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Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine commonly held to distinguish many Protestant churches from the Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The doctrine of sola fide asserts God's pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all "works". All mankind, it is asserted, is fallen and sinful, under the curse of God, and incapable of saving itself from God's wrath and curse. But God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith. Christ's righteousness, according to the followers of sola fide, is imputed (or attributed) by God to the believing sinner (as opposed to infused or imparted), so that the divine verdict and pardon of the believing sinner is based not upon anything in the sinner, but upon Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone, which are received through faith alone. Justification by faith alone is distinguished from the other graces of salvation. See the ordo salutis for more detail on the doctrine of salvation considered more broadly than justification by faith alone.
Lutheran and Reformed churches have held to sola fide justification in opposition to Roman Catholicism especially, but also in opposition to significant aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy. These Protestant churches exclude all human works (except the works of Jesus Christ, which form the basis of justification) from the legal verdict (or pardon) of justification. According to Martin Luther, justification by faith alone is the article on which the Church stands or falls. Thus, "faith alone" is foundational to Lutheranism and Reformed Christianity, and as a formula distinguishes it from other Christian denominations.
However, theological discussion in the centuries since the Reformation and Counter-Reformation has suggested that the differences are in emphasis and concepts rather than doctrine, since the Roman Catholics or Orthodox do not in fact hold that works are a basis of justification or a means of salvation, and most Protestants do in fact accept the need for repentance and the primacy of grace. See § Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church and § Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission below. Further, many Protestant churches actually hold more nuanced positions such as sola gratia, sola fide or justification by faith (i.e., without the alone). According to a 2017 survey conducted in Western Europe by the Pew Research Center, "fewer people say that faith alone (in Latin, sola fide) leads to salvation, the position that Martin Luther made a central rallying cry of 16th-century Protestant reformers." Protestants in every country surveyed except Norway are more likely to say that both good deeds and faith in God are necessary for salvation.
Most scholars of Early Christianity are adherents of the New Perspective on Paul and so believe sola fide is a misinterpretation on the part of Lutherans and that Paul was actually speaking about laws (such as Circumcision, Dietary laws, Sabbath, Temple rituals, etc.) that were considered essential for the Jews of the time.
In the General Council of Trent the Catholic Church cautioned against an extreme version of sola fide in canon XIV on self-righteousness and justification without repentance, declaring: "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema." However, since the first of Luther's 95 Theses was a call to repentance, opposing this canon to actual Lutheran theology is problematic.
Christian theologies answer questions about the nature, function, and meaning of justification quite differently. These issues include: Is justification an event occurring instantaneously or is it an ongoing process? Is justification effected by divine action alone (monergism), by divine and human action together (synergism), or by human action (erroneously called Pelagianism)? Is justification permanent or can it be lost? What is the relationship of justification to sanctification, the process whereby sinners become righteous and are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live lives pleasing to God?
From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms and the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Roman Catholic Church in new ways. (See Romans 4:1-5, Galatians 3:1-7, and Genesis 15:6.) He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity, the most important of which, for Luther, was the doctrine of justification--God's act of declaring a sinner righteous--by faith alone through God's grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God's grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus.
"This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification," insisted Martin Luther, "is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness." He also called this doctrine the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae ("article of the standing and falling church"): "...if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls." For Lutherans this doctrine is the material principle of theology in relation to the Bible, which is the formal principle. They believe justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ's righteousness alone is the gospel, the core of the Christian faith around which all other Christian doctrines are centered and based.
