What is Sola Fide?

Series: The Solas of the Reformation (And Why They Matter Today), part 2

By Dillon Burroughs

During the Protestant Reformation, one of the five Latin solas used to communicate the movement's beliefs was sola fide. What is it? "Sola" is the Latin word for "only"; "fide" refers to faith. Simply put, the cry of the Reformers was "faith alone" regarding the way we come into relationship with God.

Why was sola fide or "faith alone" so important for the Reformers? The clear answer is because the church of that time often emphasized the concept of "faith plus". Faith was an important part of Catholic doctrine, yet there was also an emphasis on activities ranging from baptism, financial giving, good deeds, confession, marriage within the church, and many more "requirements" that were taught as essential for a person to reach Heaven in the afterlife.

Sola fide looked instead to the teachings of the Bible alone regarding salvation. Heavily emphasized was Ephesians 2:8-9: "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." In contrast with the list of works of the church, the Reformers rediscovered the biblical message of salvation as a gift of God received by faith.

Another important biblical passage used during the reformation was found in Hebrews 11:6: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." Apart from faith, we cannot please God, no matter how long our list of good deeds.

Romans became perhaps the most influential book of the Bible for the Protestant Reformers. It served as the book that opened Martin Luther's eyes to salvation and was of major importance to John Calvin. The message of Romans made clear that our right standing before God could never be accomplished through law, but required a work of God in our lives that required Jesus and operated on faith. Romans 3:28 notes, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

In a time when church members were often taught their good deeds or giving would provide better standing in the afterlife, this message of salvation as a free gift of faith resounded with power throughout Europe. This message, enhanced by the relatively recent innovation of printed Bibles and other books that could increase the reach of the Reformers' message, ignited a movement that has resulted in what encompasses all branches of the Protestant churches we see today.

However, sola fide is not only a principle important to the past. Salvation by faith alone is God's offer to us today. The same tension often exists in our world — and even in many churches — that our good works or giving will improve our standing with God. But the Bible is clear that salvation is by faith apart from works. We are saved to do good works, not saved by our good works.

Salvation by faith alone is an essential part of Christian belief. Let us make certain we have come to God on His terms and that we communicate His salvation accurately and effectively to all who will listen.

Image Credit: Len Matthews; "faith"; Creative Commons

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Published 10-10-12