“By faith alone.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 July
SOLA FIDE 'soʊ.lə 'fi.deɪ noun. Short for the Latin iustificatio sola fide jus.ti.fi'kat.jo 'so.la 'fi.de, “justification by faith alone”: The Protestant doctrine that our right standing before God depends only on the basis of our trust in him.
2. The popular Evangelical belief that salvation is solely achieved through orthodox Christian belief (i.e. faith).

Yeah, I listed two definitions of sola fide above. One’s right; one’s wrong.

One’s taught in seminaries, and debated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, ’cause Catholics insist justification is a little more detailed than that. They would argue it has to include God’s grace, and our faith-response has to produce good fruit. I don’t disagree! But they’re just going into greater detail about what justification means, whereas the Protestant Reformers simply put the complex idea into very basic words. God’s looking for people to trust him. When we do, he justifies us. We now have a connection to him, a relationship with him; we must abide in him, and he will abide in us. Jn 15.4 And fruit will grow, and we’ll inherit his kingdom.

The other is all over popular Christian culture, and is taught in way too many churches by people who never bothered to learn sola fide is short for iustificatio sola fide. They don’t know “by faith alone” refers to justification. Or they do, but they just presume justification and salvation are the same thing—if God considers us right with him, doesn’t this automatically make us saved?

Plus they’ve defined faith wrong. When they say faith, they don’t mean “trust in God.” They mean religion. They mean orthodox Christian beliefs; the faith of the first Christians, the faith of the ancient church, the faith of our fathers, the creeds, the church’s faith statement, the right stuff to believe. To them, sola fide means we believe that—and once we believe all the right things, we’re saved!

(And conversely, they also believe if we don’t believe the right things, we’re not saved.)

In short, to them sola fide means “saved by the Christian faith alone.” Saved by orthodoxy. I call it “faith righteousness.” Thing is, it’s not at all what the scriptures teach. We’re not saved by the good work of making sure we embrace all the proper Christian doctrines—because that’d mean we’re saved by good works. And the gospel doesn’t teach we’re saved by karma, but grace.

Saved by grace. Not faith, nor works.

Those who claim sola fide is about salvation by faith, not only mangle the definition of faith, but mangle the interpretation of their favorite proof text. “You’re saved by faith alone, because the bible says you’re saved by faith alone! Ephesians 2.8, ‘By grace ye are saved, through faith.’ Right there, it says through faith. You’re saved by faith.”

Um… that’s not the word that’s followed by the word “by.” Wanna read it with me?

Ephesians 2.8-9 KJV
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 not of works, lest any man should boast.

The less-familiar 400-year-old English of the King James Version occasionally starts a sentence, not with the subject, but with the object. You know, like Yoda in Star Wars. Rearrange that sentence into present-day English, with the subjects first, and it’s way more understandable:

Ephesians 2.8-9 KWL
8 You all are saved by grace, through faith.
This salvation doesn’t come out of you;
it’s God’s gift.
9 Nor does this salvation come out of works,
otherwise anyone might flaunt them.

The poetic parallelism in this passage makes it all the more obvious: Salvation isn’t something we merit or achieve, or anything which comes from us. It comes entirely from God.

Notice what happens among Christians who claim they’re saved by faith: They do exactly what Paul warned of in verse 9. They flaunt their orthodoxy. They make a big, big deal about how they understand the doctrines, they studied their bibles, they got this right; other Christians don’t. In fact they’re not so sure those other folks are even Christian. How could they be? They’re not right, “like we are,” and if you’re saved by faith, it’d better be the orthodox faith! Wrong religion? No salvation.

So, much as these folks might claim they’re solely praising God for his salvation, they spend an awful lot of time praising themselves, directly or indirectly, for understanding God so very well. And warning others lest we don’t. Study them doctrines! Earn that salvation. (No, wait, we can’t use those words for it. Um… “Study to shew thyself approved unto God.” 2Ti 2.15 KJV For salvation.)