Luther came to understand justification as entirely the work of God. When God's righteousness is mentioned in the gospel, it is God's action of declaring righteous the unrighteous sinner who has faith in Jesus Christ. The righteousness by which the person is justified (declared righteous) is not his own (theologically, proper righteousness) but that of another, Christ (alien righteousness). "That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law," said Luther. "Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ." Thus faith, for Luther, is a gift from God, and "...a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it." This faith grasps Christ's righteousness and appropriates it for the believer. He explained his concept of "justification" in the Smalcald Articles:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
Traditionally, Lutherans have taught forensic (or legal) justification, a divine verdict of acquittal pronounced on the believing sinner. God declares the sinner to be "not guilty" because Christ has taken his place, living a perfect life according to God's law and suffering for his sins. For Lutherans, justification is in no way dependent upon the thoughts, words, and deeds of those justified through faith alone in Christ. The new obedience that the justified sinner renders to God through sanctification follows justification as a consequence, but is not part of justification.
Lutherans believe that individuals receive this gift of salvation through faith alone. Saving faith is the knowledge of, acceptance of, and trust in the promise of the Gospel. Even faith itself is seen as a gift of God, created in the hearts of Christians by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Baptism. Faith is seen as an instrument that receives the gift of salvation, not something that causes salvation. Thus, Lutherans reject the "decision theology" which is common among modern evangelicals.
For Lutherans, justification provides the power by which Christians can grow in holiness. Such improvement comes about in the believer only after he has become a new creation in Christ through Holy Baptism. This improvement is not completed in this life: Christians are always "saint and sinner at the same time" (simul iustus et peccator)--saints because they are holy in God's eyes, for Christ's sake, and do works that please him; sinners because they continue to sin until death.
Martin Luther elevated sola fide to the principal cause of the Protestant Reformation, the rallying cry of the Lutheran cause, and the chief distinction of the Lutheran & Reformed branches of Christianity from Roman Catholicism. John Calvin, also a proponent of this doctrine, taught that "every one who would obtain the righteousness of Christ must renounce his own." According to Calvin, it is only because the sinner is able to obtain the good standing of the Son of God, through faith in him, and union with him, that sinners have any hope of pardon from, acceptance by, and peace with God.
Historically, the expression--"justification by faith alone"-- has appeared in a number of Catholic bible translations: the Nuremberg Bible (1483) in Galatians 2;16 ("? ... ? ? ") has "nur durch den glauben", and the Italian translations of 1476, 1538 and 1546 have "ma solo per la fede" or "per la sola fede".
The official Italian Bible of the Catholic Church, La Sacra Bibbia della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (2008), in Galatian 2:16, reads in part: "but only through faith in Jesus Christ" (ma soltanto per mezzo della fede).
The "faith alone" expression also appears in at least nine English Bible translations:
Luther added the word allein ("alone" in German) to Romans 3:28 controversially so that it read: "So now we hold, that man is justified without the help of the works of the law, alone through faith". The word "alone" does not appear in the Greek texts and Luther acknowledged this fact, but he defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb "alone" was required by idiomatic German:
I knew very well that the word solum ["alone" in Latin] is not in the Greek or Latin text (...) It is a fact that these four letters S O L A are not there (...) At the same time (...) it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had undertaken to speak in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is affirmed and the other denied, we use the word solum (allein) along with the word nicht [not] or kein [no]. For example, we say, 'The farmer brings allein [only] grain and kein [no] money.
Luther further stated that sola was used in theological traditions before him and this adverb makes Paul's intended meaning clearer:
I am not the only one, nor the first, to say that faith alone makes one righteous. There was Ambrose, Augustine and many others who said it before me. And if a man is going to read and understand St. Paul, he will have to say the same thing, and he can say nothing else. Paul's words are too strong -- they allow no works, none at all! Now if it is not works, it must be faith alone.
Paul was not antinomian. While salvation cannot be achieved through works (Titus 3:5), faith being a unity with Christ in the Spirit naturally issues in love (Galatian 5:6). This was Martin Luther's emphasis likewise.
