Engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sola Fide Gone Wrong:

The power of faith - "I believe there were no gas chambers."

Sola Fide is a doctrine that the church was brought back to during the reformation. It has been said that it is the hinge upon which the door of salvation turns. It is Latin for “Faith Alone” and is the doctrine that teaches that God’s pardon of guilty sinners is received through faith alone (all works excluded). But it is my contention today that many in the church have taken this vital biblical principle and really “booger-ed it up”.

It seems that today, faith has become the anchor for our souls. People find their assurance of their salvation by looking at their faith – they’re told to do this by the leaders in the church. When doubts arise and they need something to cling to they are told to look introspectively and cling to their faith. This is like a man who’s falling, looking for something to hang on to, grasps his other hand tightly and expecting that to support him. The passages we pull out of context to support this are ones that say something like this: “Believe on The LORD Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!” or “if you confess with your mouth The LORD Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from that dead you shall be saved”. What happens is a twisted doctrine of Sola Fide. Somehow we have come to believe that our faith alone saves us. We put our faith in faith. Jesus becomes more abstract – a thing to give mental assent to so we can check that box in our list of things to believe. When doubts come we get our checklist out and say:

“Jesus is God’s Son” – CHECK!

“Jesus died on the cross” – CHECK!

“Jesus rose from the dead” – CHECK!

“Jesus is coming back” – CHECK!

We then turn to Satan, or maybe one of his lesser demons if we are more humble, and say “See there?! I’m saved! I got it all checked. I believe!” Or we tell God, “God, you have to save me. You can’t let me go to hell. You said if I believed then I wouldn’t go to hell. I believe these things, so there!” And rest on our faith.

We’re fine until we come across Matt 7 in our devotional time: “Many will say unto Me in that day, ‘LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and do many wondrous works in Your name?’ and I will say to them, ‘ Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness, I never knew you!’ ” And the doubts flood in again. These guys had all the boxes checked! The confessed with their mouth! They called Him “LORD” twice for crying out loud! What more could you do? Like the man falling into the abyss, we cling all the more tightly to our own sweaty palm trying to convince ourselves we aren’t really falling.

Where did it go wrong? Doesn’t “Sola Fide” mean faith alone? I believe it has gone wrong with the fundamental way today’s church views the gospel. We have stripped it of it’s efficacy in attempts to give it efficacy. In striving to “recruit” men and women into the faith, we have bled the power out of it. God justifies men/women, and He has done so through the life of Jesus (I speak of His life, death, and resurrection). We are telling people that Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that (and we fill the blank with multiple options)

      1. You would see how much God loves you
      2. Because He couldn’t bear to live without you
      3. So that God could forgive you if you ask Him to (just to name a few)

The fundamental message we give is the same regardless of how we fill in the blank – “Jesus did what He did as an attempt to get you to do what you need to do so you won’t go to hell.” It’s like telling a man to sit where there is no chair but once he sits the chair will magically appear. As good as this may sound, and as well intentioned as the people are who speak it, it is hideously wrong. Having bled Jesus’ work of all real efficacy, we promise the individual that it will really work if he only believes in it. It is His work that saves me, not my faith in His work. I am not saying that men/women are saved regardless of whether they believe or not. I am not excluding faith and the means by which we receive justification. I am saying it is not the grounds of my justification. This is where we have gone wrong with the necessarily wonderful doctrine of “Faith Alone”. Faith is powerless in itself. Stripped naked, it is pure trust – belief. It is incapable of making a thing true or false. It doesn’t give life to the dead. It won’t crank a car with no motor – it won’t even crank a car with a motor. It is absolutely powerless to make things other than they already are, and it can’t make a chair appear if there isn’t one there already. This is the problem. After offering people an atonement that has not atoned we tell them that it can become a real atonement if they believe in it. Then when doubts come, where have we conditioned them to seek solace? Jesus? Not on their life. They were convinced that their faith made the difference so the go check to make sure they’re still saying “yes” to all the right things. Ask them why they know they’re going to heaven and the general reply is “Because I’ve placed my faith in Jesus Christ!” Not a bad answer if they mean God has promised that He justified sinners through His Son and we can rest on that; but it has been my experience that they don’t mean that. They mean exactly how it’s worded, “Because I did X”.

Do you see the difference? One grounds the basis of their salvation in their faith, the other grounds the basis of their salvation in God. This self-centered sola fide is shaky stuff. How do I know I have enough faith? What if I think I believe, but I really don’t believe and I’m just fooling myself? How do I really know I believe? And then we set out to prove to ourselves we believe: vow to spend no less than 5 minutes a day reading the Bible, go to church every time the doors are open, pass out tracts, tithe, the list is endless. Nothing is wrong with these things, but when they are done to prop up our failing faith then it’s nothing short of legalism (which is a whole other issue). These actions, and others like it, aren’t props for our faith, but outgrowths of it. I attend a local assembly of believers BECAUSE I believe the gospel, not because somehow it a way of showing myself, or others, that I still believe.

Whenever we put man at the center then we get all sorts of poor doctrine. And doctrine directly affects us in the everyday practicalities of life. So, by God’s grace, let’s stop offering men a saving machine that has the power to save them if they just make it run by using their faith to operate it and give them a Savior Who really saves. If I can do nothing to redeem myself from sin, don’t offer me an impotent redemption that can’t actually redeem me without my doing something. I need a Savior!

I hear it all depends on my faith
So I’m feeling precarious
The only problem I have with these mysteries
Is they’re so mysterious

And like a consumer I’ve been thinking
If I could just get a bit more
More than my 15 minutes of faith,
Then I’d be secure

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

(lyrics from “Shifting Sand” by Caedmon’s Call)


4 responses

  1. Daniel,
    Just so you know, I found this tremendously useful.

    May 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

  2. What a fantastic article – as a self identified Anglo Catholic who attends a liberal Episcopalian church, I have thought of converting to Catholicism in large part because I cannot agree with Sola Fide. Thanks so much for this article, you have hit the nail on the head.

    December 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    • Hi stacey! did you ever convert to catholicism?

      June 26, 2012 at 1:32 am

    • Vitch

      One of the main reasons why I’m converting to Catholicism.

      August 10, 2012 at 2:42 am

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