BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (29) – Can faith alone save us?

Martin Luther (Photo: Creative Commons)

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

Martin Luther (1483-1546) claimed that faith alone (sola fide) is enough for salvation. This doctrine asserts that one receives God’s pardon through faith alone, excluding all “works.” Luther argued that original sin “is so deep and [horrible] a corruption of nature” (Smalcald Articles, 1537) which thus makes man incapable of saving himself. (Catholics believe that original sin wounded human nature, but not corrupted it, as Luther asserts.)

Hence, Luther concludes that only a belief in God’s forgiveness can save man. Indeed, Catholics also believe this. But it is also clear from Sacred Scripture that aside from believing, man has to act according to his belief as well. Note, for example, the following passages:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

God “will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation” (Romans 2:6-8).

For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:13).

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” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2).

Saint James writes, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone(James 2:14-24).

Some people, however, will quote Ephesians 2:8-9, which says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The answer to this is simply to continue reading the same chapter all the way to verse 10, which calls for good works. It says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

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