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Faith vs. Works: What Does the Bible Really Say?

The Reformation kind of solidified this thing called the “Five Solas.”

Sola is Latin for ‘alone,’ or by itself. One of those five Solas is this term Sola Fide, which means “faith alone.”

The idea of Sola Fide is that we’re saved by a mere belief in God.

You’ve probably heard people say statements like, “You’re saved by faith. You’re saved when you believe,” or you go to a church and they say, “Do you believe in God? Okay, you’re saved.”

This is where this doctrine comes from. It’s Sola Fide.

The thing about the Reformation, that a lot of people don’t realize, is that it was not a restoration. It was not abolition. It was Reformation, that’s why it’s called The Reformation. They didn’t go back to the Apostles doctrine, instead, they reformed Catholic doctrine.

They kept a lot of it, but tweaked it in little ways, so that they could have a religion that they were more comfortable with. One of the main things that caused the Reformation was the doctrine, the Catholic Church’s doctrine of Merit and Indulgences.

The Catholic Church believes that, after you die, if you have a sin – it’s kind of like this mathematical formula, if you’ve done a lot of good deeds, you’ve said so many Hail Mary’s for example, you get positive points. You get Merit.

If you sin, if you tell a lie or steal something, that is a DE-merit.

If you start life completely zero, you are perfect, you have never sinned, but then you tell a lie, you are then demerited.

You’ve gone into the red.

You’ve gone into the negative in terms of merit.

But, if you can then confess, the confessor might say, “pray this,” or, “do this,” or, “go on this Pilgrimage,” and I will grant you an indulgence – a merit – on your behalf.”

If I’ve committed four sins, I’m at negative four, so to speak. If I can get four indulgences – four merits – I can bring myself back up to zero.

The reasoning behind this pursuit of merit is that, if I die, and I’m in the red and I’m negative, I have to spend time in Purgatory while all of those negative things are purged from my life. Then, once all of those things are purged I can go on to Heaven, to paradise, to be with God.

If I’m pretty good, if I’m a good person, I will spend less time in Purgatory.

If I’m really, really bad, if I’m a rotten person in the world, I’ll spend a lot more time in Purgatory.

That doctrine caused just about everyone to seek indulgences. And, not just for themselves.

If my grandfather died and was known to do some pretty bad things, I don’t want him to spend forever in Purgatory. So, I’m going to try to earn some merits, so that I can pay them on his behalf – basically shortening his time in Purgatory, so he can go on to a peaceful time in Heaven.

The available merits are not infinite, so they are super valuable. Apparently, there’s a vault, where all of the great people in the past – the Apostles, Jesus, Mary, everyone that’s done really great things – they died with positive merits. Since they don’t really need all these merits, they’re going to straight to Heaven and skipping purgatory, their unused merits are placed into the vault where we can then access to them through indulgences.

There’s this massive vault, with all of these merits that are available, but I have to earn them if I’m going to bring myself back from this sinful lifestyle.

As you can imagine, this kind of system where I have to go to a priest, and that priest is going to tell me how I can earn these indulgences, obviously, that system is just ripe for corruption. And that’s exactly what happened.

They started selling indulgences.

If they needed a lot of money, they would just go to a town and sell indulgences, and money would flow in. This wholesale of indulgences, of merits, of merited salvation, caused Martin Luther to pause, and this is why he wrote his thesis, and this is why the entire Reformation originally kicked off.

The problem with the Reformation is they didn’t go back far enough.

They didn’t go all the way back to the Apostles.

They didn’t restore the original.

They didn’t abolish Catholicism. They just tweaked it.

It’s kind of like playing that game, Gossip.

Let’s say you have 2,000 people in a line, and the first person shares the gospel. The second people shares the what he heard, and the third person shares what he heard, and on it goes… By the time it gets to the fifth or sixth person, it’s already changing.

By the time it gets to the 100th person, it’s really different.

By the time it gets to the 250th person, it’s completely different – it doesn’t even resemble what the first person said.

Now, if you want to know what the original message was, who would you go to?

Would you go to the 230th person in line?

How about the 15th person in line?

Of course not. Because you could never be sure they had the original phrase either. You would have to go back to the one who started it all.

The Reformation went back to a version of Catholicism that didn’t practice the selling of indulgences. And, over time, other nonbiblical practices were either rejected or tweaked to make it fit the reformed religion. But, it was still just a reformed version of Catholicism.

They went back to like year 250 and year 300, years 500 and they took these doctrines out of the Catholic Church that they liked. But, they didn’t go back to the Apostolic Church, the first church.

Doctrines, like Sole Fide, were mutations of something that was completely different than what the Apostles taught. And this idea of Sola Fide, of faith alone, has down through the ages, become its own doctrine.

As a person, I am completely removed from any responsibility of obedience to God’s word. I’m removed from any responsibility to save myself from this untoward generation. I’m removed from my responsibility to study His word, to live a life of holiness, to be holy for He is Holy.

