Friday, January 14, 2011

Can Anyone Be Ignorant Of The Doctrine Of "Sola Fide" And Be Saved?

St. Augustine's ordination as bishop of Hippo
My answer to the question depends on how the person rejecting Sola Fide understands his own moral standing before his Maker and the nature of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe (and please take note of this) that if one completely relies upon the finished work of Christ alone for his Salvation, being entirely convinced of his own utter inability to merit God's favor by his own efforts because of sin, that person is undoubtedly saved whether or not he affirms the doctrine of "Sola Fide."

Some dogmatic guys may ask: "But how is it possible for a person to trust in Christ alone as His Savior while at the same time believing that good works should be added with faith as means to attaining Salvation?"

It is worth noting at this point that in the Old Testament the doctrine of justification by faith is not explicitly taught as it is in the New (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:8-9; Col. 1:25-26). While hints of the doctrine can be found in the OT Scripture such as seen in Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 (which Paul will use centuries later in support for his teaching on justification by grace), these texts must've been somewhat vague to the ancient reader (2 Cor. 3:14-16) because of the strong emphasis of the same Scripture on law-keeping and righteousness (Deut. 27:26; Lev. 18:5). Yet, Scripture reveals to us that the saints of old were justified exactly the same way as how saints in the present covenant were justified, that is, by the grace of God through faith alone (Rom. 4; Heb. 11:13). But how could that be? Paul laid it down this way:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:18-22, NIV)

What can we learn from this? How was Abraham justified? Against all hope, says Paul, that Abraham in hope believed in the promise of God that he'll be a father of 'many nations.' In other words, Abraham didn't rely upon his own powers knowing the fact that he's incapable, but instead he completely put his trust in God, looking forward with confidence to the fulfillment of what has been promised to him (see also Heb. 11:13). This is how saints of old were justified, and this is how also we in the present dispensation are justified (except that we are not looking forward to the promise, but looking backwards to the fulfilled promise concerning our Savior). Abraham didn't have to know the doctrine of justification by faith; he just trusted in God and was saved.

The thief on the cross is another example of someone who is saved through faith alone without having any doctrinal seminars regarding Justification, Imputation, etc., or having memorized at least a single sentence, say, from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Again, he just trusted in Christ and was saved.

We should also take into consideration that most of the ancient fathers of the Church are not sola fideists. I would contend that the blessed fathers understood justification very differently from how the reformers did. St. Augustine of Hippo, the 'doctor of Grace', is a fine example. To him, justification is a continuous process by which the righteousness of Jesus Christ is infused (or made actual) in the life of the baptized sinner through faith. This has been the consensus of understanding among the ancient church concerning the nature of justification from about the 4th century up until the time of reformation. Yet despite this fundamental disparity of the church fathers with the reformers about how the benefits of Christ's redemptive work is applied upon a sinner, the Christian testimony of those fathers remained unquestion among most  (if not all) Christian scholars in the past and until today. Why is that? Perhaps it's due to the profound position of the fathers on man's total depravity in Sin (affirmed and reinforced in the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and Council of Orange in 529 AD) and the absolute necessity and sufficiency of Christ's redemptive work for man's salvation [though they were all wrong in their understanding as to how it is applied].

Let's turn to St. Augustine once more. In his book On the Spirit & the Letter in which the role of the law in Salvation is explained against the heresies of Pelagianism, St. Augustine contended that the primary purpose of God's law is not to serve as means for man to be saved, but to make man realize his sinful condition and unworthiness before God's holy presence "in order that by faith he may flee for refuge to His mercy, and be healed" (cf. Ch. 15 [IX]; see also To Simplican, Ch. 2). This faith, or the complete dependence upon the grace of Christ, is what leads Christians to obey the commands of God which at the end of the day will merit their entrance to the glory of eternal life. However, to avoid the impression that he is promoting works-salvation, the old Bishop of Hippo is always careful to explain that those merits are actually a product of God's grace at work in the lives of Christians, without which "they do absolutely no good thing, whether in thought, or will and affection, or in action" (cf. On Rebuke and Grace, Ch. 3-ii) -- thus leaving no room whatsoever for human boasting.

Moses smashing the tablets of the law
Consequent to his views on merits and grace, St. Augustine maintained that eternal life is both a reward and a gift simultaneously (cf. Enchiridon, Ch. 67, 107). It is a reward because it will be given to the elect as a recompense to their faithful perseverance in holiness and piety; and at the same time a gift because the very willingness and ability to perform these merits are themselves works of God's effectual & exclusive grace upon them (1 Cor. 2:14; Php. 2:13). Their righteousness, therefore, is ultimately not theirs but of the Savior, so God gets all the glory. He abhorred all forms of self-reliance because it is God's grace which produces these merits unto eternal life. This separates the blessed doctor from the damnable heresy of works-salvation promoted by the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. St. Augustine may not have been an adherent of the Evangelical doctrine of Sola Fide, but his strong emphasis on the necessity of completely depending on God's mercy for forgiveness, sanctification / justification, and perseverance in holiness, makes his Christian testimony unquestionable.

