Faith Alone, Sola Fides
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Two Latin words describe the material cause of the Protestant Reformation. They are Sola Fides. They represent the biblical doctrine of Justification. The words literally mean Faith Alone. The Reformers recovered the Bible’s teaching on God’s means of declaring a sinner in right relationship with Him. The exact meaning of the phrase, Sola Fides is: Justification is by Faith Alone. Apart from God’s act of free grace in justifying a sinner there is no peace with God’s. No one will find true peace unless God pardons him. True peace is being in a right relationship with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
The doctrine of justification is the cornerstone of Christianity. A more precise definition of justification is included in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question #33. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.”
When God justifies a man or woman He pardons their sins. Every human being stands guilty before God. God is the supreme judge and sin is an offence against Him. Sin is lawlessness, 1John 3:4. The Apostle John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1John 1:8. John wrote these words to believers in the church!
King David, a great sinner, was described as a “man after God’s own heart.” 1Samuel 13:14 David committed adultery and murder. He fully expected to receive God’s justice which was death. But, by God’s grace, David was given God’s mercy. David recorded his prayer in Psalm 51 in which he appealed to God’s mercy.
You may not be a murderer or an adulterer, but you are a sinner. You and I have no basis upon which to cry to God for fairness. Not only are we guilty before God, but we’re all born dead in sin. Like David, our lives rest solely upon the grace of God even to be able to see our sin. God who is rich in mercy must act for us.
In Justification God declares a sinner right with Him. That does not mean that the sinner is now righteous! The meaning of righteous is to do what is right; to do what God requires. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament in his letter to the Christians in Rome and said that no one is righteous, Romans 3:10. No one does what is right 100% of the time. No one does what God requires. God has said that no man is motivated to do what He requires. To understand this inclusive statement, we must see what God has said concerning the heart of “natural” man.
We don’t need to move too far past the Garden of Eden to read God’s view of mankind. Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In other words, the natural man is incapable of being righteous before God. But, justification is God’s act of free grace by which He pardons our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only on account of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
In Justification, God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and places it upon a sinner. Simultaneously God takes the sin of the sinner and places it upon Christ, 2Corinthians 5:21. The Christian Church refers to this simultaneous act of God as double imputation. The one justified is covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Yet, the sinner is still in need of cleansing on the inside. This cleansing is called Sanctification. God progressively makes a sinner more and more like Christ. The Bible describes Sanctification as a work of God’s free grace, Philippians 2:12-13. The Apostle Paul described his state after justification as a spiritual battle. He found himself still sinning, Romans 7. His only hope and ours is Jesus Christ, Romans 7:24-25.
Justification is not all of salvation. It is the beginning of life in Christ. The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone!