Faith Alone

The words "Faith Alone" are anathema to Roman Catholics and indeed the multitudes, professed Christian or not, all who feel the need to somehow work their way to salvation.  Some openly will admit to trying to earn God's favor.  Others will use more innocuous statements of how their works are part of arriving at their salvation or subsequently maintaining it. 

The Protestant Reformation brought attention to something embraced by Bible believing Christians, a phrase often given in its simplest form as "sola fides," Latin for "faith alone."  Roman Catholic theologians regularly mock this statement and claim it to be new and original to the Reformers, something that they contrived thitherto unknown to the church.  They ridicule adhering Protestants as being opposed to good works and people who claim such deeds as completely unnecessary.

To be clear as to what is meant by Bible believing Protestants, sola fides, faith alone, is part of a larger thought.  In fuller form it appears as:

Sola fides justificat, sed fides non est sola.   (The Reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon who lived 1497-1560 A.D., a companion of Luther)

Translated into English it is rendered as "Faith alone justifies, but faith is not alone."  Faith alone is specifically in regards to justification, being declared righteous by God, the nucleus of salvation under God's grace.   "Sola fides" is in answer to the question "What saves us by God's grace?"  The biblical answer has always been "faith alone."

Ephesians 2:8-9   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.  (NIV, see also Romans 4:2-6; Galatians 3:22; John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:40)

While clearly "faith alone" saves, that faith causes something to happen.  The results of faith are in view in the continued phrase of the Reformers, "sed fides non est sola," "but faith is not alone."  Saving faith is a faith that changes people and will result in God-enabled, God-empowered, good works.  Not one iota of these works will do anything to secure or retain your salvation; they accompany it to the glory of God alone.  This too is a biblical message that flows out of and immediate follows what scriptures said about salvation through faith alone.  Consider the words directly following Ephesians 2:8-9...

Ephesians 2:10   For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   (NIV, see also 2 Corinthians 9:8; Colossians 1:10-11; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 13:20-21)

Some have made great hubbub over their claims that the book of James contradicts "faith alone."  It does not.  As God's word it will not contradict the uniform testimony of the other books which comprise Scriptures.  Some, such as the reformer Martin Luther, have struggled with James, most certainly in reaction to how this text was misused by the Romanists who had elevated personal works to be a part of justification. Abbreviating exactly what he said, much has been made of Luther calling James an "Epistle of Straw" as if it would be burned up with all other useless works of man.  And yet, Luther came to understand the harmony between this volume and others that he readily embraced such as those of Paul. This agreement between the two elevates the overall principle "faith alone."  The Book of James is not dealing with the issue of justification; it is written to the church (the spiritual "twelve tribes," James 1:1) spread throughout the earth to encourage and strengthen them.  It is written to those who profess to have faith, to already believe.  Its focus is on faith and recognizing living faith from any dead and unless counterfeit (James 2:18-20).  In other words, it is stating the conclusion of the reformer's "sola fides" statement, namely "sed fides non est sola ("but faith is not alone").  James makes clear that living faith which comes from God is an active faith, a faith the shows in good works!

That faith alone justifies was not lost on the church throughout history, even though Rome worked so hard to suppress this during the Middles Ages (circa 5th to 15th century A.D.).  The Reformation finally worked to restore understanding of an integral belief that the church had long abandon, yet once held dearly.  For the people, who mostly never heard this before, merely being allowed and made able to read Scriptures for themselves (as the church had long inhibited) allowed them to find this clear truth in the pages of God's Word. 

This most of all is important: "Sola Fides" is a clear teaching of Scriptures, something that can be found and understood without the machinations and manipulations of man (or the Roman Catholic Church) to say otherwise.  The remainder of this article is to provide a few citations of the church from mostly prior to the Middles Ages, as supporting testimony that Greek and Latin readers understood and taught the truth of "Sola Fides" from the earliest days of the church following the Apostles.  This is a representative list and is by no means a complete inventory of such writers or their relevant comments.  I find it ironic that the Roman Catholic Church even claims some of these ancients as their canonized saints yet ignores or twists their well-defined words to try and maintain the false doctrine that arose following them. End Note I do not have to agree with all that these writers wrote, for they are non-inspired human writers also capable of error, unlike the divinely protected writers of Scriptures.  I cite them solely to show their commonly held and publicly defended view of the nature of salvation - one that is fully in harmony with the clear wording of Scriptures themselves.  These were elders and teachers of God's church who were striving to faithfully and accurately teach the Bible.

    Hilary of Poitiers (in Gaul).  Taken from his "Commentarius in Evangelium Matthaei" (specifically Matthew 9).  This is the first Latin commentary on Matthew to have survived complete, written before 356 A.D.

    Fides enim sola justificat ("For faith alone justifies"). 

    John Chrysostom (349-407), born in Antioch (modern Turkey, then a province of Syria), archbishop of Constantinople.  Taken from his "On the Second Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 2" and "Homilies on First Timothy, Homily 4 (specifically 1 Timothy 1:15, 16)" 

    For, what though thou be justified: yet is it of faith only. But we pray that thou shouldest have as well the confidence that cometh of good works.