Thus, while to many radical evangelicals the adherence to sola fide passes for somewhat a gauge to determine who's saved and who's not, I completely depart from that idea. IMHO, one can be saved through faith alone without being aware that he was actually saved that way as demonstrated in the examples I've presented. One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. One is justified by believing in Jesus, with or without any acquaintance to the doctrine. It is reliance to self-efforts which primarily condemns a person to hell (Jer. 17:5), not the rejection or ignorance of Sola Fide. Correspondingly, rejection or ignorance of sola fide is not always tantamount to self-reliance. However, if one is Pelagian or semi-Pelagian (i.e. one who believes we come and turn to God on our own) and he rejects the doctrine of justification by faith, his Salvation is suspect (for the reason that Pelagians have strong tendency to rely in themselves for Salvation). Yet of course we're not in position to judge because only God searches the hearts.

Now let me hear what you guys think.

*Disclaimer: I'm not saying here that the the proclamation of the doctrine of sola fide is totally superfluous in evangelism, nor am I saying that the doctrine is completely inessential. Far from it. I'm just merely acknowledging the possibility of salvation for those who truly trust in Christ but do not adhere to or ignorant of the doctrine of justification by faith. I believe that every fundamental tenets derived from the Bible must be vigorously taught and defended against false teachings (Jude 3). Also, I fully acknowledge the danger of holding to the idea that we should work for our Salvation. Such erroneous teaching (which is prevalent to false religions) tends to lead people to trust in their own efforts in an attempt save themselves instead of having Christ as their Savior, all the way to hell. Thus, a  church that does not grasp it and teach it is heading for serious trouble. This is the reason why Christians, in evangelizing to unbelievers, should stress with clarity and conviction the problem of Sin and the inadequacy of human works to earn God's favor (Rom. 3:10, 19-20, 23; Jm. 2:10), the Salvation provided by Christ for those who believe (Rom. 3:24-25, 5:8, 19; Gal. 4:4-5), and the importance of a wholehearted reliance upon His finished work on the cross alone for Salvation (Rom. 4). I just hope I'm being clear on this point.



  1. So, would you say that the mindset of solus christus is absolutely necessary, while the mindset of sola fide is not *absolutely* necessary, as the actuality of sola fide is achieved in the mindset of solus christus?

  2. Tim,

    Yes. I think you get my point.

  3. "We distinguish three elements in true saving faith. (1) An intellectual element. There is a positive recognition of the truth revealed in the Word of God, a spiritual insight which finds response in the heart of the sinner. It is an absolutely certain knowledge, based on the promises of God. While it need not be comprehensive, it should be sufficient to give the believer some idea of the fundamental truths of the gospel. (2) An emotional element (assent). This is not mentioned separately by the Heidelberg Catechism, because it is virtually included in the knowledge of saving faith. It is characteristic of this knowledge that it carries with it a strong conviction of the importance of its object, and this is assent. The truth grips the soul. (3) An element of the will (trust). This is the crowning element of saving faith. It is a personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord, which includes a surrender of the soul as guilty and defiled to Christ, and a reliance on Him as the source of pardon and spiritual life." (Berkhof)

  4. ‎"We believe that, in order that we may obtain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith. This faith embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, makes Him our own, and does not seek anything besides Him. For it must necessarily follow, either that all we need for our salvation is not in Jesus Christ or, if it is all in Him, that one who has Jesus Christ through faith, has complete salvation. It is, therefore, a terrible blasphemy to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something else is needed besides Him; for the conclusion would then be that Christ is only half a Savior." (Belgic Confession)

  5. "This great mystery" refers to the preceding article on "The Satisfaction of Christ Our High Priest."

    That previous article says, "He presented Himself in our place before His Father, appeasing God’s wrath by His full satisfaction, offering Himself on the tree of the cross, where He poured out His precious blood to purge away our sins... We... have no need to seek or invent any other means of reconciliation with God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which the believers are perfected for all times (Heb 10:14)."

  6. ‎"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1:16-17)

    "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe..." (3:21-22)

    "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (3:28)

    "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works" (4:5-6)

    "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Gal 2:16)

    "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"

    "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." (5:4)

    "I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine (i.e. Paul's), and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is." (5:10)

  7. ‎"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9)

    "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil 3:3-9)

  8. So, no. It is not "possible for a person to trust in Christ alone as His Savior while at the same time believing that good works should be added with faith as means to attaining Salvation." And the "rejection of Sola Fide" indicates "reliance to self-efforts (which is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Christ's saving work)."