In relation to Sola Fide, the place of works is found in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians: Justification is by grace through faith, "not from yourselves" and "not by works". In other words, it is by faith alone since all human efforts are excluded here. (Eph. 2:8-9) This excludes, for example, the Catholic doctrine that men are saved by faith and works. Ephesians goes on to say that every person who has faith is to produce good works, according to God's plan (Eph. 2:10). These works, however, are not a cause of forgiveness but a result of forgiveness. Faith alone justifies but faith is never alone. It is followed by works. In short, works of love are the goal of the saving faith. (1 Tim 1:5)
According to the Defense of the Augsburg Confession of Philipp Melanchthon, the Epistle of James clearly teaches that the recipients of the letter have been justified by God through the saving Gospel (James 1:18):
Thirdly, James has spoken shortly before concerning regeneration, namely, that it occurs through the Gospel. For thus he says James 1:18: Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. When he says that we have been born again by the Gospel, he teaches that we have been born again and justified by faith. For the promise concerning Christ is apprehended only by faith, when we set it against the terrors of sin and of death. James does not, therefore, think that we are born again by our works.
In answer to a question on James 2:24 ("you see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone") the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has written, "In James 2, the author was dealing with errorists who said that if they had faith they didn't need to show their love by a life of faith (2:14-17). James countered this error by teaching that true, saving faith is alive, showing itself to be so by deeds of love (James 2:18,26). The author of James taught that justification is by faith alone and also that faith is never alone but shows itself to be alive by good deeds that express a believer's thanks to God for the free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ."
According to the Defense of the Augsburg Confession again,
James, therefore, did not believe that by good works we merit the remission of sins and grace. For he speaks of the works of those who have been justified, who have already been reconciled and accepted, and have obtained remission of sins.
In Article XX Of Good Works, the Augsburg Confession states that:
[I]t is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended
In his Introduction to Romans, Luther stated that saving faith is,
a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever...Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!
"Faith alone justifies but a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace. Faith works itself out through love (Gal. 5:6). And Faith without works is dead (James 2:17-20)."
"It is living faith that justifies and living faith unites to Christ both in the virtue of his death and in the power of his resurrection. No one has entrusted himself to Christ for deliverance from the guilt of sin who has not also entrusted himself to him for deliverance from the power of sin."
Contemporary evangelical theologian R. C. Sproul writes,
The relationship of faith and good works is one that may be distinguished but never separated...if good works do not follow from our profession of faith, it is a clear indication that we do not possess justifying faith. The Reformed formula is, "We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone."
Michael Horton concurs by saying,
This debate, therefore, is not over the question of whether God renews us and initiates a process of gradual growth in holiness throughout the course of our lives. 'We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone,' Luther stated, and this recurring affirmation of the new birth and sanctification as necessarily linked to justification leads one to wonder how the caricatures continue to be perpetuated without foundation.
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), signed by both the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church on 31 October 1999 declares:
We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.
Many Catholics see the exclusion of "works of the law" as only referring to works done for salvation under the Mosaic law, versus works of faith which are held as meritorious for salvation.
Adherents of sola fide respond that Jesus was not instituting keeping a higher moral code as means of salvation, and tend to see the exclusion of "works of the law" (as the means of obtaining justification) as referring to any works of the Mosaic law, and by implication, any "works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5) or any system in which one earns eternal life on the basis of the merit of works.
However, most understand that the "righteousness of the law" is to be fulfilled by those who are justified by faith (Romans 8:4). The Mosaic law and the principles of the Gospel (such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Judgment of Matthew 25) are seen as being in correspondence, with the latter fulfilling, clarifying, and expanding on the former, centering on God's love for us, and love to others. Thus a Lutheran or Reformed believer can claim that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good," (Romans 7:12) harmonizing the two principles of the same Bible.
Chapter 2 of the Epistle of James, verses 14-26, discusses faith and works, starting with verse 14, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?" In verse 20 it says that faith without works is dead.
The Defense of the Augsburg Confession rejects the idea that the Epistle of James contradicts the Lutheran teaching on Justification.
He who has faith and good works is righteous, not indeed, on account of the works, but for Christ's sake, through faith. And as a good tree should bring forth good fruit, and yet the fruit does not make the tree good, so good works must follow the new birth, although they do not make man accepted before God; but as the tree must first be good, so also must man be first accepted before God by faith for Christ's sake. The works are too insignificant to render God gracious to us for their sake, if He were not gracious to us for Christ's sake. Therefore James does not contradict St. Paul, and does not say that by our works we merit, etc.
