Luther’s Sola Fide
Posted: 31 Oct 2017 02:06 AM PDT
500 years ago today, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In his publication, Luther criticized the sale of indulgences, the papal pardons which reduced the amount of punishment for sins in Purgatory. We can all appreciate Luther’s challenge to papal authority, specifically toward the Roman Catholic Church about the selling of papal pardons to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But did the Reformation get us back to biblical Christianity?
The Protestant position would come to incorporate doctrinal changes such as sola fide, or justification by faith alone. Sola fide has been a hallmark of Protestant theology since the beginning of the Reformation. For Luther, faith alone is specifically contrasted with good works. In his preface to Romans, Luther said, “faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law.” By “faith alone” the Reformers clearly meant belief or trust, apart from anything else. According to Luther, good works have nothing to do with our salvation other than being the result of saving faith. Sola fide is thus formulated in the Augsburg Confession of Faith as follows:
[T]his faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. (Augsburg Confession of Faith, Article VI)
Luther was so insistent that justification was by faith alone and not works that, when translating Romans 3:28 into German, he added the word allein (“alone”), so that the verse would read: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith [alone] without the deeds of the law.” But the word “alone” is not present in the Greek text. This also brought Paul in direct contradiction to James. Church Historian Philip Schaff summarized:
The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther’s version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28, by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness. But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), “by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.” It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an “epistle of straw,” because it had no evangelical character. (History of the Christian Church, Book 7, Chapter 4)
Ironically, the only place “faith alone” appears as a phrase in the New Testament is in James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (NET, or “faith only” in the KJV). James also says: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). In context, James wrote:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-26)
Most Protestants argue that James is merely attacking an empty faith. In order to agree with Luther, they say, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” But here is an obvious contradiction of terms in order to agree with Luther’s interpretation of Romans 3:28. In the end, an “empty faith” is nothing other than “faith alone” or “faith without works.” And James tells us that “faith alone” cannot save.
Taken at face value, James 2:14-26 contradicts Martin Luther’s doctrine of sola fide. How did Luther reconcile this glaring conflict? He sought to expel the Epistle of James from the New Testament canon. In his Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, Luther said that the Epistle of James was “not the writing of any apostle.” Luther went on to question the authority of James:
Flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture, it ascribes righteousness to works, and says that Abraham was justified by his works, in that he offered his son Isaac, though St. Paul, on the contrary, teaches, in Romans 4:2, that Abraham was justified without works, by faith alone, before he offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. . . .
I cannot put him [James] among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from putting him where he pleases and estimating him as he pleases; for there are many good sayings in him.
Luther not only questioned the authority of James, but also of Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. Moreover, in his Preface to the New Testament, Martin Luther wrote:
In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that it is necessary and good for you to know, even though you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.
But Paul doesn’t have to conflict with James. The most satisfactory solution to the alleged contradiction between Paul and James is that Paul was referring to the “works” of the Law of Moses, especially circumcision (cf. Romans 4:2, 6, 9-12; Galatians 2:6-10, 12, 16; 3:2, 5, 10). On the other hand, James was referring to good “works” or works of obedience to God (James 2:14, 17-18, 20-22, 24). The raging issue for the first century Church was whether or not Gentiles needed to keep the works of the Law of Moses, i.e., circumcision (Acts 15). Preaching at Antioch, Paul said, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
The Scriptures have a much broader view of justification than Luther’s doctrine of sola fide. The Greek word dikaioō (translated “justified” throughout Romans 3 and James 2) also occurs in other passages without reference to faith. For example, Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Even Paul said, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Again, James also says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? . . . Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:21, 24-25).
The Greek words dikaioō (“justified”) and dikaiosynē (“righteousness”) both come from the root word dikaios which is normally translated “righteous” or “just.” In this broader sense, justification is the righteousness acceptable to God, more in line with the use of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
John says: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:29); “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7); “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:10).
The Scriptures deny that one is justified by faith alone. Indeed, “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Though our good works do not earn or merit our salvation, our obedience is in cooperation with divine grace, working together with God for our salvation (see Philippians 2:12-13).
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we can appreciate Martin Luther for his challenge to reform the Roman Catholic Church and papal abuses. But we must not simply reject the infallibility of the Pope in order to embrace the infallibility of the Reformer. Pope Leo X was not infallible, and neither is Luther. Unfortunately, many Protestants hold to Luther’s doctrine of sola fide as if it were an infallible interpretation of the Scriptures. Let’s be honest with what the Scriptures actually say and reform our own lives accordingly, by the grace of God.
