Literally translated, Sola Fide means only faith. That is, man is saved only by faith. Sola Fide for Martin Luther means, faith united with good deeds is true, but acts are not necessary for salvation. This brief statement contains the idea that sinners are justified Sola Fide — only by faith. But what does Sola Fide mean? Before we delve into that, it is necessary to get acquainted with the historical circumstances to truly understand its significance. We can best see how great something is when we compare it with a dark background. Like jewelers put a diamond on a dark canvas. The brilliance of the diamond does not increase but comes to the expression.
The reformation started when Martin Luther knocked his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517. However, some time passed until the consequences of that act left a trace in history. The fruits of his labor appeared in numerous Lutheran and Reformed confessions. He claimed that sinners were declared righteous in God’s eyes, not based on their good works, but only by faith, only in Christ, and only by God’s grace – Sola Fide, Solus Christos, and Sola Gratia.
The Roman Catholic Church reacted at the council of Trent. In January 1547, they delivered a proclamation on the doctrine of justification. Among the many points made by Rome, several claims were crucial:
- sinners are justified by their baptism in the Roman Catholic Church exclusively;
- man becomes justified by faith in Christ and by good works;
- sinners are not justified solely by the righteousness of Christ ascribed to them,
- a man may lose his position as justified. In other words, anyone can lose their salvation.
The Roman Catholic Church condemned Sola Fide – it did not confess that sinners are justified only by faith.
In 1647, a group of pastors and theologians of the Reformed Churches assembled a collection of documents, which include Confession of Faith and the Great and Small Catechism, at a gathering in London’s Westminster Abbey. Theologians have struggled to compile a collection of Reformation teachings to create a single Reformed church. In the question and answer 33 of the Little Catechism, they summarize one of the main pillars of the Reformation tradition: What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace by which He forgives all our sins and accepts us as righteous, only thanks to Christ’s righteousness, which we receive only by faith.
Light in the Dark | Martin Luther
With such a background, we see more clearly how the Little Catechism biblically defines the doctrine of justification and explains that it is Sola Fide. For Rome, sinners are justified by faith and works. This doctrine of faith is subjective – one must look to oneself, to one’s good deeds, to be justified. It is like the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not enough? On the other hand, the Little Catechism states that faith is extrospective – to be justified, sinners turn from themselves to the perfect and finished work of Christ. But what exactly do sinners receive only by faith? The first gain of justification is that God forgives all our sins – past, present, and future.
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Romans 4:7, KJV
Another gain of justification is that the sinner is accepted in God’s eyes as righteous “only because of the righteousness of Christ ascribed to us.” Gaining the status of “righteous” is unique. By justification, the sinner is accepted as righteous, not only for one part of the law but for the entire law – for every commandment, every dash, and iota. Form where does this justice come? Righteousness, or obedience, belongs to Christ. Christ’s righteousness:
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21, KJV
Christ took away the sin of His people. The sins were attributed to Him, and He bore them. Just as our sin was imputed to Christ so that He could bear, the curse of the law. His fulfillment of every requirement of the law. Adam’s disobedience is attributed to all who are united with him, and the obedience of Christ, the last Adam, is attributed to all who are united to him (1 Cor. 15:45).
The principle of Sola Fide
The principle of Sola Fide is very simple and easy to understand. But, the other side is very fond of accusing us of signing a blank bill of exchange for sin with our Sola Fide attitude. Not every religion brings excuses. There is also the dead faith spoken of by the apostle James. Dead faith is a faith that does not bear fruit, and fruits are just good works. The principle of Sola Fide is, therefore, not a blank bill of exchange for sin, as some say in vain. Living faith means responsibility to God and one’s neighbor. And this faith is not of us but is a gift of God. (Eph 2:8 )
Jesus himself did not say anything about the dead faith, but he did say something about it. For example, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, take up your cross every day and follow me, bless those who work for peace, bear fruit worthy, and so many more. But without a living faith, you can’t do that. It may take a while, but you will soon burn up your energy resources, and in the end, there will be one big failure. The fruits are born of faith but not of works, which Jacob says is dead.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. Matthew 15:28, KJV
The principle of Sola Fide (faith only) – Believers gain their salvation by faith, not so much by “good works” or through the Church. Until the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had an almost absolute monopoly on divine grace, which was obtained through sacred secrets, sacraments, and guaranteed by giving indulgences. Paul’s teaching on justification by faith, in Luther’s interpretation, removed the need for the mediation of the priestly hierarchy between God and the believer. As a consequence, we now don’t have the traditional priesthood in the Protestant churches. Martin Luther had significant political support in Germany.
Without such support, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther would probably be remembered only as another heretic-martyr in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. And he provided a completely new and fresh understanding of the Christian faith. One of those is justification by faith. With this new understanding and interpretation of the Bible, Luther made possible a theological, ideological break with the medieval church and religion. Studying Paul’s letters in the original (especially the Epistle to the Romans), he renewed an early Christian idea, incorporating it into the foundation of his teaching based on the following three principles (Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, and Sola Gratia).
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 2:16, KJV
Martin Luther’s reference to the three “Solas” -Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia – according to which only the scriptures, not the church’s teachings, are an only guide to Christian life change. According to which the salvation of the soul is achieved by faith as trust in God’s grace. Martin Luther replaced the infallibility of the pope with the infallibility of the Bible. There were no more God-fearing deeds and performing church rituals. Even further away from the proto-Christian truth of the ecumenical councils from the first millennium after Christ than Roman Catholicism.
As a reformer, Luther wanted to return to a united original Christianity, but as a Protestant, he contributed to breaking up the Christian world. “Old Europe” ended with Luther. Since then, the unity of Europe has become a task. In the 16th century, the task was first to achieve European unity against the Ottoman threat (in 1529, the Ottoman army was in front of Vienna).
Salvation has generally considered God’s grace, and it is not the merit of man, but the gift from God for the sake of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the people who live on earth. And salvation, according to the Bible, is the deliverance of man from his sins. Therefore, from severe consequences, namely, from death and hell. Besides, salvation is possible, thanks to the manifestation of God’s love. Regardless of what actions someone does – forgiveness can only be earned by faith (Sola Fide), but not by money or deeds;
People can worship only God since Salvation comes only through Him. Hence, just as a person believes in the redemption of sin through Jesus, faith in God is also salvation; Live a life of a true Christian who is saved by faith alone, as Martin Luther said, Sola Fide.