|St. Augustine's ordination as bishop of Hippo|
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|
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.