Please help me get Sola Fide out of my head once and for all!

Hey all,

I’m so close to leaving Protestantism. I know it’s false, but I just need an extra push or something (plus my wife is having a really hard time with my wanting to go back to the Church). One thing that I keep going back to over and over is “what if Sola Fide is true?”

One Protestant argument that I frequently hear is that “James doesn’t actually prove faith + works. James is saying that a faith that is not evidenced by works is dead. So, if you say you believe but you don’t have any works, you probably don’t have saving faith. If you do have saving faith, it will be shown by the works that you do.” How would you refute that?

Something interesting that I got from Jimmy Akin:

  1. Justification is clearly seen as a past event in scripture:
    a. Romans 5:1-2
    b. Romans 5:9
    c. 1 Cor 6:11

  2. But Abraham was justified multiple times:
    a. Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” - Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:5
    b. By Faith (Heb 11:2), Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out…" Heb
    11:8. This is saving faith. This event was originally recorded in
    Genesis 12:1-4, 3 chapters before he was justified in Genesis 15:6. So,
    Abraham was already justified well before he was justified in Genesis

If Abraham had saving faith back in Genesis 12, he was justified back in Genesis 12. But, Paul clearly tells us that he was also justified in Genesis 15. The event in James 2:21-23 occurred much later, in Genesis 22, where Abraham was justified again. So, Abraham was justified before God at least 3 times.

That has helped me see that justification is not just a one-time event but, for some reason, it’s like I keep forgetting these objections to Sola Fide and start thinking “maybe the Protestants are right.” I just want to be over it once and for all.

1 Corinthians 13:2
. . . and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

I’m not going to pretend that by love Paul simply means humanitarian and philanthropic works. And I know he’s not speaking of justification, either. He speaks of a deep, implicit love of man and God, allowing God’s love to live in us. Yet we can have all faith, and it can be nothing.

Or as James points out, even the demons have faith in who Jesus is, but they are still damned.

Catholicism largely uses the word faith to represent an intellectual assent, not simply a “living faith” as many protestants, do. But simply adjusting how we describe faith, reconciling the Catholicism and Protestant disagreement by removing talk of works isn’t the answer, either. Catholicism believes that we are not simply swept up by God, but that we must of our own will choose to cooperate with him, and this willful cooperation in how we live our lives is, to some degree, works. The merit of any of these works is not our own but a gift from God, but we do have the choice to cooperate or not, to choose to do, not simply acknowledge.

Some other quotes on works:
*Matthew 25: 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 7: 21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, **but he who does the will of my Father who is 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 mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

Just curious, what communion are you a member of? I’m a Lutheran, and I can’t for the life of me remember a singular event or moment of justification. I know that faith had it’s start in my baptism, a month and a day after I was born, but I know that I have grown in grace for 61 years since.

The Lutheran Reformers believed that justification was the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls. If you believe that the Catholic Church better expresses this, you are clearly being called to it. Be blessed there, in word and sacrament.


Thanks, Wesrock.

See, I get all that. But the problem is, the Protestant will then come back and say:

Matthew 7: 21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is 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 mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’…

Yes, but Jesus is saying that the fact that one is saved is shown by their doing the Father’s will - this isn’t saying that the “doing” is what saves you, but rather, the fact you’re saved causes you to “do.”

It’s that precise response that I have such a hard time refuting. It seems like no matter how you try to frame the argument, the response is some variation of “your works show that you’re saved.”

It sounds like your tradition says that once God has saved you, you lose all control in the matter.

And also that salvation is a one time event that occurs at some moment in your life. Essentially, a once saved, always saved tradition.

What if they are wrong? By being in the Church, you are sort of insuring you are covered either way… right?


God Bless You!

I don’t know if I’d even call it “my tradition” at this point. I’m 98% convinced it’s incorrect and am almost ready to come home (ex-Catholic) but I keep hitting this sticking point.

It’s a reformed Baptist church, so it’s Calvinist.

It sounds like your tradition says that once God has saved you, you lose all control in the matter.

And also that salvation is a one time event that occurs at some moment in your life. Essentially, a once saved, always saved tradition.

They do say that, but they don’t. There’s a heavy emphasis on God’s sovereignty and predestination. But if I put it the way you have, they’d reject that. Almost as if any good thing we do is not attributable to us at all, but to God. But any bad thing we do is attributable to us. In their theology, it’s all the work of the Holy Spirit when you do any good.

Yes, it’s OSAS.

It’s reformed Baptist. They definitely do teach a single justification, which happens when you accept Christ.

