Sola Fide (faith alone) was a strong rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation. When Martin Luther was studying the book of Romans he came to Romans 1:17 which says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” That was a life changing moment for the legalistic monk. He wrote in his Bible, “sola fide.” In this verse Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4. He also quotes it in Galatians 3:11. It is also quoted in Hebrews 10:38. The fact that this verse is quoted three times in the New Testament shows its importance.
Righteousness is by faith from first to last. Righteousness begins and ends with faith. Everything else is excluded. We are justified (declared righteous) through faith alone. Many teach that we can achieve righteousness before God by our good works, but that is definitely not what the Bible teaches. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” There is nothing that we can do that will gain favour with God.
In the third chapter of Romans the apostle Paul plainly declares that no one is righteous. All of us are sinners. He writes in verses 11 and 12, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; here is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” In verses 21 to 23 he says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all sinners and deserve only condemnation. The only way that we can be declared righteous in God’s sight is through faith. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Justification by faith was a dramatic revelation for Martin Luther. It changed his whole thinking and made a huge impact upon the church. Our standing before God does not depend upon our own merit, but upon Christ’s righteousness applied by faith. Romans 4:1-5 says, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (N.I.V.)
Martin Luther was disturbed by the sale of indulgences. People were told that they could buy their way into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church taught that salvation was by faith plus works. Faith alone was not enough. Baptism and other acts were necessary to be declared righteous before God.
There are many verses in the Bible that proclaim justification through faith. Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Galatians 2:16 says, “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (N.I.V.) Paul, in his epistle to Galatians even warns that anyone preaching any other gospel should be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:7-8).
Discussion Question: How do we reconcile Paul’s emphasis that salvation is through faith alone with James’ declaration that faith without works is dead (James 1:14-26)?