10 Problems with
Faith Alone

  • Judaizers: a faction of early Jewish Christians who regarded the Levitical laws of the Old Testament as still binding on all Christians, including Gentile Christians.  They tried to enforce Jewish circumcision, dietary laws, and observing the Sabbath upon the Gentile converts to early Christianity.

The doctrine of Sola Fide asserts that it is by faith alone that believers are made righteous, without the necessity of good works. In support of this belief, the following verses are commonly cited:  Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”, Galatians 2:16: “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” , Romans 4:5: “And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”, Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

While historically Christians have understood “works of the law” to be referring to Levitical observances such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath laws, (which the early Jewish Christian sect known as the Judaizers believed to be still binding on all Christians including Gentiles) Protestants, beginning with Martin Luther, have concluded that these verses are referring to the moral law given by Christ.  There are several problems with this interpretation;

  1. It contradicts other Scripture passages such as
    James 2:14-26, Hebrews 12:14, and Revelation 21:27
  2. It contradicts Paul himself in Rom. 2:6-7, 6:16, 11:22,
    Gal. 5:6, 19-21, 2 Cor. 5:10, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Cor. 13:1-3, Phil. 2:12-13
  3. It contradicts the teaching of Jesus in Matt. 7:21-23, 10:22, & 19:17
    and negates the entire Sermon on the Mount
  4. It contradicts the teaching of Church Fathers like Clement of Rome,
    Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Cyprian of Carthage.
  5. It is not historical. Sola Fide was a complete theological novelty at the time of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Attempts made to trace it back to Augustine ignore Augustine’s own belief in the transformation of the soul by grace through the sacraments.
  6. It changes the identity of the Church from a visible institution founded by Christ acting as a light to the world to a loosely connected invisible aggregate of the “saved,” known only to God. The individual thus becomes prior to the very Church itself, leading to an individualistic theology of personal conversion, guaranteed by
    personal feelings of assurance rather than a cooperation of believers working together for their mutual salvation.
  7. It creates a false dichotomy. By rejecting the possibility of “earning” salvation by works, “faith alone” shifts the focus to “earning” salvation by stating one’s faith. Neither is possible without first having God’s grace, which is NOT earned, BUT makes BOTH faith and works possible.
  8. It reduces the standard for salvation to completely arbitrary terms. Rather than God transforming one’s soul through the aid of grace, enabling it to have faith, do good works, and love one’s enemies, instead salvation is reduced to “do you believe the right thing?”. The idea that Christ has done everything and that it is belief and not behavior that matters is the very definition of hypocrisy (Matt 23:3).
  9. It disregards the values of “right and wrong”. Although not the practice of most Christians, the core belief of “faith alone” is that one can be saved by faith alone regardless of obedience to God, forgiving one’s neighbor, or of committing grievous sins repeatedly.
  10. It completely misunderstands Paul. Protestant Biblical scholars such as Krister Stendahl, N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, and James D. G. Dunn as well as Jewish scholar Pamela Eisenbaum have demonstrated how Martin Luther’s interpretation of Rom 3:28, Gal 2:16, and Eph 2:8-9 completely misunderstands Paul. The “new perspective on Paul” movement within Protestantism illustrates how Paul’s letters do not address general good works, but instead question observances such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath laws, which were the “boundary markers” that set the Jews apart from Gentiles.
    First-century Palestinian Judaism was not oriented to “salvation by works,” but rather, as God’s chosen people, were under his covenant. Thus, following the Law was not a way of entering the covenant, but of staying within it. Paul is contrasting these “works of the Mosaic Law” with the fact that before one’s conversion and attaining grace that no “good works” can possibly deserve that grace, but after conversion, it is by faith in Christ, cooperating with grace, and performing good works
    that we remain in Christ.

At the time that Saint Paul wrote most of his letters, there was a widespread dissent among Jews and Gentiles.  Many Jewish Christians at the time believed that the Mosaic Law must still be observed by Gentile converts in addition to the teachings of Christ.  These Jewish Christians were known as Judaizers . By insisting that the Old Covenant Law was necessary for salvation, they were, in essence, rejecting Christ and His teachings.  Paul, by rejecting “works of the law”, was declaring that it is faith in Christ and Christ’s teachings that lead to salvation and not ritual works of the Mosaic Law.  Jewish Christians, therefore, could not boast of their salvation over their Gentile brethren based on their adherence to Mosaic Law. This controversy is well attested to in Scripture:

“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” Acts 15:1-2. 

“For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal…” Romans 2:28-29.

“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law” (I Cor. 9:21).

“Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Hebrews 7:11-12.

“The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3.

“Now I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness (Gr. dikaiosune= justification). For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5:2-6.

And the true “circumcision of Christ” is New Covenant baptism in Colossians 2:11-12.

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Bible Verses:

James 2:14-26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:24

“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

2 Corinthians 5:10

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Romans 2:6-10

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

Philippians 2:12-13

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

Revelation 2:23

“I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.”

Matthew 19:17

“If you would enter life, keep the commandments” 

Luke 18:14

“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted”

John 5:28-29

“All who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Ephesians 5:3-14

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:6, 19-21

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love…. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

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Church Father Quotes:

Clement of Rome

“Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self- controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words….Why was our Father Abraham blessed? Was it not because of his deeds of justice and truth, wrought in faith?…So we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, were not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the almighty God justified all men.” (Letter to the Corinthians 30:3, 31:2, 32:3-4).

Theophilus of Antioch 

“Give studious attention to the prophetic writings, and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither has eye seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries and fornications and homosexualities and avarice and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, and in the end such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” (To Autolycus 1:14 [ca. A.D. 181]).