The reason this mixup is so very common, is because the people who teach this haven’t adequately studied Christian theology. There’s a massive strain of anti-intellectualism among Evangelicals in the United States. They justify their know-nothing attitude by claiming the Holy Spirit will teach them everything they really need to know. It’s just them and God, going it alone. Who needs iron to sharpen iron when you constantly hang out with the Blacksmith?

And when they do seek out academic knowledge, too many of ’em make the huge mistake of going with the cheapest, quickest, least-reputable but feel-good options. There are a lot of churches which slap together a “bible college” or “school of ministry,” ostensibly to perpetuate Christianity, but really as an extra revenue stream, and a bit of an ego boost for the people who teach there. They’ll offer you “degrees” and “certificates.” Even “doctorates.” Wanna be called “Dr. [YOUR NAME HERE]”? Give ’em $10,000, take their six-week online class, pass a qualifying test, and you’re a doctor now. Not that kind of doctor; keep your hands to yourself! But still.

Will you actually learn the proper definition of sola fide in these schools? Sometimes! Some of these slapdash schools actually do teach valid theology, ’cause the teachers really are serious about it. But usually, nah. They have other areas to emphasize: They’d rather teach you cool prayer techniques, or clever sermon-writing techniques, or how to activate prophecy. Five-hundred-year-old Reformation slogans? Boring. Let’s hold a revival! They’ll show you how.

There are YouTube videos on all that stuff, available for free. But they don’t come with a doctorate from the Kairos-Moment Bible Training, Prophecy Activiation, and Crafted Prayer Institute. (I made that name up just now, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if someone actually has a similarly-named school somewhere on our planet.) And people really covet titles, so these title mills churn out plenty of people who now call themselves “doctor.” But their doctorates are a joke. An unfunny joke. And it really angers them when we question them about a doctorate which cost ’em less than their car.

That’s assuming they went to any school at all. Many didn’t. Education isn’t a qualification for church leadership, after all; character is. Although it certainly says something negative about your character when you’re dismissive, if not contemptuous, of education, training, upbuilding, and correction. When you lack the humility to realize we are wrong. And that it’s important to find out how sola fide originated in Christian history, how it was defined by the Reformers, and why it’s important to perpetuate that idea—rather than guessing, and guessing horribly wrong.

Faith justifies. Grace saves.

Sola fide is not the only sola slogan of the Protestant Reformers. They had five. Iustificatio sola fide/“justification by faith alone” is one. Salus sola gratia, or sola gratia for short, is salvation by grace alone. We’re saved by God’s grace; by nothing else. Not even faith.

Not that faith is irrelevant! God expects those he’s saved to put our faith in him. It’s a requirement. He 11.6 You wanna be saved, you gotta trust God to do it. When we don’t trust God—when we instead think having the right doctrines, doing good deeds, performing the right rituals, adequate church attendance, proper prayers, regular communion, and obeying the church leaders, outweighs trusting the Almighty himself—it’s absolutely gonna distort our relationship with God. Heck, do we even have a relationship with God?—we’re too busy with bad religion!

Good religion teaches us we gotta trust God. Sola fide is about the foundation of our relationship with God: We trust him, same as Abraham did, Ro 4.3 and like Abraham, he credits us with righteousness. We’re all right with him; we’re justified. He can get to work on making us more like Jesus, and growing good fruit in us. We trust him enough to let him do these things. (We do, right?)

Claiming sola fide is about salvation instead of justification, pulls God’s grace entirely out of the equation and makes it all about us. Now we gotta earn his grace. (Which is an oxymoron, but false teachers will just claim, “Oh, that’s a mystery,” as if that’s what mystery even means.) Now we gotta achieve enough good karma to merit God’s approval—and y’ever notice there’s always a direct correlation between that, and whether you’ve merited your pastor’s approval? Hmmm. That’s interesting.