I get what you’re saying, but they’d say “well, he has accepted a false doctrine. Obviously he was never saved in the first place.” They’ve got to save this, otherwise they’d have painted themselves into a corner with OSAS.

Without knowing you or your parish, my knee jerk reaction is to change because of a lack of recognition of the sacraments.

We grumpy Lutherans are just an embarrassment to other protestants. :shrug:


Oh I agree. When I read the Didache and other early texts and realized that the early Christians believed in the Real Presence, I was taken aback. How could they completely disregard historical evidence like this?

God speed you on your faith journey.


Some Catholic perspective on salvation and OSAS may be helpful, too:’s-not-over-‘til-it’s-over

Since you have experience in a Reformed tradition, this article by Jimmy Akin on TULIP may also be a good read:

The author of these last two is himself a convert from a Reformed tradition.

I think this journal will help you…written by former protestants…

This article in the journal helped me alot in understanding the prostestant position:

Justification By Faith
By Dr. William Marshner

Stages of Justification
Catholic and Protestant views on the respective roles of grace, faith and works cannot be compared meaningfully, unless one specifies what stage of the justificational process one is talking about. In the preparatory stage, for instance, in which prevenient graces first stir a person towards an interest in religious truth, towards repentance, and towards faith, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists are at one in saying “sola gratia.”2 A second stage is the very transition from death to life, which is the first stage of justification proper. Here the parties are at one in saying “sola fide,” though they seem to mean different things by it. Protestants tend to mean that, at this stage, by the grace of God, man’s act of faith is the sole act required of him; Catholics mean that faith is the beginning, foundation and root of all justification, since only faith makes possible the acts of hope and charity (i.e. love-for-God) which are also required.3 However, since most Protestants have a broad notion of the act of faith, whereby it includes elements of hope and love, it is often hard to tell how far the difference on this point is real and how far it is a matter of words. Finally, however, there comes a third stage, that of actual Christian life, with its problems of growth and perseverance. The man justified by faith is called to “walk” with God, to progress in holiness. It is at this stage that the parties sharply diverge. Catholics affirm, and Protestants strenuously deny, that the born-again Christian’s good works merit for him the increase of grace and of the Christian virtues. As a result, Protestant piety has no obvious place for the self- sacrifices, fasts, and states of perfection which are prominent features of Catholic piety. At each stage, neither the apparent agreements nor the apparent disagreements can be understood without looking at certain metaphysical quarrels, the chief of which is over the very existence of what
Catholics call “grace.”

The Protestant Reformers, however, impatient with metaphysics, preferred not to cope with such an entity and denied its existence.4 To them it seemed simpler to say that grace is something wholly in God, namely, His favor towards us. But then, if grace is not something real in man, our “justification” can no longer be conceived as a real change in us; it will have to become a sheer declaration on God’s part, e.g. a declaration that, thanks to the work of Christ, He will henceforth consider us as just, even though we remain inwardly the sinners we always were. Hence, the Protestant doctrine of “forensic” or “extrinsic” justification. Now watch what happens to our own act of faith: it ceases to be the foundational act of an interior renewal and becomes a mere requirement, devoid of any salvific power in its own right, which God arbitrarily sets as the condition on which He will He will declare us just. Whereupon, watch what happens to our good works: they cease to be the vital acts wherein an ontologically real “new life” consists and manifests itself; they become mere human responses to divine mercy—nice, but totally irrelevant to our justification—or else they become zombie-like motions produced in us by irresistible divine impulses, whereby God exhibits His glory in His elect.

Often Catholics and Protestants are speaking two different languages. In a certain Catholic sense, justification is a one-time event because once you are in a state of sanctifying grace (by coming to God in faith and baptism), you are considered a child of God. However much an individual grows in personal holiness (sanctification or progressive justification), that individual is fundamentally a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter says.

The Catholic Church wants to emphasize that just by coming to faith in Christ, salvation is not a done-deal. You may believe but end up bearing no fruit, and so end up like the demons – even they believe (James 2). As Christ says, you will be cut off of Him, the vine, if you do not truly bear fruit. If your belief in God is an adherence to His will and so coupled with love for God, which is the greatest virtue (Paul says it’s the greatest out of the three faith, hope, and love). It is not those who simply proclaim Christ as “Lord,” but those who actually do the will of the Lord.