Confessional Lutheran theologians summarize James 2: "we are justified/declared righteous by people when they see the good works we do as a result of our faith and they conclude that our faith is sincere."
In answer to another question on James 2:24 as well as Romans 3:23-24, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod replied:
Paul is writing to people who said that faith in Jesus alone does not save a person, but one has to also obey God's law in order to be justified (Gal 3:3, 5:4). To counter the false idea that what we do in keeping the law must be added to faith in what Christ did for us. Paul often emphasizes in his letters (esp. Galatians, Romans, Colossians) that we are saved by grace through faith alone. James is writing to people who felt that believing in Jesus saved a person, but that having faith did not mean that a person necessarily would keep God's commandments out of love for God (James 2:14, 17). To show that faith is not really faith unless it leads a person to thank God for salvation in a life of glad and willing obedience to God's holy will. James emphasized that a faith which did not show that it was living faith was really not faith at all.
A Lutheran exegesis further points out that James is simply reaffirming Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:16, and that in the tenth verse of the same chapter ("For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it"), James too denies works as a means to obtain forgiveness:
James here (verse 10) also shoots down the false doctrine of work-righteousness. The only way to be free of sin is to keep the law perfectly and in its entirety. If we offend it in the slightest, tiniest little way, we are guilty of all. Thank God that He sent Jesus to fulfill the Law in its entirety for us
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, says that "sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. ... Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works." And later, "Good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love."
The Joint Declaration never mentions the expression Sola Fide and the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches that salvation is obtained by the combination of faith and human efforts.
Lutheran and Reformed Protestants, as well as others, base the sola fide on the fact that the New Testament contains almost two hundred statements that appear to imply that faith or belief is sufficient for salvation, for example: "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believe in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25) and especially Paul's words in Romans, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28) "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5)
The precise relationship between faith and good works remains an area of controversy in some Protestant traditions (see also Law and Gospel). Even at the outset of the Reformation, subtle differences of emphasis appeared. For example, because the Epistle of James emphasizes the importance of good works, Martin Luther sometimes referred to it as the "epistle of straw". Calvin on the other hand, while not intending to differ with Luther, described good works as a consequence or 'fruit' of faith. The Anabaptists tended to make a nominal distinction between faith and obedience.
Recent meetings of scholars and clergy have attempted to soften the antithesis between Protestant and Catholic conceptions of the role of faith in salvation, which, if they were successful, would have far reaching implications for the relationship between most Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. These attempts to form a consensus are accepted among many Protestants and Catholics, but among others, sola fide continues to divide the Reformation churches, including many Lutherans, Reformed, and others, from other denominations. Some statements of the doctrine are interpreted as a denial of the doctrine as understood by other groups. There is a semantic component to this debate as well, which has gained new attention in the past century. Both Latin and English have two words to describe convictions: one is more intellectual (English belief, Latin verb credo) and one carries implications of "faithfulness" (English faith, Latin fides). But Greek and German have only one (German Glaube, Greek pistis). Some historians have suggested that this semantic issue caused some of the disagreement: Perhaps Luther's supporters may have understood "salvation by faith alone" to mean "salvation by being faithful to Christ," while his opponents understood him to mean "salvation by intellectual belief in Christ." Since there are passages in Luther's works that could be taken to support either of these meanings, both sides were able to quote passages from Luther defending their interpretation of what he meant.
|Roman Catholic||Process||Synergism||Can be lost via mortal sin||Part of the same process|
|Lutheran||Event||Divine monergism||Can be lost via loss of faith||Justification is separate from and occurs prior to sanctification|
|Methodist||Event||Synergism||Can be lost||Dependent upon continued sanctification|
|Orthodox||Process||Synergism||Can be lost through sin||Part of the same process of theosis|
|Reformed||Event||Divine monergism||Cannot be lost||Both are a result of union with Christ|
Both Protestant and Catholic theologians admit that faith alone was also taught by some Church Fathers.James Buchanan (1804-1870), a Scottish minister, reckoned that there were at least 28 Church Fathers who taught justification through faith alone. According to Buchanan, at least until the 12th century there was always at least one theologian teaching the doctrine in a systematic way:
Here are some quotes from various Christian writers through the ages, on both sides:
Pope Benedict XVI summarized the Catholic position as "...Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. ... St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14)."