Faith & Works – Harmonizing Paul & James
The post Luther’s Sola Fide appeared
The above is very good theology. My simple mind interprets it succinctly as follows: We are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17,21; Ephesians 2:8-10), but a genuine saving faith is always accompanied by works. Specifically, please note Ephesians 2:10. It is true that Martin Luther is NOT a Protestant Pope, and he erred in his disparaging comments in reference to the book of James. A genuine saving faith and works are like a horse and carriage or love and marriage. They mesh together beautifully and naturally. You cannot have one without the other. Should not the numerous exploits of the faithful saints described graphically in the “Hall of Faith,” Hebrews 11, convince us of this? Pastor Steve <><
Traveling throughout our nation can be a real eye opener, in reference to the spiritual direction of our country. A secular education, technological advances, and a life filled with more time engaged in trivial pursuits, just as in the days previous to the flood of Noah, can rapidly contribute to the decay of the soul of man and society in general. Let me consider the ethnic demographic group that I am a part of: Caucasian. Within the younger element of this particular sect of people, I have noticed a lack of an understanding of simple moral absolutes, the work ethic, a drive for a legitimate career, and social intercourse. Millenials are the least religious generation in American history, and do not attend church. Furthermore, many other people groups moving into our nation, seem to have much stronger family values and a much better glue to our human need for faith. We live in an area with a great many Ukrainian people who have moved to America a generation ago. A typical weekend around one of their homes, will reveal perhaps four to six vehicles of their extended family all visiting one another. That represents our nation that I remember as a lad in the fifties and early sixties. So goes the family, so goes the nation. I had the privilege to speak in one of their churches a few years ago on a Sunday evening on “Superbowl Sunday,” whereby most Americans were transfixed on the great National Football League (NFL) god. The fact is, I spoke while the game was being played, and the church was filled with Slavic believers from Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine who cared not to worship sports on the Lord’s day. I am now experiencing another similar blessing during our current travels. We are in Danbury, Connecticut, and I went for a walk downtown. I first saw an historical sign, depicting how the British took over the town and local armory in 1777, and I kept on walking down Main Street. What I passed truly amazed me. I saw three Ecuadorian restaurants, followed by a couple of more representing Brazilian cuisine, a Mexican establishment, one representing the Philippines, and yet another called the Salvador restaurant. There is a large Brazilian and Hispanic population in Danbury. Furthermore, I saw school buses, letting off Hispanic children who were dressed in uniform. Their decorum and demeanor were excellent. I was flabbergasted. Wow! How beautiful. I learned later that their schools are extremely good. I also learned from our son, that the Hispanics moved out of New York City and the fast paced lifestyle, seeking a slower pace and cheaper living, that are more conducive to family and child rearing. In addition, I passed a plethora of Hispanic Christian churches of all types and denominations – from well established churches to storefront churches. Hispanic businesses of all kinds, all closed on Sunday, dotted downtown Danbury. Yes, a walk down Main Street gave me hope for the salvation of this country, and the evidence of God at work, and answering my prayers for this sin sick nation! I hope and pray that this experience is a microcosm of what is/will happen all over this country. Thank you Jesus. Amen and amen.
In His Service, Pastor Steve <><
Pray For Revival In America!
“It is truly amazing to witness the age division within today’s Christian Church in America. Our most committed members are all over sixty years of age. I have seen this phenomenon personally during our last twenty years of Christian service. Just yesterday (9/24/17), a crazed gunman shot up a church near Nashville, Tennessee, and nearly all of the victims were over sixty years of age because they were the nucleus of the parishioners. The younger attenders in church today, usually do only that – attend occasionally with zero commitment or ministry. I call this mindset “touch base Christianity.” Praise the Lord for the exceptions, as there are many, especially in larger churches. We should not be surprised at the advance of Islam, if this trend holds and creates a spiritual vacuum. Here is a point to ponder – Are Muslims more committed to a lie than Christians are to the truth? Food for thought.”
