Sola Fide focuses on what humans must do to receive salvation.
So, how must a person receive salvation?
Prior to the Reformation, the dominant teaching of the Church held that to obtain God’s salvation, it required faith and good works. For the Catholic Church, faith is the initial step of receiving God’s grace, but to keep receiving grace, and ultimately, salvation, one must perform good deeds. And, at the end of the day, each person is judged by their good deeds. The extent of a person’s good works will determine whether they obtain salvation.
However, this was a grave problem for Luther and Reformers. For they realized from Scripture that no amount of human effort could ever prove worthy of salvation. Humans can’t work their way into salvation. Rather, for the Reformers, it is faith and faith alone that enables us to receive God’s salvation.
Luther described it this way in his book On Christian Liberty: “For the Word of God cannot be received and honored by any works, but by faith alone.” By “Word of God,” Luther is referring to the gospel of Christ.
So, we don’t receive the benefits of Christ by doing good works.
For example, the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us, that doesn’t get applied to us because we are nice to people and obey the law. Rather, the forgiveness of sins comes to us by faith. The salvation that Christ secured for us, it isn’t received by doing good works.
Salvation is received by faith.
Paul himself stated that in Ephesians 2:8 that faith is the means by which we receive God’s grace (on Sola Gratia, read this). This may sound strange, but that is how God designed it, and we see the reason why in Ephesians 2:9. You see, if we could earn God’s grace, if we could earn salvation, then we would have every right to boast before God and the world. If salvation could be earned by human effort, we could brag about it.
Essentially, if one could earn their salvation, they could tell God, “God, I did it on my own; I don’t need You.” But, God wouldn’t let that fly because that is sin. To exalt ourselves above God is sinful idolatry. So, by virtue of that reality alone, salvation cannot be earned by works. It has to be received by faith alone.
What do you make of that? How does that land on you?
Perhaps, it would be helpful to flesh out what faith really is. In Holy Scripture, faith begins by admitting our inability to help ourselves. Lots of people get hung up here. There is no true faith if people don’t recognize their inability to save themselves. Faith requires that. Faith requires deep humility. Moreover, faith is an act of trust on what Christ has done. It is a response to the message of the gospel.
Furthermore, in light of what Christ has done, faith is submitting to the Lordship of Christ.
It is submitting to His rule over all that you are and over all that you do. That is faith. Faith encompasses all these facets. So, while it may feel that faith requires nothing of us, it’s not true. Faith requires all of you. Faith is a daily and hourly decision.
Nevertheless, Paul’s point, and the Reformers point remains, we receive salvation by faith alone. That is Sola Fide.
Want to learn more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation? Check out this post.