In view of the wide discrepancy between historical claims on the Catholic view of works versus faith and modern Catholic articulations of it, the following "ground rules" for interpreting Catholic statements are useful. (The quotes are abridged from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 2, Grace and Justification.)
Thus the Catholic view could perhaps be interpreted as a progression or flow: first grace, then initial trust/repentance/conversion, then charity/faith/hope, combined with an emphasis that none of these elements should be isolated without missing the package.
Further, the sacraments of baptism, eucharist, and reconciliation relate theatrically to each: baptism for the removal of sin (in the case of an infant, original sin), eucharist for the affirmation/re-affirmation/re-enactment of acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice, and penance for the confession of lapses of faith and charity and the assignment of prayers/actions to rejoin faith and charity. Sola fide is rejected only as far is it would ignore or reject grace or the New Commandment.
The Catholic view holds instead that grace, specifically, the form of grace known as "sanctifying grace", and which first floods the soul at baptism, which empowers both one's ability to believe and perform good works, is essential as the gateway to salvation, but not the only element needed for salvation (Eph 2:8-10). God's freely given grace is offered and also empowers both one's ability to believe and perform good works, both then becoming meritorious because they are joined to Christ's saving power of the Cross. (Phil 2:12-13) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1987-2029) A Christian must respond to this free gift of Grace from God given first, ordinarily, in Baptism (1 Pet 3:21) both by having faith and by living in the light of Christ through love (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 1:7) (Galatians 5:6) which perfects the Christian throughout their life (James 2:22). The Catholic position is best summed up in John 3:16, if one has the proper, contextual understanding of the word "believe". "Believe", in context and in ancient Judaism, meant more than an intellectual assent. "To believe" also meant to obey, which is seen, in context, in Jn 3:36, 1 Jn 2:3ff, and 1 Jn 5:1ff. Without our positive response to grace offered, salvation is not possible.
As expounded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church's teaching is that it is the grace of God, "the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call", that justifies us, a grace that is a prerequisite for our free response of "collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity".
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church justification is conferred in baptism, the sacrament of faith. The sacrament of reconciliation enables recovery of justification, if lost through committing a mortal sin. A mortal sin makes justification lost, even if faith is still present.
The Council of Trent sought to clarify the Catholic Church's teaching on justification and the manner in which it differed from that proposed by Lutheran and Reformed Christians. It stated: "Faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God (ESV) and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification." "Faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17-20) and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity (Galatians 5:6)." After being justified, "to those who work well unto the end and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits. ... Since Christ Jesus Himself, as the head into the members and the vine into the branches (John 15:1-6), continually infuses strength into those justified, which strength always precedes, accompanies and follows their good works, and without which they could not in any manner be pleasing and meritorious before God, we must believe that nothing further is wanting to those justified to prevent them from being considered to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained in its [due] time, provided they depart [this life] in grace".
In its canons, the Council condemned the following propositions:
Catholic exegetes believe that St. James, to continue the thread above, had no other object than to emphasize the fact -- already emphasized by St. Paul -- that only such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata) possesses any power to justify man (cf. Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:2), whilst faith devoid of charity and good works (fides informis) is a dead faith and in the eyes of God insufficient for justification (cf. James 2:17 sqq.)
In response to sola fide, Robert Sungenis argues in his 1997 book Not by Faith Alone that:
Methodism affirms the doctrine of justification by faith, but in Wesleyan-Arminian theology, justification refers to "pardon, the forgiveness of sins", rather than "being made actually just and righteous", which Methodists believe is accomplished through sanctification.John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Churches, taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensible for our sanctification".