Blessings, Pastor Steve <><
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The seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation, chapters 2-3, reveal many characteristics of the church, both good and bad. We can use these churches as a check against our own respective vineyards today, since our churches are similar to the early church. You may see traits of your church in several of these examples. Dr. Henry M. Morris III from the Institute For Creation Research (ICR) wrote the seven sketches of the churches below in the devotional “Days Of Praise.” They are all listed below. Afterwards, enjoy the superb video of The Seven Churches. In Christ, Pastor Steve
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min. Evidence for Creation
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; . . . I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:14-16)
The Lord Jesus used intense language to rebuke this church, the last of the seven He had John write to in the book of Revelation. Laodicea was dangerously near the brink of being disavowed by He who is the Head of the church.
Such churches believe they “have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). Worldly wealth, extensive property, and popular recognition blinded these members and their leaders to their true spiritual condition. They failed to understand that, from the Lord’s perspective, they are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
The cause of this terrible spiritual destitution is being spiritually tepid. It’s like expecting a glass of cold water or a cup of hot tea but finding everything at room temperature. This church “tasted” just like the world around them. They were neither godly nor in rebellion—just “nice people” who blended in well with the community. Their spiritual reputation did not smell either like life or death (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Despite the Lord’s distaste for such a condition, He loved and counseled them to “buy” from Him the gold of the Kingdom’s true wealth, righteous clothing that would cover their shameful exposure of worldly behavior, and to anoint their spiritual eyes so that they could see eternal values rather than temporal things.
As the Lord graciously closed His letter, He “stands at the door” of the church, waiting for anyone to open and let Him in (Revelation 3:20). Tepid spirituality keeps the Lord outside. What a shame that such could ever be said about any church. HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min. Evidence for Creation
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; . . . I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8)
Philadelphia and Smryna are the only churches that did not receive warnings from the Lord in the seven letters recorded in Revelation. Philadelphia had “a little strength” because they had built their church on the two foundations of the Word of God and the name of the Lord Jesus.
The foundation of Jesus Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11) and the foundation of the writings of the “apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20) that are inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) make the church “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Philadelphia had faithfully held these eternal principles and was therefore given an “open door.”
The Lord’s introduction to Philadelphia cites the “Key of David,” suggesting a reference to the treasure house of the king (1 Kings 7:51) and to Christ’s authority as the heir to the kingdom (Isaiah 22:22). The treasure of the eternal Kingdom is not physical riches but the gold, silver, and precious stones of God-ordained work for the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).
But just as the talents and the pounds granted to the servants in the parables (Matthew 25; Luke 19), the open door is an opportunity to use the resources of the King for His benefit—not a guarantee of success. The Lord grants the resources, but the work and the use of those resources are our responsibility. We will be held accountable.
If we use those resources well, even those of the “synagogue of Satan” will “come and worship” (Revelation 3:9) and “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min. Evidence for Creation
“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” (Revelation 3:1)
The church at Sardis received the saddest of the Lord’s seven letters in Revelation. Sardis seemed to want to remain known as a “live” church, but the Lord saw their real testimony and reputation and concluded that they were “dead.” Many such places around the world today are enshrined with stained glass, statuary, crosses, and inscriptions that have the “name” of Christianity emblazoned throughout their property, yet they are dead spiritually. Such churches might be compared to the monuments and gravestones erected in cemeteries to honor the memories of faithful men and women of past generations who were alive for a time with a solid reputation for godliness yet whose families have drifted away from the Lord.
Yet, “even in Sardis” there was a small number who had remained faithful in spite of the drift of the church itself, as there are also in families now adrift but with a Christian heritage. The advice to Sardis (and certainly to families as well) is this: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent” (Revelation 3:3).
The Philippian church received the same counsel: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9). The verb is “do.” Heritage is wonderful, but each church—and each of us—will be held accountable for what is actually done. HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min.
Evidence for Creation
“And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; . . . I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee.” (Revelation 2:18-20)
The Lord Jesus’ letter to the church at Thyatira is the longest among the seven recorded in Revelation. Although they were faithful in their works to the city, had a strong charity among themselves, and were evidently growing in their reputation and perhaps even in number, the Lord Jesus used some very harsh language to rebuke their behavior.
Whether or not the woman who held influence in the church was actually named Jezebel, she had entrenched herself as a prophetess. Her namesake in the Old Testament (1 Kings) was the wicked queen and wife of King Ahab of Israel during the days of Elijah. Her evil deeds are recorded throughout seven chapters—more than any other woman in Israel’s history!
The Jezebel of Thyatira had been allowed “to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Revelation 2:20). It is not clear if the Lord spoke of physical fornication among the church members, but the practice of sacrificing to idols was a serious rebellion against the second commandment and a clear violation of God’s Word (Exodus 20:4-5).