I’m removed from obedience. All of what I am required to do, in order to make it to Heaven, is to believe. I

t’s this choice inside of myself that I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and therefore it’s done.

Obviously, there are a lot of problems with this doctrine.

What if I believed when I was 19 years old but now that I’m 37 I don’t believe anymore?

What’s going to happen to me?

Do I lose my salvation?

And if I lose my salvation, was I never “saved” to begin with?

When Jesus says that they’re going to be people on the Judgment Day who say, “But God, we did many works in your name. We cast out demons in your name. We were we great Christians.” And Jesus says, “Depart from me workers of iniquity, I never knew you.”

Now, if they had cast out demons in His name. If they had done a lot of works in his name, surely there was faith.

As a matter of fact the Bible says that God gives every man a measure of faith.

James says that “Even the demons believe and they tremble.”

If Sola Fide is correct, how does it fit with all of these other scriptures?

Ephesians 2:8, for example, the New Living Translation says,

“God saved you by his grace when you believed, and you can’t take credit for this, it is a gift from God.”

But the King James version says it this way,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

The word translated “through” in Ephesians 2:8 is a Greek word that denotes “the channel of an act.”

The way of an act.

The path of an act.

It’s kind of like me saying, “You get to Bellevue through the I-90 Tunnel.” When I say that, you know exactly what I mean. I have to get in my car, and I have to drive through the I-90 Tunnel to get to Bellevue.

Faith is denoting the channel to which we get to the act of salvation.

Faith is not the salvation itself, it’s the channel to salvation.

Just because the I-90 Tunnel exists doesn’t mean that suddenly your in Bellevue.

First Peter 3:31 says, for example, says “Baptism saves us.”

Not faith, not grace, but baptism.

Now only the super ignorant would take that Scripture and say, “Well, baptism is here, therefore faith doesn’t have anything to do with it.” That’s a ridiculous assumption that doesn’t take into account all of the other gospel teachings.

You have to have faith.

Peter wasn’t talking Sola Baptiso – not baptism alone. But he said, “We’re saved through baptism.”

Ephesians tells us that we’re saved through faith that, it’s not of our works, it’s a gift of God, therefore we cannot boast. In other words, I cannot say, “I got baptized therefore I saved myself.” Salvation is an act of God – it’s that act of God that washes me clean when I am baptism in obedience to His Word.

It’s that act of obedience, that I took through faith, that actually has the power.

If you believe that you can get saved by the work of baptism without faith, you’re believing in the same Catholic Doctrine of Indulgences. That, instead of going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you’re going on a pilgrimage to a tank, you’re getting baptized, you check that box off, and now you have earned salvation by something that you did.

It doesn’t work that way.

Baptism without faith is just getting wet.

But, when you believe in God, when you believe in his Word, and you believe that baptism is for the remission of sins, it moves you to baptism. When faith in the gospel causes you to obey the gospel that obedience is where the salvation lies.

Notice on the day of Pentecost in Acta 2:38, when Peter was giving the gospel for the very first time, the people asked, “What do we do?”

He responds to the, but he doesn’t day believe, he doesn’t say, just trust in him.

He gives them commands, “Repent and be baptized,” because they already believe, and now they want to know what do we do? What action do we take now that we have this faith?

They wanted to take the action that they needed to take, and Peter responds and says, “Be baptized, repent and be baptized every one of you, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And on that day over three thousand people were baptized.

They responded.

It was this act of faith that caused them to obey the words of Peter and be baptized. Peter says, “we’re saved by baptism,” in 1st Peter chapter 3.

Now, there is a scripture about Sola Fide, faith alone.

James 2:17:

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Faith alone doesn’t work because it’s dead.

It’s a dead faith.

James 2:24

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

The simplest way that I can describe the difference of this:

Let’s say you’re out in the middle of the desert.

You’re five miles from the nearest town, and it’s 115 degrees.

You’re hot, and you’re walking.

Now, you have a bottle of water. And it would be true to say that water will save you in that situation. Water will keep you from perishing in the desert.

Water is essential!

But, just having a bottle of water doesn’t do you any good.

You have to drink it.

You will die in the desert with a bottle full of water if you don’t drink it.

Just having faith is like standing in a world of sin, and you’ve got the solution to it in your hand, but you need more than Sola Fide. You have to add some action to that faith, or the faith is dead.

If you ask, “Do I believe Sola Fide?”

I don’t, because faith alone is dead.

James 2:18

shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

You can not have it separated.

The entire Bible is one cohesive story, and faith causes you to obey the Gospel.

And, when you do, it will change your life.

The Refuge is a growing community of believers, dedicated to living our lives according to the Word of God, showing the love of Jesus in our world, and growing individually and collectively in our walk with God. If you're looking for a friendly church in downtown Seattle, we would love for you to be our guest!

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