“Sola Fide” is one of the cardinal doctrines if not THE cardinal doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. It is the belief that we are justified by faith alone completely apart from works. Years ago, I came to realize that this doctrine is completely unbiblical. That being said, I have to concede that there is at least one verse in the bible that uses the words “faith alone.”
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. –James 2:24
It is interesting that the one and only time the words “faith alone” appear in the Bible is in the verse that contradicts the faith alone doctrine. Interestingly enough, Martin Luther found this to be a problem as well. So much in fact, that he desired to have the book of James removed from the New Testament. The great founder and hero of the Protestant Reformation not only wanted James removed from the New Testament, but also Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. Most of all though, the Epistle of James. All because James 2:24 completely contradicts his doctrine of justification by faith alone. Here’s the thing… If you have to remove entire books from the Bible (not just a few verses, but entire books!), in order for your doctrine to be biblical, then it is automatically suspect. That would be like cessationists (people who don’t believe the modern day use of tongues, prophecy, miracles, healings, etc.) advocating the removal of the book of Acts and the longer ending of Mark removed from the New Testament. Again, if you have to remove entire books from the Bible in order to justify your doctrine, it probably isn’t biblical.
I am not going to base this entire blog on one verse however. The New Testament gives a few glimpses into the Day of Judgment at the end of the age. These glimpses create some problems for proponents of Sola Fide. The Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 gives us our first glimpse of what it will be like on that day.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” –Matthew 25:31-46
Now I may be jumping to conclusions, but it seems like at least at first glance, the moral of this story could be summarized as, “If you take care of the poor and less fortunate, you’re going to Heaven. If you neglect the poor and less fortunate however, you’re going to Hell.” Well think about it. How would you interpret these words if you were hearing them for the first time? It sounds likes to me, what Jesus is saying is, if you take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, strangers, and prisoners, you will enter Heaven. On the other hand, if you turn a deaf ear or and blind eye to the plight of these “least of these”, you are destined for damnation.
This is really an inescapable conclusion when you factor into the equation that after Jesus pronounces His judgment to both those on His right and His left, He says, “for”. In other words, Jesus was saying, or rather will be saying one day, “This is your reward or punishment, and here is what that reward or punishment is based on; how you have treated people.”
This is where proponents of Sola Fide run into a bit of a problem… Here we have Jesus in His very own words, granting eternal life, on the basis of works, not faith only. For that matter, if we read the passage, faith isn’t even entered into the equation. Jesus gives us another view of Judgment Day as revealed in John’s vision.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. –Revelation 20:11-15
Here we have another instance where scripture declares that on Judgment Day, we will be judged at least in part, according to our works and that the righteous will be granted Eternal Life on the basis of at least in part, of their works. I would like to conclude with one more passage.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. –Romans 2:6-8
I really think people go out of their way to make the scriptures interpret in such a way that is most comfortable to them or most aligns with their already predetermined theology instead of just letting the scripture speak its plain truth. We can read this passage over and over, it really doesn’t make any difference. What the Apostle Paul is saying here is, God is going to repay each of us according our works, the things we have done. Those of us who have been consistent in continuing to do good, will reap eternal life. For those of us who persist in committing selfish acts of evil however, we will reap the wrath of God.
Feel free to slice these passages however you want, the conclusion is inescapable; our judgment will be at least in part, based on our works in some way shape or form.