So far in this series on the great pillars of Lutheranism, we have looked at Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), and Sola Gratia (Grace Alone). Sola Scriptura is that doctrine that teaches us to look only to the Word of God for our Lord’s word to us. There is no other place to look for matters of Faith. Sola Gratia teaches us that our salvation is by Grace Alone. Nothing we do, say, want, desire, decide, or wish will get us one bit closer to heaven. We are saved purely by God’s Grace Alone. Both of these set us at sharp disagreement with virtually all other Christians.
Another pillar of Lutheranism is Sola Fide – Faith Alone. Just as God speaks to us by His Word alone, and saves us by Grace Alone, our justification is by Faith Alone.
But faith in what?
So many of us today think of faith in terms of trusting in the unknowable. Much of American Christianity points to Faith as “my own personal faith,” meaning it can be whatever you want it to be, or whatever you feel like today. Or as Mark Twain put it, “Faith is believing what one knows is not true.”
Such faith is not the Faith of Sola Fide, nor is it the Biblical understanding of Faith.
Rather than trusting in a “Faith in Faith,” our Lord would point us to something much more certain, and much more knowable. In the New Testament, Faith is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Likewise the faith of the apostles was anchored in their having seen him after the resurrection (Acts 1:21-23). In fact, the apostles went so far as to say “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20).
Lutherans describe faith as “knowledge, assent and trust.”
It’s “knowing” that whatever you put your faith in actually exists.
It’s “assenting” that whatever you put your faith in is capable of accomplishing what it promises to accomplish.
It’s “trusting” that whatever you put your faith in has your best interest at heart.
Lutherans teach that there are really only two religions in the world. A religion of law, that leads to death, and a religion of life, that leads to salvation. In the same way, there are really only two “faiths,” one that leads to life and all others that lead to death.
No other religion defines faith in this way. In Hinduism, Sikhism, or Islam, no one cares if their founders rose from the dead or performed any miracles. Their “faith” is not based on history, but on ethical or moral precepts. And as we learn from Sola Gratia, even if we “know” that these moral or ethical precepts actually exist (which we can’t), we also confess that no keeping of those things will move us toward salvation. We cannot assent that they will save us. And any religion that places the focus on you and me to achieve salvation does not have our best interest at heart. Indeed, they are diabolical and have our damnation as their goal.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church still adamantly denies our teaching of Sola Fide. While they would agree to being saved by faith, they reject salvation by faith alone. They teach that salvation is a process of becoming holier and holier through time, with the Council of Trent condemning to hell all who believe it in Session 6, Canon 9.
But Lutherans have always resisted any indication that our salvation is based on faith in our own efforts in any way whatsoever. Lutheranism, indeed, Christianity stands or falls on the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:17). Indeed, we confess with St Paul that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). John organized his entire Gospel around evidences that Jesus is who He says He is so that we, like Thomas, may “not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27).
We thank God for this beautiful, comforting, saving doctrine of Sola Fide. Without it, we would still be on our own to save ourselves! But Jesus has done all that is necessary for our salvation, and He anchors His salvation in His work. It is in Him Alone that we have our Faith – Sola Fide!