Clement of Alexandria

“When we hear, ‘Your faith has saved you,’ we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed. To begin with, it was to the Jews alone that he spoke this phrase, who had lived in accord with the law and blamelessly and who had lacked only faith in the Lord” (Stromateis or Miscellanies 6:14:108:4 [post A.D. 202]).

Origen of Alexandria 

“Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the epistle bearing the name of James” (Commentaries on John 19:6 [A.D. 226-232]).

Cyprian of Carthage 

“You, then, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself from Christ gold purified in fire, for with your filth, as if burned away in the fire, you can be like pure gold, if you are cleansed by almsgiving and by works of justice. Buy yourself a white garment so that, although you had been naked like Adam and were formerly frightful and deformed, you may be clothed in the white garment of Christ. You who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the salve of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” (Works and Almsgiving 14 [A.D. 252]).

Aphrahat the Persian Sage

“Great is the gift which he that is good has given to us. While not forcing us, and in spite of our sins he wants us to be justified. While he is in no way aided by our good works, he heals us that we may be pleasing in his sight. When we do not wish to ask of him, he is angry with us. He calls out to all of us constantly; ‘Ask and receive, and when you seek, you shall find’” (Treatises 23:48 [A.D. 336-345]).

Gregory of Nyssa

“Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. Faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither is righteous living secure in itself of salvation, if it is disjoined from faith” (Homilies on Ecclesiastes 8 [ca. A.D. 335- 394]).

John Chrysostom

” ‘He that believes in the Son has everlasting life.’ ‘Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son,’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’ By no means! Listen to Christ declare this himself when he says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’; and the b.asphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man believe rightly in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, but does not live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 31:1 [circa A.D. 391]).

“That you may not then, when you hear that He has chosen us, imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, that we should be holy and without blemish.” -Homily 1 on Ephesians

“Since though he has said here, He that believes in the Son has eternal life, and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: He that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, This by itself is eternal life, nor, He that does but believe in the Son has eternal life, but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing does contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment.” –Homily 31 on John

“For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?” –On the Priesthood 3.5

Ambrose of Milan

“He calls each blessed, both him whose sins are remitted by the font, and him whose sin is covered by good works. For he who repents ought not only to wash away his sin by his tears, but also to cover and hide his former transgressions by amended deeds, that sin may not be imputed to him.” –On Repentance 2.5.35

“We have also noted already that the blessedness of eternal life is the reward for good works.” –On the Duties of the Clergy 2.3.9

Jerome of Stridon

” ‘But since in the Law no one is justified before God, it is evident that the just man lives by faith.’ It should be noted that he does not say that a man, a person, lives by faith, lest it be thought that he is condemning good works. Rather, he says the ‘just’ man lives by faith. He implies thereby that whoever would be faithful and would conduct his life according to the faith can in no other way arrive at the faith or live in it except first he be a just man of pure life, coming up to the faith by certain degrees” (Commentaries on Galatians 2:3:11 [A.D. 386]).

Augustine of Hippo 

” ‘He was handed over for our offenses, and he rose again for our justification.’ What does this mean, ‘for our justification’? So that he might justify us, so that he might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you are a man. If God made you a man, and you made yourself just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. You did not lend your consent so that God could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but he does not justify you without your willing it” (Sermons 169:13 [inter A.D. 391-430]).

“‘But we know that God does not hear sinners; but if any man is a worshiper of God and does his will, that man God will hear.’ He still speaks as one only anointed. For God does listen to sinners too. If God did not listen to sinners, it would have been all in vain for the publican to cast down his eyes to the ground and strike his breast saying: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And that confession merited justification, just as the blind man merited enlightenment” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 44:13 [A.D. 416]).

Caesar of Arles

“I beg you, beloved brethren, let us consider more attentively why we are Christians and bear the cross of Christ on our forehead. For we ought to know that it is not enough for us that we have received the name Christian, if we do not do Christian works. If you say a thousand times that you are a Christian and continually sign yourself with the cross of Christ, but do not give alms according to your means, and you do not want to have love and justice and chastity, the name of Christian will profit you nothing….Above all, as I already said before, give alms to the poor according to your means. Present offerings to be consecrated on the altar; a man of means should blush to communicate in the offering of another. Those who are able should give either candles or oil which can be put in lamps. Know the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer yourselves and teach them to you children. I do not know how a man can call himself a Christian…when he neglects [this]” (Sermons 13:1-2 [ante A.D. 542]).

Pope Gregory the Great

“Neither faith without works nor works without faith is of any avail, except, perhaps, that works may go towards the reception of faith, just as Cornelius, before he had become one of the faithful, merited to be heard on account of his good works. From this it can be gathered that his performance of good works furthered his reception of faith” (Homilies on Ezekiel 1:9:6 [A.D. 593]).

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Non-Catholic Quotes:

Alistair McGrath, Protestant Scholar

“The first centuries of the western theological tradition appear to be characterized by a ‘works-righteousness’ approach to justification . . . The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification thus represents a theological novum.” -McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 34,215

Alan P. Stanley

“If by works we mean works prior to conversion and thus originating from ourselves, then it is clear—Jesus did not teach salvation by works. If, however, we mean final or eschatological salvation and post-conversion works originating from God himself, then, yes, Jesus did teach salvation by works—in the same way that James taught justification by works.” –Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works?

Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation 

“(the Epistle of James) is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works. . . . He mangles the scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture.” -pre-1530 version of Preface to the Epistles of St. James

“I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books.” -pre-1530 version of Preface to the Epistles of St. James

“should throw the epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much.” -pre-1530 version of Preface to the Epistles of St. James

“Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” -LW 35:362

(in response to adding the word alone to Romans 3:28) “If your papist wants to make so much fuss about the word sola [alone] tell him this, ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and says that a papist and an ass are the same thing.’” -Luther’s Works, Volume 35:Word and Sacrament I (Luther’s Works (Augsburg))

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