For centuries sola fide has been the rallying cry for generations of Christians—in addition to sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratis, and soli Deo gloria.
Yet in his new book Faith Alone, Tom Schreiner wonders, “Does sola fide still matter today?” Faith Alone is one of five new resources exploring the five sola rallying cries of the Reformation. In this volume Schreiner offers a historical, biblical and theological tour of the doctrine of justification. One of the reasons why it matters is because it was taught in the earliest period of church history. And yet, Schreiner makes the point that “as Protestants we believe in sola scriptura. We must, in the end, turn to what the Scriptures say and cannot simply rely on tradition or interpretations from the past.” (97) In other words, does the Bible teach faith alone? Schreiner leads us on an investigation of the role of faith in the Synoptics, John’s gospel, Acts, and Paul’s writings to find out.
Faith Alone and the Synoptics
Several examples from the Synoptics illustrate “there are indications that faith plays a central role in one’s relationship with God.” (112)
- Jesus commends the faith of the centurion. “Jesus healed the centurion’s slave because of the man’s faith, not because of his noble efforts on behalf of the Jews or his worthiness.” (113)
- Jesus affirms the faith of the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house. “This story accords with the notion that justification is by faith alone, for the forgiveness Jesus offers here is not secured by obedience—the woman was a notorious sinner.” (114)
- The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector uses dikaioō soteriologically. “Though the word ‘faith’ isn’t found here, the parable certainly fits with the notion of justification by faith alone, for the tax collector wasn’t justified by his works by solely through God’s mercy.” (115)
Schreiner concludes, “The importance of faith is underscored in the Synoptic Gospels, for entrance into the kingdom is for those who believe.” (115-116)
Faith Alone and the Gospel of John
Faith is also underscored in John’s gospel: “The centrality of believing in the Gospel of John is evident, for John uses the verb ‘believe’ (pisteuō) ninety-eight times.” (116) Schreiner argues the content and profile of belief in John is important, “John want’s the readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and God’s Son…The belief John calls for here is centered on Jesus: one must believe in Jesus (16:9) and that God sent him into the world (16:27, 30; 17:8, 21).” (116) He also notes that for John, believing is contrasted with doing. In John 6 there is an exchange between Jesus and the crowd. “They want to do and perform and work,” writes Schreiner, “but what they must do is believe and trust. Believing is a receptive activity; it is compared to coming and to eating and drinking.” (117)
Faith Alone and Acts
The designation of early Christians as “believers” indicates the primacy of sola fide in the Acts of the Apostles. So does the record of people “believing.” Trust or belief characterized and were fundamental to the Christian experience, which several passages illustrate:
- “But many of those who heard the message believed” (4:4).
- “Many believed in the Lord” (9:42).
- “All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins” (10:43).
- “We believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” (11:17).
- “Everyone who believes in Him is justified” (13:39).
- “By my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe” (15:7).
- “Many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men” (17:12).
Schreiner concludes, “The references above make it abundantly clear that faith, belief, and trust are characteristic of Christians.” (120)
Faith Alone and Paul
“Statistics alone demonstrate the centrality of faith and trust in Paul: the word ‘faith’ (pistis) occurs 142 times, and the verb (pisteuō) 54 times.” Schreiner notes several aspects of Paul’s theology on faith and belief:
- Being a Christian means believing. “Paul describes his readers as those who believed or those who have faith.” (121)
- Believing in the gospel isn’t optional. “Those who don’t put their trust in Jesus will face eschatological…righteousness is granted to those who believe.” (121)
- Paul contrasts working with believing. “Justification is not granted to those who work for God but to those who trust in God.” (121-122)
- Saving faith isn’t just any faith. “Saving faith is directed to the creator God, the God who made the world and intervenes in it, the God who gives life where there is death.” (122)
Based on Paul’s writings Schreiner concludes, “The notion that salvation is by faith alone is supported by the truth that righteousness isn’t by works.” (111) Schreiner’s investigation leads us to this important conclusion:
What it means to be a Christian is to be a believer, one who trusts in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. Since righteousness is by faith, works are ruled out as the basis for salvation.
Read Faith Alone yourself and discuss it with colleagues to better understand what the Reformers taught and why sola fide still matters.