    That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor.

    Basil of Caesarea, Cappadocia (329-379).  From his "Homilia XX, Homilia De Humilitate"

    [For] this is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or "has been," the Greek is: perfect passive participle, accusative, masculine of) justified solely by faith in Christ.

    Jerome (347-420), who studied in Rome, and subsequently lived in Antioch, Constantinople, and Bethlehem.  From his Latin text "In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X (specifically on Romans 10:3)"

    Deus ex sola fide justificat.  "God justifies by faith alone."

    Oecumenius of Isauria in Asia Minor (writing late 6th century). Speaking on James 2:23 (translation from: Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude).   

    Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until it was as numerous as the stars.

    Ambrosiaster (written c. 366-384).  From his "In Epistolam Ad Romanos (specifically on Romans 4:6, Romans 3:24; Romans 4:5). 

    Hoc ipsum munit exemplo prophetae. Beatitudinem hominis, cui Deus accepto fert justitiam sine operibus. Beatos dicit de quibus hoc sanxit Deus, ut sine labore et aliqua observatione, sola fide justificentur apud Deum.  "Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone."  (Translation by Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans.)

    Justificati gratis per gratiam ipsius. Justificati sunt gratis, quia nihil operantes, neque vicem reddentes, sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei.   "They are justified freely by his grace. They are justified freely not because of any work at all or given anything in return, but they are justified by faith alone."  (Translation Mine)

    Hoc dicit, quia sine operibus legis credenti impio, id est gentili, in Christum, reputatur fides ejus ad justitiam, sicut et Abrahae. Quomodo ergo Judaei per opera legis justificari se putant justificatione Abrahae; cum videant Abraham non per opera legis, sed sola fide justificatum? Non ergo opus est lex, quando impius per solam fidem justificatur apud Deum.  "How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone."  (Translation by Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans)

    Ambrosiaster (written c. 366-384).  From his "In Epistolam B. Pauli Ad Corinthios Primam (specifically on 1 Corinthians 1:4). 

    Datam dicit gratiam a Deo in Christo Jesu, quae gratia sic data est in Christo Jesu; quia hoc constitutum est a Deo, ut qui credit in Christum, salvus sit sine opere: sola fide gratis accipit remissionem peccatorum.  "God has decreed that anyone who believes in Christ Jesus can be saved without works.  By faith alone, without cause, he receives the forgiveness of sins."  (Translation mine)

    Clement of Rome (died circa 99).  From His "First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.  Translation from "The Apostolic Fathers."

    And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

    Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in present day Algeria, Africa.  From his "Expositions of the Psalms 1-32", specifically Exposition 2 of Psalm 31. 

    But what about the person who does no work (Rom 4:5)? Think here of some godless sinner, who has no good works to show. What of him or her? What if such a person comes to believe in God who justifies the impious? People like that are impious because they accomplish nothing good; they may seem to do good things, but their actions cannot truly be called good, because performed without faith. But when someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.

On a final note: The church and individual believers are not called to try and determine the adequacy of a person's good works.  All too often people look at others and say (or think) "they're not doing enough good works" so they might not be saved.  Consider for a moment the thief on the cross:

Luke 23:32-33, 39-43  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left. ...  39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"  40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."   42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  (NIV)

This criminal believed in Jesus and was saved by faith alone. Did God have a good work prepared (Ephesians 2:10) for this converted reprobate? Most certainly! This new believer got to publicly testify that Jesus was the Christ. This single good work was all that God had prepared for this man.  Whether God has prepared one such act or a thousand for any one of His servants makes no difference.  They are saved by faith and their resultant good works come from God and are enabled by Him, in whatever measure God desires.  We are personally responsible to our Master to do that which He has committed to each one of us (Matthew 25:14-30).

Romans 14:4   Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.   (NIV)

End Notes

Let me provide one randomly selected example of how Roman Catholic's can twist the early church Father's words.  I selected this quotation solely because I unintentionally came across it online while writing this article.  It certainly is representative of other comments I have seen or heard over the years.

The early Church Fathers definitely knew, accepted, and taught the Gospel. They did not teach the Reformed Protestant concept of justification by "faith alone," with works of love for God playing no role in one's justification before (i.e. being made right with) God. The Fathers definitely taught that [works of] love for God plays a role in one's justification before God. Biblically speaking, justification is not by faith alone (James 2:14-24). However, Reformed Protestants and Catholics agree that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.  (Christopher Lake, former Reformed Baptist, now Roman Catholic, square parenthesis mine for clarification)

Notice this writer's willingness to dismiss the "alone" in "faith alone," making it out to really mean "faith plus works of love."  This is no more honest than his final claim that Reformed Protestants and Catholics are in agreement regarding salvation.  Protestants believe that "salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."  He conveniently left out the "alone" following faith, hoping the reader would not notice, because the Roman Catholic concept of salvation is quite different and merges faith plus works.  He obviously projects this aberrant view onto the words of the early church fathers.

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks / DTI    (c) 2014 BJM/DTI
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