Fundamental Doctrine of the Faith: Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide)
What is a fundamental doctrine of the faith? It is a teaching or belief that is absolutely essentially to the identity of a religion or philosophy i.e. without adherence to that teaching or belief would automatically cause one not to be of that faith or religion.
Justification by faith alone is that doctrine which makes us uniquely protestants and evangelicals.
The doctrine by which the Church stands or falls – Martin Luther
For the doctrine of justification by faith [alone] is like Atlas. It bears a whole world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of God the Savior – Dr. J.I. Packer
Galatians 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
Romans 3:28 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
1. What is justification?
Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which He (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in His Sight. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 723)
2. Faith is a gift from God, not something we gained through works
Romans 3:25 “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus”
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 4:4-5 “4Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
3. Imputation of Righteousness
*Christ death takes away our sins (takes away our debt), but His righteousness merits favor before God (gives us credit)*
He imputes righteousness, not imparts!
“‘Imputation’ is different from ‘impartation.’ God does ‘impart’ to us gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that we have them and they are in us growing and they are ours. But all of that gracious impartation through the Spirit is built on an even more firm foundation, namely, imputation - the work of God outside of us: God's own righteousness, not imparted to us, but imputed to us.” – Dr. John Piper
2 Corinthians 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
Romans 3:22 “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction”
Romans 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."”
Isaiah 61:10 “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
The righteousness we have before God is not our own, but Christ’s !
Can we really amass enough good works to get into heaven? Can we even amass enough good works to get into Harvard?
“We are not justified because of the inherent goodness of our faith, as if our faith has merit before God. It never allows us to think that our faith in itself earns favor with God. Rather, Scripture says that we are justified ‘by means of’ our faith, understanding faith to be the instrument through which justification is given to us, but not at all an activity that earns us merit or favor with God. Rather we are justified solely because of the merits of Christ’s work” (Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 730).
“First, notice that at the end of verse 6 and at the end of verse 11 in Romans 4 you have a very different way of expressing ‘imputation’ or crediting. At the end of verse 6 it says, ‘God credits righteousness apart from works.’ And at the end of verse 11 it says, ‘. . . that righteousness might be credited to them.’ Notice: in both of these, faith is not the thing credited as righteousness, but righteousness is the thing credited to us. ‘God credits righteousness,’ not ‘God credits faith as righteousness.’ What this does is alert us to the good possibility that when Paul says, ‘Faith is credited as righteousness,’ he may well mean, ‘God credits righteousness to us through faith.’” - Dr. John Piper
4. Why Faith?
“When we come to Christ in faith we essentially say, ‘I give up! I will not depend on myself or my own good works any longer. I know that I can never make myself righteous before God. Therefore, Jesus, I trust you and depend on you completely to give me a righteous standing before God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 730)
To say you “don’t believe in justification by faith alone” is not just to say “I must add my own works to go to heaven,” but “I don’t believe that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for my salvation.”
5. Justification in Roman Catholicism
This section is meant to further highlight why justification by faith alone is a unique and fundamental doctrine to the protestant and evangelical church.
Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (1974):
“According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, justification is ‘sanctifying and renewing of the inner man’… The instrumental cause… of the first justification is the Sacrament of Baptism… As far as the content of justifying faith is concerned the so-called fiducial faith [by faith alone] does not suffice.”
“Official Roman Catholic theology includes sanctification in the definition of justification, which it sees as a process rather than a single decisive event, and affirms that while faith contributes to our acceptance with God, our works of satisfaction and merit contribute too. Rome sees baptism, viewed as a channel of sanctifying grace, as the primary instrumental cause of justification, and the sacrament of penance, whereby congruous merit is achieved through works of satisfaction, as the supplementary restorative cause whenever the grace of God’s initial acceptance is lost through mortal sin. Congruous, as distinct from condign, merit means merit that it is fitting, though not absolutely necessary, for God to reward by a fresh flow of sanctifying grace. On the Roman Catholic view, therefore, believers save themselves with the help of the grace that flows from Christ through the church’s sacramental system, and in this life no sense of confidence in God’s grace can ordinarily be had. Such teaching is a far cry from that of Paul." – Dr. J.I. Packer
Council of Trent (1545-1563): "If anyone says that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to mean that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification . . . let him be anathema."
Evangelical Gospel (Justification by Faith Alone/Imputed Righteousness) vs the Roman Catholic Gospel (Justification by Faith and Works/Infused Righteousness)
This is the primary reason we are 2 different religions, it is because we have 2 different gospels! And as Paul says, whoever has the wrong one will be declared anathema.
*We do not believe it is something inherently good in us that saves, rather it is Christ alone.*
“One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.” From DesiringGod.org quoting John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91.
What’s the big deal?
Galatians 1:8 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed [go to hell]!”
God receives all the glory and credit for our salvation! He elected us, sent His Son to die for us, and raised Him from the grave. What are we really going to add to His work?
To God be all the glory! (Soli Deo Gloria)