The Five Solas: Sola Fide

What are the Five Solas, and why would I spend time reading about them on your blog instead of playing Doodle Jump? Or Words with Friends? Or watching sneezing Pandas on YouTube?

The Five Solas (sola from the latin “alone”) are the bedrock of much of what you believe if you are an evangelical christian. (Great, a history lesson.. with latin no less.) OK, before you run off and start looking for “fail compilation” on YouTube, stick with me for a minute. You need to know these things for a few key reasons:

1. Only by knowing what you believe can you identify and defend against what you don’t.

2. Really smart people have defined these truths over the centuries. I get it, they dressed funny and they’re all dead now, but in spite of the fact that they didn’t have iPhones or access to google, they did the heavy biblical, linguistic, and theological lifting that most of us have no ability (or work ethic) to accomplish.

3. It gives us an early warning capability. There is truly nothing new under the sun; every “new wave” that hits the modern evangelical church is a simple twist on a centuries old heresy. If you don’t understand them, you’re easy prey to them. (Molinism anyone?)

4. We’re called to do so in scripture:

[15] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

And now, the rumble royal of the reformation, Sola Fide!

The doctrine of sola fide “by faith alone” asserts that God’s pardon of guilty sinners (justification) is granted and received through faith alone and excludes any and all works. (If you are unclear on what justification is, or the difference between justification and sanctification, please read here: Stuff Christians Should Know). As we have discussed previously, all men are fallen and sinful and under the just wrath of a righteous God. But God, based on the sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection of Christ, grants sinners judicial pardon.

Judicial? As in courtroom? Exactly. This is exactly the language the Apostle Paul uses in the New Testament.  Since we are sinful and God is holy, how can He declare us righteous when we are sinful without compromising His own holiness?

1. He places our sin upon Christ, which makes us then “not guilty”.

If Christ’s work stopped here it would be grace beyond measure. But incredibly, it doesn’t.

If you’ve always just heard that Jesus died for you, well, that’s true. But if all he needed to do was die, why didn’t he just come and die? Because:

2. Christ’s righteous life is applied to us as well.  He fulfilled all the requirements of the law during His sinless life.  So not only are we declared “not guilty”, we are declared RIGHTEOUS!  What grace!

This sounds like stuffy theology? Imputed? Is it really a big deal to be so technical about it?

“No doctrine is more important to evangelical theology than the doctrine of justification by faith alone–the Reformation principle of sola fide. Martin Luther rightly said that the church stands or falls on this one doctrine.” – John MacArthur

Yes, it’s that important. We’re talking, men were burned at the stake rather than deny it important. Ask this guy (Thomas Cranmer) if this it “nitpicky/dry/dead theology”:

So what are some errors here?  Why should we known and guard against them?

Our normal human leaning is to try to DO something to earn or keep our salvation. As crazy as it sounds, man has proven over and over again through the bible and through church history to try to add SOMETHING to faith alone. The Judaizers in the New Testament tried adding elements of the law.  Nearly every cult will add Faith +, faith plus some other act.

Note: We’re talking about justification here. There is hard, ongoing, consistent work (empowered by the Holy Spirit) in ongoing sanctification. Again, confusion between the categories of justification and sanctification is fatal! Why?

Scripture itself makes sola fide the only alternative to a damning system of works-righteousness: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believesin Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5, emphasis added).

In other words, those who trust Jesus Christ for justification by faith alone receive a perfect righteousness that is reckoned to them. Those who attempt to establish their own righteousness or mix faith with works only receive the terrible wage that is due all who fall short of perfection. So the individual as well as the church stands or falls with the principle of sola fide. Israel’s apostasy was rooted in their abandonment of justification by faith alone: “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). 

While this isn’t one of the more exciting subjects, and it’s easy to assume we’ve “got it”, makes it all the more dangerous.  As much as we “know” that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, check yourself. Watch how easy it is for us to bring something other than “the empty hand of faith” and try to add requirements other than faith to salvation. And this, puts us in a category we do NOT want to be in: ”

So, the quick takeaway to keep in mind:  Faith alone in Christ alone. PERIOD.  Anything else added on that is, well….

As always, questions to e-mail at