"It is incumbent on all that are justified to be zealous of good works," says Wesley, "And these are so necessary that if a man willingly neglects them, he cannot reasonably expect that he shall ever be sanctified."-- "The Scripture Way of Salvation" in Sermons II [vol. 3; ed. A.C. Outler; Abingdon, 1985], 164).
Methodist pastor Amy Wagner has written:
Wesley understood faith as a necessity for salvation, even calling it "the sole condition" of salvation, in the sense that it led to justification, the beginning point of salvation. At the same time, "as glorious and honorable as [faith] is, it is not the end of the commandment. God hath given this honor to love alone."-- "The Law Established through Faith II", §II.1
Faith is "an unspeakable blessing" because "it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law of love in our hearts".-- "The Law Established through Faith II", §II.6
This end, the law of love ruling in our hearts, is the fullest expression of salvation; it is Christian perfection.-- Amy Wagner
Methodist soteriology emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of holiness in salvation. Thus, for Wesley, "true faith ... cannot subsist without works". Bishop Scott J. Jones in United Methodist Doctrine (2002) writes that in Methodist theology:
Faith is necessary to salvation unconditionally. Good works are necessary only conditionally, that is if there is time and opportunity. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 is Wesley's example of this. He believed in Christ and was told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." This would be impossible if the good works that are the fruit of genuine repentance and faith were unconditionally necessary for salvation. The man was dying and lacked time; his movements were confined and he lacked opportunity. In his case, faith alone was necessary. However, for the vast majority of human beings good works are necessary for continuance in faith because those persons have both the time and opportunity for them.
Bishop Jones concludes that "United Methodist doctrine thus understands true, saving faith to be the kind that, give time and opportunity, will result in good works. Any supposed faith that does not in fact lead to such behaviors is not genuine, saving faith." Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy". While "faith is essential for a meaningful relationship with God, our relationship with God also takes shape through our care for people, the community, and creation itself." Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification", emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith".
Richard P. Bucher contrasts this position with the Lutheran one, discussing an analogy put forth by the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley:
Whereas in Lutheran theology the central doctrine and focus of all our worship and life is justification by grace through faith, for Methodists the central focus has always been holy living and the striving for perfection. Wesley gave the analogy of a house. He said repentance is the porch. Faith is the door. But holy living is the house itself. Holy living is true religion. "Salvation is like a house. To get into the house you first have to get on the porch (repentance) and then you have to go through the door (faith). But the house itself--one's relationship with God--is holiness, holy living.-- Joyner, paraphrasing Wesley, 3.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.-- Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1571)
However, certain Anglican and Episcopal theologians (especially Anglo-Catholics) argue for a faith characterized by faithfulness, where good works and the Sacraments play an important role in the life of the Christian believer. (See New Perspective on Paul)
Our churches by common consent ... teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.-- Article IV, "Of Justification", Augsburg Confession, 1530
Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.
XXVIII. That those which have union with Christ, are justified from all their sins, past, present, and to come, by the blood of Christ; which justification we conceive to be a gracious and free acquittance of a guilty, sinful creature, from all sin by God, through the satisfaction that Christ hath made by his death; and this applied in the manifestation of it through faith.-- First London Baptist Confession (1644)
The position of the Mennonite Church USA is set out in the pamphlet Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995). It is a typical Anabaptist confession of faith. The commentary to Article 8 of the Confession states:
This confession uses a variety of expressions for salvation. For example, salvation is often expressed as "justification by faith". The justification that is "reckoned" to us as salvation (Rom. 4:1-12) is experienced as a covenant relationship with God. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. God offers the relationship. The just, or righteous, person has received the offer, lives according to the covenant, and trusts in God's faithfulness. Justification by faith and faithful obedience to the covenant relationship are inseparable (Heb. 11).
We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.
