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What Is Sola Fide?


Sermon notes:

Sola Fide

Scholars have summed up the Reformation in 5 Sola’s: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Dio Gloria. These 5 solas represent core theological truths upon which we stand today. These were not new ideas that the Reformers thought up but rather they rediscovered them as they rediscovered Scripture and began to study it as the authoritative Word of God.

At the core of the 5 Solas is simply the Biblical gospel, the gospel by faith alone, by grace alone and in Christ alone!

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses and nailed them to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg on October 31st 1517 he took aim specifically at one hideous practice of the Catholic church which had so perverted the gospel message that faith became almost an afterthought, a good thing to have if you could.

The problem in Martin Luther’s day was the sale of indulgences, as a way to secure their own forgiveness or possibly the forgiveness of a loved one who was stuck in purgatory.

Luther saw the sale of indulgences as in conflict with the very nature of Gospel and especially in conflict with the Biblical understanding that Salvation comes by faith.

It wasn’t the only theological problem that came up against Sola Fide and the true gospel but perhaps more than any other issue it highlighted how far the Catholic Church had strayed in their doctrine and practice from true Gospel found in the pages of Scripture.

There is probably no greater attack on Sola Fide within protestant churches today than that which is commonly called “Word of Faith” teaching and “Prosperity Gospel.” for millions of people across the world, these teachings have infiltrated churches and destroyed real gospel faith by replacing it with a fake faith, and false promises in return for your generous donation!

Little has changed in the heart of man over the past 500 years! Unregenerate men have always been willing to sell out the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ for temporary gain. We who believe in this foundational gospel truth find ourselves being attacked on every side, and, yes, sometimes even from within the church, if that could be! Over the centuries Satan has devised dozens if not hundreds of ways to destroy the Sola Fide.

So let us be on our guard and not make the mistake in thinking everyone believes or practices Sola Fide or think that it is simply an elementary teaching and thus dismiss it.

  • Sola Fide is soil in which the disciple of Christ is planted and must grow.
  • This is what separates true regenerate followers of Christ from those who only claim his name but no nothing of his saving power.
  • Without Sola fide we can not know Christ, we can’t have the Holy Spirit, we can’t be forgiven our sins, we can’t enjoy the fellowship of the church, and we can’t have eternal life.
  • Be on your guard because everything in our sinful nature is set against Sola Fide.
    • The unregenerate heart abhors the idea of Sola fide
    • Every religion, philosophy, and institution known to man other than the One true Church denies Sola Fide

Luther on Galatians

Luther cut his gospel teeth on Galatians and Romans. However, I want to just focus in with you on the Book of Galatians today, so that we can see along with Luther on the basis of Sola Scriptura from where springs the beautiful doctrine of Sola Fide.

Thanks to the wise suggestion of his superior monk Johan Von Staupitz, who tired of listening to young Luther confess his sins for up to 6 hours at a time, Luther began to read the Bible and what he found in the Bible was in contradiction to what he had learned and seen in the Catholic Church. In fact as we turn to the book of Galatians we will see the problem of today and the problem of 500 years ago was the same problem in Apostle Paul’s time.

Gal 1:6-10

6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

7  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

9  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Martin Luther says the following about this text:

“The church is a tender plant. It must be watched. People hear a couple of sermons, scan a few pages of Holy Writ, and think they know it all. They are bold because they have never gone through any trials of faith. Void of the Holy Spirit, they teach what they please as long as it sounds good to the common people who are ever ready to join something new. We have to watch out for the devil lest he sow tares among the wheat while we sleep. No sooner had Paul turned his back on the churches of Galatia, than the false apostles went to work. Therefore, let us watch over ourselves and over the whole church.”

The main reason Paul was writing to the Galatians was because of the circumcision question. If we go back to Acts 15 we will find the whole history of this debate!

Act 15:1

15:1  But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

The reaction of the apostles to those who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation was clear and concise:

Act 15:7-11

7  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

8  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,

9  and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

10  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

11  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Later they would write a letter to the Gentile believers asking them to abstain from things offered to idols, blood, and sexual immorality. This was a request from the apostles not as a requirement for salvation but rather as to not offend the Jewish believers.

What we see in this text and in Galatians is that the issues are always the same.

  • The Gospel is preached, a gospel of faith and grace!
  • The Gospel is perverted over time by those who want to add something to it.
  • No matter what you add to it, Paul calls it “another gospel”
  • Peter says it is, “Placing a yoke on our necks that neither the disciples nor the fathers of the faith could bear.”

This is a significant issue and I think we run into problems here because quite frankly most church goers are far more concerned about

  • Their church’s worship style,
  • Whether or not their pastor has interesting sermons
  • And if he knows how to end on time
  • What kind of programs they have for their kids
  • How welcome people made them feel
  • Whether or not they keep the kids in the service or send them to Children’s Church
  • How comfortable the chairs are
  • Etc…

Yet often when it comes to core doctrine issues we are dumber than a fence post. The doctrinal spine of too many churches has been discarded in favor of personal preference, corporate branding, and “make me feel good” ministries!

In fact sometimes we even balk at those who preach too strongly the exclusive doctrines of grace and faith and Christ alone.

As if we should

  • trumpet our church’s amazingly interesting pastor,
  • Talk loudly amazing children’s ministry,
  • And tell everyone about how our church is helping dig wells in 3rd would countries
  • Yet whisper our stance salvation by faith in Christ alone,
  • And never oppose anyone who would say otherwise but rather simply try to find common ground.

This is nothing but madness!

Some have criticized Martin Luther for his rather rough verbiage against the papacy and others, he often called them asses, mules, vermin, devils, and swine! However as we think about the significance that Scripture puts on the issue of salvation by faith we find that the Bible is far more direct and graphic in it’s verbiage!

