Why I Hate “Faith Alone”

[ 19 ] October 13, AD 2013 |

Expounding on the importance of our actions for salvation is, I suppose, my primary “thing.” I have been in so many informal debates over the issue that I have started to lose count of them. I have written about the topic many times. And often, I become angry (like God in 1 Kings 11:9-10) at the mere thought of sola fide (“faith alone”), because I know that it is completely contrary to “what the Lord [has] commanded.” But why?

“Faith alone” was, without a doubt, the primary reason that I left Protestantism. Even though I was ill-educated in theology at the time, I knew that it was illogical.

I like to think of sola fide in terms of criminal law. Imagine that someone went before a judge and was proven guilty of heinous crimes, but then pleaded to the judge that he believed in the judge’s authority to convict him and so the judge should not do so – and had that as his only defense. Should the judge convict him – to any degree – or should the judge completely let him off, and then give him a reward?

Do you find the “faith alone” argument compelling in such an instance? I do not. Of course, a “faith alone”-r would say that there is some sort of significant difference between such a scenario in terms of temporal law and such a scenario in terms of eternal law, but there really is not. Protestant arguments for the belief simply do not stand in the face of such scenarios or substantial scrutiny.

I strongly believe that sola fide is at the heart of many Western problems. Self-professed Christians have used it as an excuse to not care for the disadvantaged, to engage in profane sexual activity, etc. – the list goes on and on.

Martin Luther told his followers to “sin and sin boldly” (among other things, as I have documented) because he taught that we are saved solely by our faith in the power of Jesus Christ, apart from our actions. This method of thinking has been adopted by millions of Protestants since his time. But is it supported by the Bible? No. See Hebrews 10:26-27:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

“Faith alone” has had a terrible impact on society. People often now shy away from discussing religion or morality with others, fearing conflict. Take, for example, something that transpired between a Lutheran family member and me. After I privately and politely informed her that she had committed a grievous sin (like we are called to do – see Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1, and Ephesians 4:15), she immediately jumped to the “Who are you to judge?” defense and paired it with the “Jesus paid the price” line. I am sure that, for many Catholics, such occurrences are unfortunately familiar.

God has written in our hearts (Romans 2:15) that we should serve Him and others, not our selfish desires — and we will be punished if we defy Him. The necessity of both good works and abstinence from grave sin gives our lives concrete meaning. If someone takes away the eternal significance of our actions, they rob us of any real purpose: we all just become random, faceless, unimportant beings.

Sola fide does not work either logically or practically; it fails on all counts. Now, you know why I hate it.

james_2-26

(All verses are from the NASB translation.)

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About the Author ()

Matthew Olson is a college student in the Diocese of Little Rock. He was raised in multiple Protestant denominations before eventually converting to Catholicism on 7 April 2012. His primary interests are theology, Church history, and ecumenism. He is privately discerning the possibility of God calling him to the priesthood. He has a blog, Answering Protestants. He also has a Twitter account, @crucifixwearer.
  • alleluiagirl

    The message you proclaim, Matthew, is a difficult one for those who are stuck in their Protestant roots. It is a frightening thought to consider the Catholic side for our Protestant brothers and sisters since they have heard much erroneous information about the “errors” of the Catholic Church. Continue to proclaim your message, and proclaim boldly. We keep you daily in our prayers.

    1Cor 9:16-18
    If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an
    obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the
    gospel.

    • http://twitter.com/crucifixwearer Matthew Olson

      Thank you very much for your kind comment. Honestly, I had a really rough day today, and this nice gesture from you reminded me that it’s all worth it.

      I will continue to pray for you. Dominus vobiscum (“The Lord be with you”). :)

  • Forrest

    Hi Matthew,
    Sorry to hear you had a rough day!
    I was directed to your blog, through it being reposted on a fb group, so be assured you are being read.
    Given that, I’m pretty concerned that your quote from Luther is not a good representation of what he actually wrote – can I humbly suggest you read the original source and try to understand it?
    My other concern is that you do not appear to understand the historic doctrine of ‘sola fide’. Therefore I would suggest (again, humbly!) you do a little reading to correctly grasp this doctrine?

    Whenever a Jehovah’s witness tells me they do not believe in the Trinity (as they did just half an hour before I read your post), I always ask them what they understand the idea of the Trinity to be. Invariably they say they don’t know, or they start talking about ‘three gods’. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, let’s both try hard not to fall into the trap of rejecting what we have not well understood.

    God bless and I hope your week improves!
    Forrest

    • http://twitter.com/crucifixwearer Matthew Olson

      Thank you for your comment.

      Which quote are you referring to? If you are referring to the “God in himself is cruel and bad” quote, I have received feedback on that, and it basically boils down to that Martin Luther liked to pit the Son against the Father quite a bit. As I understand, he saw the Father as representing rules and punishment, and the Son as the One who steps in and saves us — which, of course, is a twisted view. (And I included two links in the citations that seem to show that he held this view.) I made sure that all quotes were not taken out of context.

      As for sola fide, I understand the history of it, and I know that there are slight variations of it. In the end, I have found that the doctrine — practically speaking — leads to permissiblity of evil.

      May God bless you, as well! :)

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  • Wendell Clanton

    We share a hatred of this sola.

