Just to make things clear, I am not, nor have I ever been, associated with the Roman Catholic Church. All my blog entries dealing with the subject of Sola Fide are the result of studying Scripture and letting the Bible speak for and interpret itself, asking the question, "What do the Scriptures teach?"
The following is a list of verses about being justified (declared righteous before God) by faith apart from works of the Law. These verses are frequently cited in support of the doctrine of Sola Fide. Most Christians seem to ignore the "of the Law" portion of these verses, mistakenly lumping all "works" together as bad, thereby stirring up the mud in order to cloud the water and effectively confuse the issue. But this issue needs to be cleared up.
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one." Romans 3:28-30
"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Romans 4:5
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:4
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Romans 11:6
"Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." Galatians 2:16
"I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." Galatians 2:21
"Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." Galatians 3:5-6
"Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." Galatians 3:24
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works [of the Law], that no one should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
"And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." Philippians 3:9
What is the contrast we are seeing from the above passages? Is it a contrast between faith and works? No, it is not. It is a contrast between faith and works of the Law. This much should be plainly evident from careful observation of the above passages. Everywhere that Paul speaks of faith and works of the Law, he is addressing Jews who seek to obtain salvation by keeping the Law. This has nothing to do with what James is talking about because he is not talking about works of the Law. James is talking about an entirely different type of works.
Matt Slick has said, "If we see that the Scriptures exclude works in any form as a means of our salvation, then logically we are saved by faith alone." That is a conclusion drawn from an assumption, and it is false. What we see from the above passages is an exclusion of works of the Law—not of works in any form. For example, those verses certainly do not address good deeds, which are another form of works.
Can good deeds fall into the same error as works of the Law? Of course. If anyone thinks they can obtain salvation by doing good deeds, they are sorely mistaken. Salvation is in, through, and from Christ Jesus alone. Good deeds are what the Christian was created unto. A Christian should perform good deeds because of his/her salvation—not in order to obtain it. Otherwise, it is like the Jews trying to obtain salvation by keeping the Law.
There are three key truths we can pull together in order to get a clearer understanding:
- "A man is justified by faith APART FROM works of the Law" Romans 3:28
- "A man is NOT justified by the works of the Law BUT through faith in Christ Jesus" Galatians 2:16
- "A man is justified by works, and NOT by faith alone" James 2:24
Works of the Law has effectively been eliminated as having any role in our salvation. The Law did not exist until roughly 300 years after Abraham. So the question we need to answer is, what kind of "works" was Abraham performing that justified him with his faith? While James does address good deeds in connection with our faith, Abraham was not performing a good deed when he prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. So good deeds cannot be the answer because good deeds can fall into the same error as works of the Law. Works of the Law are legalistic, while good deeds can become legalistic.
You see, salvation is a gift. If you are doing anything as a means of obtaining salvation, then salvation is no longer a gift. If you are saved by faith, then you can boast in your faith, which means you have effectively turned faith into a salvation by works. Faith is a gift as well. Salvation comes by grace. Our salvation is in, through, and from Christ Jesus alone. We are not saved by our faith, and we are not saved by our works. But faith and works (Faith In Action) do play an integral part in our salvation—together. We are saved by the grace of God. We are saved by Christ Jesus. The focus should never be taken off of Jesus.
James 2:22 is key: "You see that [Abraham's] faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, [his] faith was perfected/completed." Faith alone, in and of itself, by itself, is dead (James 2:17, 26), useless (James 2:20), and imperfect/incomplete (James 2:22). Clearly, we see faith plus works. But what sort of works? Works of the Law? Nope! Good deeds? Nope! Then what? It is what I have taken to calling Faith In Action. If you examine every instance of faith found in the Bible, whether salvational or otherwise (like Peter believing he could walk on water), careful examination will reveal "works" alongside that faith. These kinds of "works" must be present with faith. The two work together. They are inseparable.
Imagine: You are hanging from a ledge, about to fall and hurt yourself. I come beneath you and say, "Let go of the ledge and I will catch you." If you merely believe (faith alone) that I will catch you, but do nothing, your faith means absolutely nothing. It is dead, it is useless, it is imperfect/incomplete, and it is in vain. You MUST let go (works) of the ledge in order to perfect/complete your faith. By doing so, your faith and works are working together.