Chapter 11 -- Sola Fide
Many Protestants believe we are saved by faith alone-that love or good works play no part. This human tradition is called 'Sola Fide', which is Latin for 'faith alone'. The assumption is that Jesus paid the price for our sins, so we don't have to. We simply have to believe in Jesus, and nothing else matters.
Contrary to Protestant claims otherwise, the Catholic Church has never taught, does not now teach, and will never teach salvation by good works alone (Sola Bene Facta). The Catholic Church has always taught we are saved by grace with faith working through love-thus a combination of grace, faith and works.
A partial study of Scripture verses lends support to Sola Fide. A partial study of Scripture verses lends support to Sola Bene Facta as well. However, a more complete Scripture study nullifies both.
Grace, Faith and Works
There are three considerations in salvation-grace, faith and works. Works are sometimes referred as 'deeds' or 'love'. For the purposes of Sola Fide, 'deeds', 'works' and 'love' address the same consideration.
As discussed earlier, we are saved by grace. If we had only a combination of our own faith and works, none of us would attain salvation. We do not have enough faith; we can never do enough good deeds to be perfect as He is perfect. God's mercy is required to bridge the gap. Paul captured this concept when he wrote:
Stating these verses again, "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; grace is the gift of God; grace is not from works, so no one may boast."
Paul Emphasizes Faith to His Gentile Audience
Paul's emphasis is on faith in these verses. He tempers the emphasis by immediately reminding us that we are created for the good works that God has prepared. Paul doesn't want us to think that good works alone will get us grace; faith is also important.
As we read Paul's epistles, we see he emphasizes faith, but nowhere does he claim that faith alone is sufficient. Indeed, he addresses the necessity for works often.
Gentiles of Paul's time were told repeatedly, by well-intentioned but misinformed Jews, that Gentiles were excluded because of their faith-only Abraham's descendants would inherit salvation. Paul's writings emphasize the Christian faith of Gentiles makes them Abraham's descendants. He acknowledges that works (deeds, love) are also required, but Paul knew of the early struggle many Gentiles experienced regarding faith, so he drilled it into them in his epistles.
We see this struggle in Galatians. In the third chapter, Paul is exasperated with the teachings given the Galatians by Jews who mandated following the Levitical law rather than the faith taught by Paul. He begins with:
The Galatians were being told they were doing things incorrectly, that they needed to circumcise and obey the cleansing rules and such. The Galatians wanted to do the right thing, so they tried to do both what Paul said and what these other Jews were telling them, only there was a conflict-they couldn't do both. Now they are confused. Paul is telling the Galatians (gentiles) to focus on faith. He doesn't want them to be deluded by arguments about the Levitical law, which only confuse and deny the truth for the gentiles. After first setting the theme of Gentile faith vs. Levitical law, Paul then addresses the faith/works issue:
Paul is telling the Galatian Gentiles no one is justified before God by the law (works). Following the law doesn't require proper faith, but proper faith will produce obedience to the law. Again, Paul wants to emphasize that they are not saved by works alone. Compare that with Paul's epistle to the Romans, where he states:
Here, Paul restates the works requirement in reminding us that the doers of the law (works) will be justified. Jews are Paul's main audience in Romans. They don't have the faith issue common to Gentiles as described above. Again, he does not state that we are justified by works alone. To see this more fully, as well as Paul's tireless reconciliation of Gentile and Jewish faith, let's look at several verses surrounding Rom 2:13.
The Jews emphasize works of the law. Paul explains the gentiles don't even have the law, and yet when their natural character is to observe the prescriptions of the law, it shows they have the law written in their hearts.
Paul states God will repay everyone according to his works (deeds): eternal life for good works, wrath and fury for wickedness. In the last verse, we are told God will judge people's hidden works. Good deeds are not just nice, they are necessary.
Paul is writing to people of faith-the Christian Jews in Rome. He is trying to convince them the gentiles don't need the Levitical law to be saved. If they sin without reference to the law, they perish. If Jews sin in reference to the law, they perish. Likewise, if the gentiles never heard of Leviticus, yet observe the law by nature, they will be saved, just as the Jews who obey the law. He states there is no partiality with God. There are no exceptions noted for those who have faith alone.
In closing Chapter 3 of Galatians, where Paul is addressing mostly Gentiles, Paul concludes:
Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the Levitical law. Thus, Paul reasons, Jewish law does not trump Gentile faith. But, we see, taken as a whole, the entire chapter reasons that both faith and works are required to receive the grace of salvation.
James Emphasizes Works to His Jewish Audience
Very early in Church history, there were those who espoused Sola Fide. James addresses this issue at great length. James had to emphasize works, but nowhere does he state that works alone are sufficient. James specifically addresses those who espouse Sola Fide:
Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.
Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God." See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone? And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
James pulls no punches. He makes his case clear. There are not many other ways to say it. If the Epistle of James is a part of the New Testament, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that works are required for salvation. The only place in the Bible where the words 'faith' and 'alone' appear in the same sentence is here, where James states, the Holy Spirit states, the Word of God states we are justified by works and not faith alone. Again, although he makes a strong case for works because of his audience, nowhere does James state we are justified by works alone. Works are necessary just as faith is necessary.
Comparing Faith and Works
Let's look at several verses that seem to support Sola Fide, which are listed first, and compare them to several other verses that seem to support Sola Bene Facta, which are listed second.
Paul addressed the Roman Jews on the Christian faith vs. Levitical Law issue. James addresses the Jerusalem Jews on the faith vs. good works issue. Paul states we are justified by faith, but James states faith without works is dead. Note, neither states anything about faith alone. Both verses are true if faith and works is true.