Paul himself in Galatians calls those whose taught circumcision as necessary for salvation:

  • Accursed 1:8-9
  • False brethren who snuck in 2:4
  • He wishes they would emasculate themselves 5:12

If Paul’s words seem harsh consider the words of Jesus to the scribes and  pharisees, the masters of requiring works for salvation! In Mat 23 he says:

Mat 23:4

4   They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Jesus calls them:

  • Children of hell
  • Blind guides
  • Blind fools
  • Hypocrites
  • Whitewashed tombs full of dead mens bones
  • Murders of the prophets
  • Serpents
  • Brood of vipers
  • And that’s only in one chapter

What I’m saying and I think what Paul is saying in Galatians is that Sola Fide is as vital to our theology and relationship with God as breathing is to the health of our body! We can not afford to be apathetic here because as soon as we put down our guard we can be sure that wolves will come in and tear to shreds the doctrine of salvation by faith.

Paul’s explaination of Sola Fide

The crux of Paul’s argument about justification by faith alone comes in the latter half of Galatians 2. After Paul has established the fact that he is truly one of the accepted Apostles and that he spent time with Peter and that his teaching was in accord with the teaching of the other apostles he says the following:

Gal 2:16-21

16  yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

18  For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

19  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

20  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

21  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

The Nature of Biblical Faith

Biblical faith is not:

  • Deciding what I want and then convincing myself that God will give it to me
  • Positive thinking “Just have a little faith”
  • A force or a substance (like many word of faith teachers teach based upon a wrong interpretation of Hebrews 11:1, it’s not “substance” but assurance”)
  • A religious activity
  • A muscle to be flexed, (you can’t simply try to believe harder)
  • A feeling or emotion
  • Mere knowledge

Biblical faith is:

  • Always built upon the correct understanding of God’s Word
  • It confesses the core truths of the Gospel
  • It is directed towards God through Jesus Christ
  • It exhibits trust/reliance upon the Jesus
  • It produces fruit

“We say, faith apprehends Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not an inactive quality in the heart. If it is true faith it will surely take Christ for its object. Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life” -Luther

So when Paul says that a person is justified (which means that he is forgiven his sin and can stand lawfully righteous before a holy God) by faith in Christ he means:

He is justified when he

  • correctly understands from God’s Word who Jesus is,
  • what he did on the cross,
  • how he conquered sin and rose from the dead and
  • relies upon this truth for forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation.

The result is God giving you a righteousness that is not your own but is credited to you on Christ’s behalf.

This follows the same pattern of every person who was ever saved from any time in history. While Old Testament believers may not have had the same amount of detail that we have about the Messiah, they nonetheless were saved by faith in God’s written Word.

That is why Paul reminds the Galatians that even Moses “believed and God credited it to him as righteousness” The author of Hebrews goes further to give a who list of OT saints to gained righteousness through their faith in God!

God’s Word is clear in the OT and NT that guilt from sin and salvation are only gained exclusively and solely through faith in Christ.

The Objection to Sola Fide

The objection to Sola Fide is almost always the same, “if a person can become righteousness by just believing, won’t that open up the door for all kinds of sinful living?” Paul answers the same question in Roman 5-6 when he says “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase, may it never be!”

Here we have some interesting logic from Paul that may be hard to follow at first.

17  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

18  For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

19  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

The person who is justified by faith finds that on a practical level they still have sin in their lives.

  • Does that mean that Christ doesn’t really care about our daily sins as long as we got the salvation box checked marked?
  • Paul’s answer is “certainly not!”

The justified Christian must still grow in his faith learn to bring his entire life in line with his calling and a Christian, thus, sin remains despite his justified status before God.

Worse, however, than this would be if after believing in Christ for salvation he went back and tried to prove his worthiness by obeying the law. That’s probably how Paul viewed Peter when he didn’t want to eat with the Gentiles.

Sadly however, this is often what happens.

  • A person gets saved and is deeply thankful for God’s great grace to them as a sinner
  • After years in the church he slowly forgets that awful sinful state from where he came
  • After a few more years he can talk like a Christian, he dresses like a Christian, and he doesn’t stuggle with some of those issues that he used to struggle with.
  • He then looks down on the newer believers who are struggling with some pretty basic things and says, “Hey, you better shape up!”

We are a forgetful people! We need reminders of our sinfulness and of God’s great grace. I believe this is why Jesus gave us the Lord’s supper.

Paul argues that when a person comes to faith in Christ he dies to the law. It really is impossible to put your faith in Christ without also coming to the conclusion that you can not live up to the standard on your own.

Thus, having died to the law, the who mission of a believer is to live not just to try and keep a certain standard but rather to live for the person who saved you.

A few Applications of Sola Fide

  1. Since true faith is based upon God’s true Word if we want our faith to grow we must grow in our knowledge of the Word.
  2. Doubts about salvation arise when we stray from sola fide. The best way to keep your assurance of salvation is to know and understand and believe Sola Fide
  3. To attach any action or object to our salvation other than God ordained baptism is a dangerous thing.
    • Sinners prayer
    • Walking forward
    • Signing a card
  4. To think that you can manipulate someone into salvation by use of emotions or other techniques is pure hogwash.
    • Sola fide tells us that salvation is only by faith and faith can only spring from God’s Word.
  5. To think that you can scare someone into the faith is equally absurd.
    • Fear of hell may be real but it doesn’t get anyone saved, only the truth of the Gospel and real faith can do that.
  6. In all our efforts to share the Gospel faith must be our goal and the truth of God’s Word our weapon.
  7. In our own hearts we must learn to rest soundly knowing that through faith we can stand before God in Christ’ righteousness
  8. In our daily lives we must eagerly pursue that same righteousness out of gratefulness and devotion to our Savior!

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children!

My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

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