  9. a person can be justified "Sola Fide", even if that person doesn't understand fully what "Sola Fide" is.

    Observe this quote from J.I. Packer & O.R. Johnston as they assess the theology of the Reformers:

    "The doctrine of free justification by faith only, which became the storm-centre of so much controversy during the Reformation Period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers' theology, but this is hardly accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention of Paul, echoed with varying degrees of adequacy by Augustine, and Gottschalk, and Bradwardine, and Wycliffe, that the sinner's entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only. The doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace." (Historical and Theological Introduction
    in Martin Luther's The Bondage of the Will)

    So from the Reformers' view, Christians who lived centuries before them were justified even if their understanding is not as adequate as the Reformers'.

    Yet at the same time, the Reformers fought for "Sola Fide" because for them it "safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace"

  10. But how about this question: Can a person be justified if he pronounces an anathema on Sola Fide?

    Remember what they did at the Council of Trent.

  11. Sola Fide, as long as it is NOT opposed to caritas, is very much a Catholic doctrine. Luther's version of Sola Fide was condemned by the Council of Trent precisely because he tried to divorce Love from Faith.

  12. @Forest,

    Nobody's divorcing Love from Faith, King. Evangelicals believe that both are inseparable in the lives of the Christian. However, in the question on how one is justified, we answer that it is through a wholehearted trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross alone. Love will come later, and good works will flow from it as the Spirit moves in the life of the justified.

    I can't imagine how an "infallible" entity would invent lies to misrepresent and malign its opponents.

  13. kuyamanny wrote: But how about this question: Can a person be justified if he pronounces an anathema on Sola Fide? Remember what they did at the Council of Trent.

    My answer would still be the same: it "depends on how the person rejecting Sola Fide understands his own moral standing before his Maker and the nature of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ."

  14. Jeph,

    For the Catholic, Faith, Hope and Love go together despite the fact that Love is the greatest of them all.

    It is precisely the concept of "Love follows Faith later" that the Council of Trent condemned. This is in fact a statement suggesting a separation of faith from love and vice versa. Love cannot come later if Faith and Love are in fact together as ONE. Just like in marriage, you don't say that in the unity of husband and wife, the latter only follows after the former. They always come together as ONE, united.

    Sola Fide was not condemned by Trent. It was "Sola Fide according to Luther" that the Council of Trent condemned.

  15. Forest wrote: It is precisely the concept of "Love follows Faith later" that the Council of Trent condemned. This is in fact a statement suggesting a separation of faith from love and vice versa.


    Paul wrote:

    Now that we have God's approval by faith, we have peace with God because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done... We're not ashamed to have this confidence, because God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1, 5)

    It is God who infuses love in our hearts by His Spirit who dwells in us. How is the Spirit given to a person? It is through faith (cf. Jn. 7:38-39; Eph. 1:13; Gal 3:14). So here's the logical order,

    1) saving faith
    2) indwelling of the Holy Spirit
    3) infusion of Love

    Faith precedes Love. One cannot love God unless he believes in Him. Through faith one enters in an intimate relationship with God, and that is when mutual love will enter the scene.

    Yet the fact that Love comes after faith does not imply that the two are separable. The very nature of saving faith itself is that it produces works through love in the lives of the justified (Gal. 5:6), so the two cannot be detached from each other - although in justification, it is faith that justifies, not works of love (Rom. 4:5-6).

  16. Jeph,

    The Catholic insists on the unity of the Theological virtues just as God is a unity of the Three Divine Persons. As pointed out by Aquinas "the object of the theological virtues is God Himself." Just as God cannot be torn into different parts, so do the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

    But, is there an ordering of these virtues? Thomas Aquinas says: Yes. I have nothing to object in his answers in Article 4 of the Summa ( But, in his reply, he never suggested a disunity of the three.

    I suggest you also read "Spe Salvi" of Benedict XVI so you can appreciate the inseparability of faith and hope.

  17. I never suggested disunity of those virtues either. What I'm saying is that in the matter of Justification faith alone suffices as means.

  18. The Gospel is clearly taught in the OT, although it is not fully fleshed out. The 39 Articles of Religion makes this clear:

    Article VII
    Of the Old Testament

    The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

  19. Secondly, the Bible makes it clear that unless you believe in justification by faith in Christ alone, you cannot be saved. Romans 10:1-4, 7-17; Acts 4:10, 12; John 14:6; John 12:48; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20-25. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is speaking about the OT Scriptures as sufficient for saving faith.


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