    IMHO, it and the sola scriptura heresy are the stillborn offspring of a then nascent relativism that has produced as fruit a rejection of legitimate authority, indifference to morality and the fragmentation of the Body of Christ. If we acknowledge the trend of the last four hundred years or so, the mainstream protestant denominations, having cleaved themselves from Holy Mother Church by embracing heresy, have continually divided and are now dissipating at an astonishing rate.

    Though I am grateful for my upbringing, the illogicality of sola fides (and sola scriptura) led me out of the protestant community in which I was raised, and the other protestant communities in which I searched in vain for coherent teaching, to the Catholic Church.

    “By their fruits… .” A fuller treatment of Luther’s teaching would further confirm the hypothesis that the solas are illogical. That said, one need not exhaustively examine Luther’s intentions or fully cite his teaching to reject the consequences of his teaching. One merely needs to point to the fallout of Luther’s and the other reformers’ truncated religion(s) which has/have led to the disintegration of protestant religion and western civilization. False entitlements to abortion, euthanasia and sexual immorality, for example, are signs of consciences emancipated from the moral authority of the Church and, ironically, Holy Scripture by the aforementioned damnable ‘solas’.

    • http://twitter.com/crucifixwearer Matthew Olson

      Exactly. Thank you, and may God bless you. :)

  • MustangSally89

    Well said, Matthew. I always think of Matthew 19:16-22 when the sola fide argument comes up. I know most use this parable to teach the evils of being rich, but I always think of it in terms of salvation. When the rich man asked “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus did not reply “say the sinner’s prayer, then accept me as your personal Lord and Savior.” He told the man to keep the commandments, and then to sell all he owned and follow him. Protestants love to quote Paul, but sometimes I think they forget to listen to Jesus.

    • http://twitter.com/crucifixwearer Matthew Olson

      Insightful comment. Thanks for sharing! Pax et gratia (Grace and peace)! :)

    • steve

      The rich man did not follow Jesus for one reason only – he did not believe in Jesus sufficiently. This is Luther’s point: Good works will follow belief and faith (in God) like night follows day. The difference is that these good works are not done with the clenched fist of fear – but with a warm gratitude that one could be of service.

      Whilst in a state of disbelief and lack of faith the rich man was never going to part with his riches. Just because he kept the commandments etc etc doesn’t mean that he believed in Christ.

      • MustangSally89

        Still doesn’t change the response Jesus said. Jesus never called the rich man out for not having enough faith. Not all good works come out of warm fuzzy feelings. You do it not out of fear either. Sometimes doing good deeds is hard, but you do it anyway out of love. Just because you love and believe in Jesus doesn’t mean good deeds will come flowing out of you with ease.

        I know several Protestants who claim to be “saved” but are promiscuous. From the ones I have spoken to, all they need is to believe is in professing faith in Jesus. How you live your life does not matter. If it did, it would be perceived as “earning” one’s salvation. Luther may say that good works should flow from a true belief in God, and that if there are no good works, then one’s faith is not true… but that just proves Catholic doctrine, that our faith is justified through our works. Faith without works is dead does not mean do good works to earn salvation, but that you do good works because of a love and faith in Christ. It is not always going to be easy or flow naturally, but they also are not done out of fear.

      • steve

        Great discussion…

        How you live your life is THE only honest measure of one’s faith in Christ – so it certainly does matter how you live. You can’t be promiscuous and claim to have faith in Christ at the same time – talk is cheap.

        [I can say I look like Brad Pit - but that doesn't make it so].

        Living in error is corrected at the root (effortlessly) by having faith in God – which is challenging. We don’t fix the error and then go to God – that would be like getting healthy before we go to the doctor.

        To me its a little like this: if (say) you thought there was reason to suspect there might be gold buried in your backyard – you might be prepared to dig in parts and have a look. A bit half-hearted. But if you knew in your heart and were fully persuaded there was gold buried there – you would be out there night and day. It wouldn’t be an effort – because you would know it will be well worth it.

        Its the same with Christ – so I disagree with you…. If you believe in his words absolutely, then works are always easy and will flow naturally…”My yoke is easy and my burden is light…”

        Nice to discuss.

      • MustangSally89

        If we take a concordance and look up every occurrence of the word “faith,” we come up with an undeniable fact the only time the phrase “faith alone” is used in the entire Bible is when it is condemned (James 2:24).

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  • Phil Dzialo

    Despite you beliefs about someone else’s foundational religious tenets, the use of word “hate” is simply vile and disrespectful…you can make your point without “hate”‘ even used metaphorically.

    • steve

      I agree.

    • Shaun McAfee

      I agree. It’s plain uncharitable

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  • http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com Gary

    Dear Christian,

    Someone has convinced you that a square can be a circle. Someone has convinced you that the blood-thirsty, psychopathic god of the Old Testament is the same being as the loving, compassionate Jesus of the Gospels.

    Squares can never be circles.

    Your belief system is an ancient middle-eastern superstition. If you choose to continue to hold onto it that is certainly your right. However, you are teaching this superstition to little children. Please consider what you are doing. These children deserve to know the Truth.

    I encourage you to watch this five minute video on this subject:

    Best wishes,
    Gary