And the same apostle says that we are justified "freely" or "by grace" through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.
That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God's approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.
In fact, if we had to appear before God relying--no matter how little--on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.
Therefore everyone must say with David: "Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified."-- Article 23: "The Justification of Sinners", Belgic Confession, 1561 (French revision, 1619)
Question 86: Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
Question 87: Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?
Answer: By no means; for the holy scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.-- Heidelberg Catechism, 1563
I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.-- Chapter XI. "Of Justification". Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.
We believe good works are the necessary fruits of faith and follow regeneration but they do not have the virtue to remove our sins or to avert divine judgment. We believe good works, pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, spring from a true and living faith, for through and by them faith is made evident.
The justification of the sinner solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.-- Statement of Faith, British Evangelical Alliance
We believe in ... the Salvation of lost and sinful man through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith apart from works, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit ...-- Statement of Faith, World Evangelical Alliance
The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of salvation is received through faith. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the gospel, the good news of God's saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole persons involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).-- The Gift of Salvation (1997)
4.3 Justification by Faith and through Grace
25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God's gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.
In the preamble , it is suggested that much of the debate on sola fide has been based on condemnations of caricatured positions not actually held: "The teaching of the Lutheran Churches presented in the Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration."
5. Regarding the way in which salvation is appropriated by the believers, Lutherans, by teaching that justification and salvation are by grace alone through faith (sola gratia, sola fide), stress the absolute priority of divine grace in salvation. When they speak about saving faith they do not think of the dead faith which even the demons have (cf. James 2:19), but the faith which Abraham showed and which was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3,9). The Orthodox also affirm the absolute priority of divine grace. They underline that it is God's grace which enables our human will to conform to the divine will (cf. Phil 2:13) in the steps of Jesus praying, "not as I will but as You will" (Matthew 26:39), so that we may work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12). This is what the Orthodox mean by "synergy" (working together) of divine grace and the human will of the believer in the appropriation of the divine life in Christ. The understanding of synergy in salvation is helped by the fact that the human will in the one person of Christ was not abolished when the human nature was united in Him with the divine nature, according to the Christological decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. While Lutherans do not use the concept of synergy, they recognize the personal responsibility of the human being in the acceptance or refusal of divine grace through faith, and in the growth of faith and obedience to God. Lutherans and Orthodox both understand good works as the fruits and manifestations of the believer's faith and not as a means of salvation.
So halten wyrs nu, das der mensch gerechtfertiget werde, on zu thun der werck des gesetzs, alleyn durch den glawben (emphasis added to the German word for 'alone.').
? ("for we reckon a man to be justified by faith without deeds of law").
Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith.
Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."
This balance is most evident in Wesley's understanding of faith and works, justification and sanctification. ... Wesley himself in a sermon entitled "Justification by Faith" makes an attempt to define the term accurately. First, he states what justification is not. It is not being made actually just and righteous (that is sanctification). It is not being cleared of the accusations of Satan, nor of the law, nor even of God. We have sinned, so the accusation stands. Justification implies pardon, the forgiveness of sins. ... Ultimately for the true Wesleyan salvation is completed by our return to original righteousness. This is done by the work of the Holy Spirit. ... The Wesleyan tradition insists that grace is not contrasted with law but with the works of the law. Wesleyans remind us that Jesus came to fulfill, not destroy the law. God made us in his perfect image, and he wants that image restored. He wants to return us to a full and perfect obedience through the process of sanctification. ... Good works follow after justification as its inevitable fruit. Wesley insisted that Methodists who did not fulfill all righteousness deserved the hottest place in the lake of fire.
Reformed Arminianism's understanding of apostasy veers from the Wesleyan notion that individuals may repeatedly fall from grace by committing individual sins and may be repeatedly restored to a state of grace through penitence.
Jacob Albright, founder of the movement that led to the Evangelical Church flow in the United Methodist Church, got into trouble with some of his Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite neighbors because he insisted that salvation not only involved ritual but meant a change of heart, a different way of living.