Salvation by Faith ALONE?

Or by Faith and Works? – PART I

Since the “Reformation,” Protestants and Catholics have found themselves divided, often arguing, debating, and even sometimes disliking one another.  Both Protestants and Catholics often fail to realize that they have much more in common than that which divides them (e.g. the belief in the Trinity, Jesus as Lord, God, and the ‘only’ way to heaven, the Bible as the Word of God, as inspired and inerrant, prayer, belief in the afterlife, and much, much more.

When I was a Youth Minister, I met monthly with the other youth ministers in the area.  Protestant and Catholic alike, we read the Bible, sang praise and worship to the Lord Jesus, and discussed how we could work together and help each other for maximum results.  We shared our common faith, and from time to time, we respectfully and charitably discussed our differences.

One of the chief differences separating Protestants and Catholics is the issue of “Faith Alone” (Sola Fides). Protestants believe that a person attains salvation through faith alone, by just believing in Jesus, accepting Him as Lord and Savior.  Catholics believe this too, but they also believe that good works are necessary for salvation, as well.

Martin Luther, who started this teaching of Sola Fides stated that it was one of two pillars on which the Reformation would stand or fall.  He claimed that if this doctrine could be disproven, the entire Reformation would fall to ruin and have no credibility.

Faith ALONE or Faith AND WORKS?

Catholics believe that the doctrine of faith alone is both unbiblical and unhistorical.  Even among Protestants, there is major disagreement regarding this core doctrine.  Some Protestants believe that they are once and for all “saved” through one act of faith and that works account for absolutely nothing.  I have been told you can kill, steal, sleep around, etc, and it doesn’t matter because their salvation in heaven is assured.  Other denominations believe that only faith saves you, and while you could do those sins listed above, you shouldn’t (Others add you wouldn’t). Still others believe in salvation by faith, but accept that you still have to live right and do good works, while others believe in faith alone but teach that you can lose your salvation

So, even among Protestant religions, there is a great confusion and a great divide regarding this doctrine, with many different beliefs.  The Catholic position, and what Christians have always believed before Luther, is that faith and works together are both necessary.  A person cannot have one without the other.  They work hand in hand completing each other unto salvation. (Jms. 2:22).

A Catholic Story about Faith Alone

What follows is a true story of what took place at “World Youth Day” in Toronto, Canada.  There were over one million Catholics from over 170 different countries (more than twice the size of Woodstock), all there to see Pope John Paul II and celebrate their awesome worldwide Catholic Faith.

What Took Place: It was at here that I ran into a young lady who was handing out anti-Catholic tracts trying to educate us poor lost Catholics.  She was extremely kind and sincere, but I soon realized that she knew almost nothing about the Catholic religion, only what she had heard from others.  After we spoke for a short time together, she realized that she did not have adequate knowledge to discuss this.  So, she signaled to her more knowledgeable companion to come assist her.  When he arrived, we spoke politely about the topic of salvation and how a person is truly saved. Was it by faith alone or by faith and works?

He asserted that a person is saved by faith alone.  I immediately asked him to show me where the Bible states salvation by faith alone. He mentioned Rom. 3:28 and Eph. 2:8-9 (typical verses). My response was kind but frank in pointing out that the words faith alone were not found in these passages. The first passage in Romans talked about faith apart from Jewish works of the Law, which even Catholics agree with, and the second passage, in context, talks about works done before coming to Jesus – or done without Him. Again, Catholics would agree.  I also added the well-known fact that Martin Luther actually added the word alone to Rom. 3:28 in his German translation… adding to the Word of God.

I then stated, “Furthermore, when it comes to Catholic doctrines, you always demand to see everything explicitly in black in white.  So now, I want to see your core doctrine in black and white.”  I threw in the fun fact that this was one of the pillars of the Reformation, the central core doctrine and therefore it should be easy to find the words faith alone side by side.

The two evangelists admitted that the words faith alone could not be found side by side anywhere in the Bible.  I jumped in to inform them that the words faith alone were in the Bible and could be found side by side. The two insisted strongly that the doctrine had to be inferred and those two words were not mentioned together.

Immediately, I asked them to open their Bibles to James 2:24 and read the passage out loud. By this time a good number of people had gathered around in a circle around us to hear our discussion.  He read James 2:24 out loud to everyone: “And so you see my brethren, that a man is saved (justified) by works and not by faith alone.”

There it was, in black and white!  The words “Faith Alone,” side by side.  And stating that a person is not saved by faith alone.  Wow!  This is the only time in the entire Bible that the Holy Spirit inspired these words to be mentioned together, and it taught that a man was not saved by faith alone. So how could people obstinately assert the opposite?

There was complete and utter silence as the two stood there reading the passage over and over again to themselves.  Finally, the young man admitted that he had never seen this passage before. I informed him that many people have overlooked it, and that this passage was merely the beginning.  Rather than bombard him with a lot more, I decided to let him stew on it for a while and instructed him to search out what the earliest Christians taught regarding this topic.  I kindly prodded them to continue searching for the fullness of the truth.

Thanks for reading!

This ends Part 1.  The topic of Faith and Works will be continued in Part 2 here, where I will expound Biblically and historically.