an overwhelming sense of liberation and freedom. It was a benchmark moment in Luther’s life; for God was preparing him to confront the slew of heretical teachings that were flowing out of the Roman Catholic Church.
This page from Luther’s story brings us to our second Latin slogan birthed out of the Protestant Reformation, “Sola Fide.” The word “Fide” means “faith” and “sola” means “alone.” Luther stressed that salvation was by faith alone, and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It was a liberating theological concept, quite foreign to the people of that day who constantly lived under the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. Fast forward to today, and Sola Fide is undoubtedly a foundational core belief in evangelicalism.
However, Sola Fide in no way negates the importance of works within the life of the believer. We are to bear spiritual fruit (Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:23) and we produce spiritual fruit by abiding in Jesus the Vine (John 15:4). James even stresses the need for spiritual works (James 2:17-26). But these passages are not at odds with any verses that stress salvation by faith alone like Romans 1:16-17 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Instead, these passages actually complement each other, teaching in a faith that works. This truth is made clear when the Apostle Paul emphasized salvation by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), then immediately stressed the importance of works in the Christian’s life (Ephesians 2:10). This means that faith and works are inseparable. A person does good works not so that they will be saved, but rather they do good works because they are saved. Good works are the result of salvation. Musician Rich Mullins said it best when he wrote “faith without works” was “about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
Isn’t it wonderful to know that salvation cannot be bought, sold, earned or achieved? We cannot obtain salvation through our own good deeds or accomplishments. We are saved by God’s grace, which is His unmerited favor towards us, and the salvation offered to us is a free gift that we receive by faith and faith alone. World religions stress a salvation based upon human accomplishments while Christianity stresses personal faith in Christ, trusting in what He accomplished through His sacrificial death at Calvary. No wonder it has been said that works based religions are religions of “do,” while Christianity is a religion of “done!” Let us celebrate together the beautiful promises for the believer found in Sola fide!
– Pastor Eric