In the first post, we discussed Scott Hahn’s arguments against the Reformed doctrine of sola fide in his work Rome Sweet Home. Specifically, we touched briefly on 1 Corinthians 13:2 and more in detail on James 2:24. Before we continue, let us reiterate two positions. First, Scott Hahn’s explanation of what made him lose faith in sola fide, from his conversion story:
Saint Paul (whom I had thought of as the first Luther) taught in Romans, Galatians and elsewhere that justification was more than a legal decree; it established us in Christ as God’s children by grace alone. In fact, I discovered that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach that we were justified by faith alone! Sola fide was unscriptural! [Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home, pg. 31]
Again, we should reiterate that sola fide does not mean “faith isolated” or “faith apart from everything else,” commonly associated with the easy believism theology expounded upon in many Evangelical churches. Faith is simply the door through which God justifies a person. The mere statement “I believe” does not save a person.
To repeat one source that clarifies sola fide‘s position:
From the perspective of those steeped in the medieval church’s instruction, the Reformers’ radical reduction of what was needed for justification was shocking. Urging that it came “by faith alone” seemed to undercut any call to holiness of life – the life spent doing good works. The defenders of the Roman church quickly pointed out that the Reformers’ teaching would lead to indifference toward godliness.
In 1531 Melanchthon responded to this assertion as made in the Roman Confutation (a reaction to the Augsburg Confession). He observed, “Our opponents slanderously claim that we do not require good works, whereas we not only require them but show how they can be done.” According to Melanchthon, while justification is by faith alone, faith is never alone: the faith that justifies cannot be solitary. It cannot exist by itself, in supposedly blissful isolation. What Melanchthon here asserted was the common teaching of all the Protestant Reformers. [James R. Payton, Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings; pg 122-123]
To add another:
How else indeed can we say that we are justified by anything other than faith? Sola fide has never, ever meant “justified by a barren, dead faith that is not Spirit-borne nor accompanied by all the rest of the work of God in His redeemed people.” The alone has always referred to the denial of any additions to faith, especially those that speak to merit…As B. B. Warfield put it, “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests…It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith.” [James White, The God Who Justifies, pg 108-109]
I would like to now give a modest look at scripture regarding the teaching of Paul regarding works, faith and justification. We are told, after all, that Paul never taught sola fide and that the teaching is unscriptural. We know that sola fide does not refer to faith and nothing else (ie., say the sinner’s prayer, you’re in), and therefore it does not refer to a dead faith (therefore, as we saw in my last post, James 2:24 is irrelevant as a criticism).
I would like to first look at a few passages, starting from Ephesians.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10; ESV]
In the preceding verses, Paul had been telling the Ephesians how they were dead in their trespasses and sins (2:1). They “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Rather shocking words for those who know people of unbelief, and humbling words for those who used to belong to unbelief. Yet God, “being rich in mercy” (2:4), and though we were “dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (2:5). Those who were dead are now alive, just as Christ made Lazarus rise from the grave (John 11:43-44). God has turned the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19), hence Paul’s wording “by grace you have been saved” (2:5).
At this section he repeats this again, elucidating with “by grace you have been saved through faith” (2:8) (hence the common connection between sola gratia and sola fide). Yet Paul pauses here and states “this is not of your own doing” – as if the Ephesians had done something pleasing to God to earn faith, or had performed some great work to show they wanted God’s pleasure. Rather, this grace and faith is referred to as “a gift of God” (2:8). This grace and faith is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:9). Therefore there is absolutely no credit that can be given to man for this faith. Works and faith did not spring up as one or side-by-side, but rather a divinely given faith was planted in the hearts of the believer.
Paul calls the believers “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” which were prepared by God beforehand so that “we should walk in them” (2:10). Note something here: we are called God’s “workmanship.” This is for two reasons: (1) We are God’s literal creation – no one exists except by God’s command; (2) we are the developed souls chosen by God to be His children. We are both His physical and spiritual workmanship. Note also this: we are created in Christ Jesus for good works – in other words, the faith comes first (“created in Christ Jesus”) followed by the works (“for good works”). This statement by Paul, however brief, fits in well with the theology of James in the second chapter of his epistle, which condemned empty faith and spoke of displaying faith through works. It also fits well with the teachings of fellow apostle John, who wrote to the church: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).