In the first set of verses, Paul notes the Levitical law did not even exist at the time the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants. Thus, righteousness comes from faith, not works of the law. Paul implies if Sola Bene Facta is true, faith is null and the promise is void. In the second set, which is from the same epistle, Paul supports justification by works. As before, nothing here demands faith alone or works alone; both verses are true if faith and works are true.
Note, in the first set of verses, Paul requires a good work-confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord. But, setting that aside for the moment, in the first set of verses, Paul still does not say that believing God raised Jesus from the dead alone is sufficient (faith). It is only a factor. Jesus Himself spoke the words of the second set of verses. He says that believing Jesus is Lord is not enough. As we see comparing both sets of verses, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will not necessarily be saved; one must still do the will of the Father in heaven (works). Faith alone does not reconcile both sets, faith and works does.
Luke records that Paul states if the jailer believes in Jesus, he will be saved, not only him, but his whole household. There is a discussion of faith (belief). Yet Jesus states you must keep the commandments to enter into life. There is a discussion of works. Is Paul saying Sola Fide, or is he saying belief in Jesus is a step? Is Jesus saying Sola Bene Facta, or is He saying keeping the commandments is just a step? If the Holy Spirit is the author of both sets of scriptures, then faith and works must be true.
John states that if you believe in Jesus you might be saved (faith alone?). Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) states without holiness, no one will see the Lord (works alone?). As before, a closer look reveals that John still does not say faith alone, and Paul still does not say works alone.
John authored both sets of verses, in fact, they are from the same chapter, yet the first favors Sola Fide and the second Sola Bene Facta. For both to be true, faith and works must be true.
There are many more possible comparisons, but using similar analyses as above, they all return the same verdict-both faith and works are required to receive God's grace for salvation.
Dispelling Sola Fide
As was stated earlier, there is no faith tradition that believes we are saved by works alone. There is no further need to disprove it here. The remaining verses and analyses continue to dispel Sola Fide.
Why would Paul tell the Philippians to "work out their salvation"? The Philippians have faith. If Sola Fide is true, there is no need to "work" anything. And why does Paul state to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling"? If we are already saved, why fear and tremble? And Paul states God works in us for us to do works. Why would God want us to do works if only faith is necessary? If Sola Fide is true, this verse is useless and misleading.
If Sola Fide is true, why does Paul warn the Galatians they will not inherit the kingdom of God if they do the works of the flesh? And why does Paul say the fruit of the Spirit is all those good works? Paul even states if we live in the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit in doing those good works.
You must "obey the gospel of God" (works). It is hard to be saved, even for the righteous. It states you hand your soul over to God as you do good works. Sola Fide?
If Sola Fide is true, if works play no part whatsoever in our salvation, why does Paul tell the Galatians to bear burdens to fulfill the law of Christ?
If Sola Fide is true, why does Paul tell the Galatians they will reap their harvest if they do good and do not give up? Why must they do good?
If Sola Fide is true, why does John reveal the dead are judged according to their deeds?
If Sola Fide is true, why are love and good works of any value?
Jesus commands us to love God and neighbor--the statement is in the imperitive tense. He says the whole law and the prophets depend on this love. He says these are the greatest commandments. Sola Fide?
John says to be sure we know him we must keep his commandments (works). If we don't keep His commandments, we don't know Him and the truth is not in us. If we don't keep His commandments, and the truth is not in us, can we be saved? Sola Fide?
Jesus says they must see your good deeds. Sola Fide?
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous. Do not be amazed, (then,) brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
(Now) this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.
John says if we sin (works), we belong to the devil. No one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, and anyone who does not love his brother. Whoever does not love remains in death. Sola Fide?
We must do what the Lord commands (works), or suffer the consequences. Note, this was Jesus Himself speaking. Sola Fide?
If love (works) is greater than faith, how can Sola Fide be true?
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
This is strong scriptural support for the necessity of good works. Jesus does not mince words. "You gave me food…you gave me drink…you welcomed me…you clothed me…you cared for me…you visited me in prison." These are all good works. Those who did not do any of these things are told to "depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." There are no statements of reprieve for those of faith. Sola Fide?
Right up until the last three words, Paul emphasizes faith. At the end, he acknowledges the necessity for love. Once again, this is the Christian faith vs. Levitical law discourse seen so often in Paul's writings. As much as any other, these verses explain the Catholic position that we are saved by grace, with faith working through love. Sola Fide?
Why take up your cross? If Sola Fide is true, why suffer at all? Sola Fide says you are already saved--you don't need to do anything else. And Jesus doesn't say take up your cross once, he says daily. Sola Fide?
If the works of the dead accompany them, are works irrelevant? Sola Fide?
The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come; share your master's joy.' (Then) the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come; share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.' His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'
If God gives us gifts and we use them (works), we will be rewarded with greater gifts in heaven. If we are lazy or inactive with our gifts, knowing that God wants us to use them, we not only lose the gifts, we are excluded from the banquet. If we are excluded from the banquet for failing to do works, Sola Fide can not be true.
Must You Be Catholic to be Saved?
Luke writes no other person can save you-only Jesus. Jesus, and no other, is the long-awaited Messiah. You can not look to any other person to bring you salvation.
Jesus states whoever goes through Him will be saved, thus agreeing with the verse from Acts shown above. Jesus does not say He is the only way to salvation; here He states He is one way. However, God can always save you, as Paul shows below.
Paul implies if you never hear of Christianity, you can still be just in the sight of God if you observe the law in your heart.
The Catholic Church teaches not only do you not have to be Catholic to be saved, you can be saved if you are not even Christian.
The evidence is overwhelming. This is but a sample of Scripture verses dispelling of Sola Fide. Sola Fide is not Scriptural. It is a human tradition that opposes God's word. We are saved by grace, with faith working through love.
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