Those who were committing “adultery with her” (Revelation 2:22) had entered into “the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:24). Whether this behavior was a physical practice or not (as was common among the pagan religions of the day), it is most certainly identified as spiritual adultery when those who name the name of Christ worship other gods (Jeremiah 3:1, 20; Hosea 9:1; etc.). May God protect us from such horrible leadership. HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min.
Evidence for Creation
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; . . . I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith . . . . But I have a few things against thee.” (Revelation 2:12-14)
Retaining a clear identity as a church of the Lord Jesus in an evil environment is worthy of commendation. And indeed, this body of believers at Pergamos held fast to its Christian name—even in a city that was known (at least by God) as the place where Satan had his “seat.” One of their members, Antipas, was killed for his faith. Yet, the church at Pergamos remained faithful with a spiritual testimony, a small light in a sea of wickedness.
But perhaps because of the pressure surrounding them, the Lord warned them that they were allowing two destructive doctrines to flourish among them. The first was compromising with “wages of unrighteousness,” exemplified by Balaam, which had become entrenched among the church (2 Peter 2:15). The second was the “doctrine of the Nicolaitanes,” which their sister church in Ephesus also confronted (Revelation 2:15, 6).
Balaam was a well-known prophet who willingly accepted an assignment with an enemy of God’s people so that he could receive a large sum of money (Numbers 22). And, even though God would not permit Israel to be cursed, as the enemy wanted, Balaam continued to promote his “error,” and Israel lapsed into grave sin (Jude 1:11).
Not much is written in Scripture about the Nicolaitanes. The word basically means “conquer the people.” This early teaching developed into a strong hierarchy of church polity over the next decades, and by the end of the second century, it was well established in the major cities. Jesus taught against such leadership (Matthew 20:26-27) and clearly said that He hated it (Revelation 2:6). HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min.
Evidence for Creation
“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; . . . I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) . . . . Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Revelation 2:8-10)
The Lord Jesus recognized this struggling church, which is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, as one of only two churches mentioned in the book of Revelation that did not receive any warning or condemnation.
He saw them very differently than our “church growth” movement might today. Many tend to envy the churches with big auditoriums or grand building programs. Most of the world praises those churches that are “emerging” from the restraints of godliness and churches that are “driven” to attract and please the ungodly.
Smyrna was poor, troubled by those who hated God’s message, and suffered tribulation for their works. Some were thrown into prison for their willingness to be identified with the truth. Generations have passed since anything like that has happened to churches in the Western world. Those countries that persecute Christians today seem only like scattered incidents that have little bearing on the day-to-day life of “civilized” nations. May God protect us from such attitudes.
But the One who walks among the “candlestick” churches of Revelation (His churches) saw Smyrna as rich and worthy of a crown of life. He praised this little church and encouraged them to remain “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10). When the King gives out His rewards from the great judgment seat, these faithful, poor, persecuted, troubled, and imprisoned souls will enter eternity with great riches and joyful liberty in the “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). HMM III
by Henry M. Morris III, D.Min.
Evidence for Creation
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write;. . . I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” (Revelation 2:1-2)
This church, founded by the apostle Paul, had grown in its doctrinal precision and careful attention to the words of Scripture. They were intensely focused on purity of leadership and were vigilant against any form of false teaching. Most of us would find that kind of church a refreshing example to follow in these days of indifferent (and often heretical) theology.
They hated the “deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” which was a horrible practice that the Lord Himself hated (Revelation 2:6). Peter had warned against this domineering attitude in his first general letter to the churches when he insisted that the elders of the churches should not be “lords over God’s heritage, but [be] ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
Ephesus was a “good” church, but the risen Lord Jesus had “somewhat against” them. Apparently, amid all of their careful attention to doctrine and to purity of leadership lifestyle, they had “left [their] first love” (Revelation 2:4). They had fallen from the deep bond of love they had demonstrated years earlier when Paul called the elders to Miletus to encourage and exhort them to remain faithful to “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). They were so much in tune with Paul’s heart for the gospel that they “all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him” (Acts 20:37).
The drift away from that “first love” was so serious that the Lord warned Ephesus to repent or He would take away their “candlestick” (Revelation 2:5)—their authority to represent Christ as one of His churches. Cold, precise doctrine must never take away our love for people or for the truth. HMM III