Paul’s message here is clear: (1) the believers (for Paul refers to “us,” meaning more than just the Ephesians) were saved through their faith; (2) this faith did not come about by works, but was a gift from God; (3) from this faith flowed works. This sounds remarkably like sola fide.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:21-26; ESV]
In the previous chapters, Paul has been building on the depraved state of man. He speaks of those who “suppress the truth” of God in their unrighteousness (1:18), though the truth “about God is plain to them” (1:19). Directing his attention to the Jewish Christians, he explains that even they, who have the Law, are no more justifiable than the Gentiles who are without the Law. “Both Jews and Gentiles,” Paul says, “are under sin” (3:9).
Now, after so much bad news, Paul begins to finally preach the good news. He states that “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (3:21). Paul says two things in this statement: (1) Paul states that the coming of Christ was foretold by the prophets and the Law which the Jews believed in (“the Law and the Prophets bear witness”); (2) the righteousness of God is now given beyond the ethnic and religious Jews to even the Gentiles (“manifested apart from the law”). This righteousness is now given by God through “faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:22). It is the faith in Christ through which this righteousness is bestowed.
Paul then emphasizes what he did earlier, which was “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), and therefore are “justified by his grace as a gift” and only “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24) whom “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:25). The “bad news” makes a comeback: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – none are worthy to be before God, and “no one seeks God” (3:11; quoting Psalm 53). There is nothing a man could do (let alone perhaps want to do) to be with and know God. Then Paul returns to the “good news”: we haven been given grace from God “as a gift” (similar to the language of Ephesians 2) through the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” whose propitiation shall be “received by faith.”
What again are we hearing here? (1) That believers received their salvation from faith; (2) this faith did not come about my man’s doing, as man is by his very nature unrighteous, but rather it was a gift from God. Again, this sounds remarkably like sola fide.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” [Romans 4:1-8; ESV]
Paul makes reference here to Genesis 15:6, the same verse referred to in James 2:23. Yet whereas James spoke of events after the verse, Paul refers here to the verse itself within its context in time. Paul refers to Abraham as “our forefather in the flesh,” as he is still speaking mostly to the Jewish Christians at this point. Later on, Paul will identify Abraham as “father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (4:12), as his offspring will include those of his faith rather than simply his descendants.
Paul states that if Abraham was justified by the works he did, then “he has something to boast about,” though “not before God” (4:2). In language that is again similar to that of Ephesians 2, Paul forebears any action on the part of man unless we give man something to boast about. With the question of why some people believe and some don’t, would a believer really say, “Well I believe because I was smarter,” or, “I believe because I did more research.” That is boasting in your works, and not in the grace of God. To God, man’s boasting means nothing. Our earthly accomplishments will burn up just as easily as paper tossed into a flame.
Turning to the scripture now, Paul cites Genesis 15:6 and then identifies the true meaning of “righteousness”: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (4:4-5). This presents two situations: (1) a person works and is given a wage because it is due, just as a person goes to a job and expects a paycheck for doing that job; (2) a person does not work, but simply believes in He who justifies the ungodly, and then his faith is counted as righteousness. In other words, the ungodly are justified by God as a gift, not as a wage due. Furthermore, it is by their faith in the God who justifies the ungodly that they are given righteousness. If it was by something they had done, then 4:4 would have been incorrect. If, however, it was simply by the grace of God, then 4:5 rings true.
From here Paul turns to Psalm 32:1-2, identifying the nature of “the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” (4:6). Two blessings are given: (1) blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, for God “in his divine forbearance…had passed over former sins” (3:25); (2) blessed are those whose sins are covered, for Christ’s death provided “a propitiation by his blood” (3:25). In this righteousness bestowed by faith comes the forgiveness of past transgressions and the covering of our sins – a true justification.
What then has Paul taught us? (1) That man cannot boast in his work, for his faith is a gift from God; (2) through that faith is the man given righteousness from God. This sounds…again…remarkably like sola fide.