Theology of the Reformation
The Protestant Reformation began on October 31st, 1517, when Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, nailed the famous 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther had strong theological convictions rooted in his new found understanding of the Bible, and he intended on reawakening the truths of the gospel within the church.
The Five Solas, the theological product of the Protestant Reformation, are widely attributed to Martin Luther himself, but none of them so much as Sola Fide (Faith Alone). Faith Alone was the main theological conviction behind the Reformation and continues to be the heartbeat of those in the faith.
The Latin word "sola" means "alone," so the five solas to us would mean the five onlys... and to some that may be confusing. How can there be five “onlys”? Can't there only be… one? These are very valid confusions, so allow me to clarify. It's not as if these five statements are all competing for the same goal, rather they are a succession of events that are so reliant on one another that if one were to be removed, the others would cease. It is the succession of salvation, the plan by which we are redeemed.
Saved By Grace Alone | Sola Gratia
We are saved by the grace of God alone, which has been freely given
out of an abundance of mercy.
Through Faith Alone | Sola Fide
We are not saved as a result of works or sacraments, but purely because
we have believed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
In Christ Alone | Solus Christus
Only the blood of Christ has the power to save. Because He was fully man
and fully God, He alone could bear and pay for the sins of man.
According To Scripture Alone | Sola Scriptura
The Bible is our ultimate authority, being completely sufficient for our
faith and our life.
To The Glory Of God Alone | Soli Deo Gloria
All of life is lived for the glory of God and for the fame of His name.
In this article I want to focus on Sola Fide, Faith Alone, because this is the doctrine that is most consistently undermined, both in our day and in the days of the Reformation. Not that the others are much better off, for example, Scripture alone is on the brink of being forgotten altogether in our current culture... but that'll be a different article.
The idea of being justified by our faith, and our faith alone, is so foreign to us and our culture specifically because we naturally want to earn the things that are given to us. For the most part we, as Americans, have a hard time accepting generosity - especially when we feel like we don’t deserve it. With salvation, both of these insecurities, generosity and unreservedness, come to a head. The infinitely and exponentially holy God who created everything has a standard of perfection - something we could never achieve, so we are condemned... hopeless. But then, in our helplessness, God causes us to be alive, pardoning us from our sin against Him and making us new by the blood of His Son whom He sacrificed on our behalf. We have received more than we could wish for while deserving the exact opposite. That kind of mercy tends to cause unrest in our spirits.
“Well, just let me try a bit harder, let me make a promise to you, God! Let me do something to even slightly earn your favor!”
We squirm at the thought of an unearned gift, and yet this is the glory of the gospel, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Notice it doesn't say, “after we repented and got our act together.” No, it says in the midst of our rebellion, in the trench of our sin, while we were actively opposed to Him, God saved us. How? By grace through faith. After God lavishes us with His grace, He then stirs up in our souls by the working of the Holy Spirit the very ability to believe and trust in His Son. We often think of faith as something we produce as a response to the grace of God, but it is itself one of the graces that God gives!
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God... Ephesians 2:8
At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther saw that the major problem with the Roman Catholic plan of salvation is that you are justified by faith plus works. This may seem like a minor difference at first seeing that the genuine faith of a believer will always produce good works. But when you say that your standing before God is based on your faith in Jesus AND your performance, you no longer have a biblical gospel.
Justification is the legal ruling that someone has been justified. This happens once in the life of a believer upon their regeneration and from that moment on they are counted as righteous. At the moment of regeneration there is nothing in your life that you had done to earn salvation. All of your works and your “good deeds” are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). In that moment, the only thing you have that will satisfy the just wrath of God is the blood of Jesus. This is what “Faith Alone” looks like. Clinging to absolutely nothing except for Jesus... not baptism, not confession, not your tithing, just Jesus.
The theology behind the Reformation should always point us back to the gospel - that being Jesus Himself. Our walks as followers of Christ should indeed be fruitful with joyful labor and bountiful harvest, but the hope we have is not found in the products of our salvation, but in the person of our salvation. All praise to Him, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17