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Luther ignored some verses ...

Martin Luther based the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide (faith alone) on the book of Romans — but he ignored many passages.

Martin Luther developed his influential doctrine of salvation through "faith only" (Sola Fide) based in part on his study of the biblical book of Romans, which certainly teaches that we are justified by faith:

A man is  justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Therefore being  justified by faith. . . . (Romans 3:28, 5:1)

Several questions come to mind:

  1. What is the nature of saving faith?
  2. Does saving faith require the presence of fruit (good deeds)?
  3. Are there ingredients to justification other than faith?
  4. How could the people under the Old Covenant be saved, since all they had was the law?

This article discusses these questions using the book of Romans as a primary source.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."





The Nature of Saving Faith ...

Both Protestants and Catholics agree on some important key points:

Saving faith results from our positive response to hearing God's word preached (or from reading it). This "Word of God" is the gospel message, the "good news" of salvation and redemption.

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach. (Romans 10:8)

Saving faith originates from God's grace and is not "earned" by our works.

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6)

Saving faith can only come from Christ's work on our behalf.

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. (Romans 3:25)

Protestant anti-Catholicstypically misrepresent the Catholic view on these points.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Good Deeds ...

The Protestant reformers declared that good deeds do not have a role in our salvation but are merely the evidence of our true conversion (link). But the book of Romans says otherwise:

God judges our deeds using the law as a guide for what pleases or displeases Him.

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds. (Romans 2:5,6)

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet [suitable]. (Romans 1:27)

God looks to our obedience of His commandments as a measure of faith in Him.

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. (Romans 2:25)

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Faith Only? ...

The Protestant reformers insisted that we are saved by faith only (sola fide). But in excluding the role of works in our salvation they ignored certain key passages.

Yes we are saved by faith as opposed to works of the law. Both Protestants and Catholics believe this.

A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28)

But Protestants must downplay the necessity of our obedience to the law. However, the law is still in operation in its proper relationship to faith.

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3:31)

Without good deeds we cannot possess saving faith.

If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet [suitable] for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21,22)

Even in believing we must take action. It is not enough that we merely believe the gospel inwardly in our hearts but we must make our belief known to others by verbalizing it.

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. (Romans 10:9)

Protestants consider good deeds to be merely the evidence that a person has saving faith. But the following verses say otherwise:

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work. . . . (1 Peter 1:17)

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:13)

Notice that these two verses declare that a person's acceptance by God is contingent upon good works.

This verse gets to the heart of the matter. It is not a question of excluding works but of emphasizing faith.

Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. (Romans 9:32)

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


What is Faith? ...

The word faith in the book of Romans is used in several ways to mean various things:

From these examples we see that saving faith is not such a simple thing as merely (1) believing the gospel message, or (2) in having faith alone (sola fide) as the Protestant reformers claimed.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Old Testament Salvation ...

The Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith only (sola fide) raises a problem when we consider how the people of Old Testament times got saved. Typically, Protestants attribute Old Testament salvation to a works-based system by stating that they had to follow the law in order to be saved.

For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (Romans 2:11-13)

Since they really couldn't do this perfectly there is the implicit assumption that no one in the Old Testament was really saved after all — that's why we needed the New Testament, so that people could start getting saved. Most Protestants don't really consider this disturbing side effect of their views.

Verses such as the following are used to support this sequence of ideas:

  1. Those living in Old Testament times needed to live perfectly under the law (but they couldn't and were damned as a result)
  2. God was grieved by this, but he required that someone had to be perfect, and so....
  3. As a result Christ came and lived the perfect life to do away with the need for perfection (now we only need to have faith to be saved).

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation. . . . (Hebrews 5:9)

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)

It is hard to understand why God would have such a different plan of redemption for people living in different eras. But a natural result of sola fide was the development of the doctrine of dispensationalism in which God does just that.

The view of the Catholic Church is more sensible by teaching that everyone who God saves is redeemed in the same way. In this respect the Catholic Church seems quite a bit like Old Testament Israel. A few examples:

In understanding this issue we should consider Abraham's salvation since he is declared to be the father of faith for Christians.

The faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)

If Abraham could have saving faith before Christ, then certainly the Old Testament Israelites could also have saving faith since they were given a much greater revelation than Abraham. This was as a result of (1) God's choosing the nation of Israel, and (2) God's revealing the law through Moses and the prophets.

The Old Testament believers had a very religious life. In the context of their religious society they had ample opportunity to exercise their faith (1) in God's mercy, and (2) in God's justice. God choose them as His people and gave them His revelation through the law and the prophets. God was very actively involved in the lives of the Old Testament believers.

They expressed their faith by their obedience to God's law and to His commands. They had to confess their sins and they celebrated their religious history several times a year during their feast days. Theirs was a religious society in which they expressed their faith by their lifelong walk with the Lord.

Abraham expressed his faith by his belief in God's word. In like manner, the Old Testament Israelites expressed their faith by their belief in God's word written in the Old Testament. (But we should note that this word was first spoken and was written down only later. Their religion was initially based on an oral tradition.)

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Abraham's Faith ...

Abraham's faith consisted of several important aspects and it is useful to study this topic since he is the father of the faith.

Walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham. (Romans 4:12)

Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. (Romans 4:18)

These passages show that Abraham believed the following:

Abraham's faith resulted in his living a lifestyle based on his belief that God's promises are true; it was not a mere intellectual assent.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Degrees of Faith ...

The Protestant reformers' emphasis on faith only (sola fide) when considering salvation raises an interesting issue which is rarely considered by Protestants. Since we are saved by faith we must have at least a minimum level of saving faith. But how much faith is enough? What kind of guidance can Protestant teachers provide so that their faith-filled converts will really be saved? And since works play no role in salvation, how are we to know how much faith we even have?

In the book of Romans we see that there are degrees of faith and that believers can even be weak in faith and still be saved.

Abraham had a strong faith.

And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. (Romans 4:19,20)

There are different amounts of faith even among believers.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

The weak in faith are not necessarily unsaved and a person can be saved but yet be weak in faith. There can be a tendency within Protestant denominations to be too harsh, judgmental, and unloving to those who have weak faith.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Romans 14:1)

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."


Assurance of Faith ...

The Protestant reformers taught that in order to be saved you must be certain that you are saved (See Calvinism). But in the following passage about Abraham's faith, we see that his assurance was in God's promises and power, and not in his individual salvation.

And being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he [God] was able also to perform. (Romans 4:21)

There must be a certainty; not in our personal salvation but, rather, in (1) God's ability to redeem us, and (2) in his promise that he will. In coming to a life of faith we will each have an internal dialog in which we assess the pros and cons of the gospel. To come to saving faith, we must exercise our free will and choose to believe that it is true.

Saving faith is a lifelong process of discovering truth and of deciding which truth-claims are true and which are false. A person of faith will have a willingness to follow the truth no matter where it leads. In fact, that is the essence of what saving faith is.

Saving faith and good deeds go hand in hand. They cannot be separated.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to clarify that we are not saved by works alone. Nor are we saved by works without faith. Any good works we do must be performed in faith. They must be works of faith, or "faith works."