Sola fide (by faith alone), also historically known as the justification of faith, is a doctrine held by some Protestant denominations of Christianity, which asserts that it is on the basis of their faith that believers are forgiven their transgressions of the Law of God , rather than on the basis of good works which they have done.
A Protestant distinctive
Sola fide asserts that, although all people have disobeyed God's commands, God declares those people not guilty who place their confidence in what God has done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and who consider God's work to be their commendation for acceptance by God. Conversely, the doctrine says that those who trust God in this way do not trust what they themselves have done (which has no worth, because of sin). The doctrine holds that it is not through inherent, personal goodness that God is reconciled to sinners (because we have none, according to adherents of this doctrine). Reconciliation is only through the mercy of God himself, made effectual for forgiveness through the sacrifice of his son; thus it is only through the obedience of Christ given in substitute for the disobedience of believers, who for their sake was raised from the dead, that they have hope of eternal life. This doctrine is accepted by many Protestants, including Lutherans and Baptists, and is rejected by Catholics.
Origin of the slogan
Martin Luther elevated sola fide to the principal cause of the Protestant Reformation, the rallying cry of the Protestant cause, and the chief distinction between Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. John Calvin, also a proponent of this doctrine, taught that "every one who would obtain the righteousness of Christ must renounce his own." It is only because the sinner is able to obtain the good standing of the Son of God, through faith in him, and union with him, that sinners have any hope of pardon from, acceptance by, and peace with God. While this precise terminology—"by faith alone"—does not appear in the Bible, it is intended to summarize the teaching of the New Testament, and especially the Pauline epistles, which systematically reject the proposition that justification is by obedience to the Law.
Luther's German translation of the New Testament added the word allein (alone) to Romans 3:28, rendering "...is justified by faith..." as "...is justified by faith alone... " (emphasis added).
Status of the doctrine
The doctrine proposes 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; that is, they assert that sola fide is an error because, in addition to believing, God also requires obedience as a prerequisite for acceptance into his kingdom, and for the reward of eternal life.
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 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.
New Testament verses used to support sola fide
- Acts 16:31
- Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
- 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.
- Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the law. (based on Martin Luther's translation)
- Romans 5:1
- ...having been justified by faith...
- Romans 10:9
- That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
- Ephesians 2:8-9
- For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
- Galatians 2:16
- Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
- Galatians 2:21
- I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
- Galatians 3:1-3 ... 9-14 ... 21-25 ...
- O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
- This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
- Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
- So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
- For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
- But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
- And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
- Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
- That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
- Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
- But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
- But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
- Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
- But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
- Galatians 5:4,5
- Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
- For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
New Testament verses used to refute sola fide
- Matthew 7:21
- Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 12:36,37
- I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;
- For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
- Matthew 25:31-46
- When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
- The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
- Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
- He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
- Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
- Luke 6:46
- But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?
- Luke 8:21
- But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.
- Luke 11:28
- But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
- John 5:29
- And will come out--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
- Romans 2:6,7
- For he will repay according to each one’s deeds
- To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
- 2 Corinthians 5:10
- For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
- 1 Peter 1:17
- If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds...
- Revelation 2:23
- ...and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
- Revelation 20:12
- ...And the dead were judged according to their works...
- Revelation 22:12
- See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.
- James Chapter Two (Excerpts)
- ... What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? ... Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? ... Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Excerpts of Protestant confessions which support sola fide
- 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)
- 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 CONFESSION OF FAITH (1963) - copyrighted
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.
- 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)
- Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
- Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
- Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?
Answer: By no means; for the holy scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
- Heidelberg Catechism 1563
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)
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
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)
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)
- 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: Five solas