The belief is NOT that there is a certain number of good works that need to be done in order to be saved. It’s not as if God sets all your works on a scale to determine whether you have mostly acted good or bad. Good works do not gain you points in a game to win salvation. Rather, because good works originate in from the supernatural life of God and are wholly due to the prompting of His grace, good works are able to align us closer to God: They make our Love for God stronger, more intense. because God IS love, the more we love Him and the more our will is aligned with His, the more we become partakers of the divine nature. Catholicism as well as all historic Christian faiths, such as the Orthodox churches, see salvation as a real transformation. The Eastern churches refer to this process as theosis, which consists in a transformative process by which the Christian becomes more like God, sharing in his nature.

Protestant historian Alister McGrath says:


"The significance of the Protestant distinction between justification and regeneration is that ** a fundamental discontinuity has been introduced into the western theological tradition where none had existed before. **


Another Protestant scholar, Philip Schaff:


[LEFT]If any one expects to find in this period [100-325], or in any of the church fathers, Augustin himself not excepted, the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, . . . he will be greatly disappointed . . . Paul’s doctrine of justification, except perhaps in Clement of Rome, who joins it with the doctrine of James, is left very much out of view, and awaits the age of the Reformation to be more thoroughly established and understood.[/LEFT]


I want to answer by providing some biblical evidence of the general Catholic view of the overall picture of justification by grace through faith and works and a the true nature of saving faith.

[INDENT] 1. God works through us. "And each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:8-9).

  1. We are not saved by merely human works. But once in a relationship with God, works are of a different sort: He provides the grace to make such works fruitful and meritorious with regards to one’s salvation: “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…” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

  2. Once in the state of justification, we have received the Spirit and become adopted children of God. Good works now proceed from God’s spirit. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received*** the spirit of sonship***. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).

  3. Truly partaking in the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:3-4) and given the Spirit, we can do good works. It is through our actions that God’s will becomes operative. “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9). And as Romans 6:22 makes clear, such sanctification leads to eternal life: “…But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification, and its end is eternal life" (Romans 6:21-22).

Jesus plainly tells that an individual must bear fruit to enter Heaven. Simply acknowledging Christ as Lord is not enough: we must do the will of God: “By their fruits you will know them. …A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. “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.” (Matthew 7:16-21)

  1. Of course, the judgment scenes scream works as the basis of where one will spend his or her eternal destination: “…God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness.” (Romans 2:5-8)
    The Bible is clear that we have absolutely no claim on God. It is His initiative–His mercy. We do not do anything of ourselves to “get right” with God; but by His grace, in the initial process of conversion, we do believe, repent, and be baptized, as He said to do. The consequence of this is that we are His children. We have his very presence in us–His Spirit in our spirit. Our nature has been uplifted by the virtue of Charity (without this, Paul would be “nothing,” remember?). God’s grace reigns in our souls. Now, being in the Family of God, as adoptive children, God inspires us more and more to grow in grace. From that moment of conversion, we are justified so long as we don’t turn our backs on Him. Good works make us mature Christians: They increase Charity and Grace in our souls–making us more God-like, so-to-speak.

Good works justify us precisely because of this progressive nature of growing in grace. Saying good works justify does not mean that there is some set number of works one must do to be saved; rather, it means that in one’s already state of justification, he/she increasingly becomes–by God’s grace–holy. So ultimately, eternal life is definitely based on a promise coming from God, and this promise is renewed everytime someone chooses God’s will inspired by God’s grace.

NOTE that the ONLY place faith alone appears in the New Testament is in James 2, where it is condemned: “We are justified by works and not by faith alone.” Protestants will have their own interpretation of this passage, saying that the justification mentioned is not the justification of becoming right with God; rather, it’s the justification before men of the “evidence” that one is right with God. However, I do not think this works, for James seems to be writing in an attempt to clarify Paul’s doctrine on justification, which was a term used to describe the salvation-sense (and not the evidence before men). Plus, James uses the example of Abraham sacrificing his son as justification based on works. BUT if this was a justification of evidence before men, who was there on the mountain to receive that evidence? Etc.

Aren’t they trying to make a distinction where there is no difference?

As James said, don’t tell me you have faith, even the demons believe and they shudder… James said show me you have faith by what you do.

Salvation / justification, is a process. It’s not stagnant. It’s not once and done.

Justification: Process or One-Time Deal?

I have come to see the truth in this. For instance one could hardly be said to be justified by works when one first becomes a Christian. Faith alone could be said to be true when one is baptized since one receives initial justification by grace and through faith, not by works, as Eph 2:8 states. (In fact the council of Trent says that neither faith or works merit our initial justification but is a gift freely given by God’s good grace). However, as the church teaches, this initial justification can grow from someone who does works of grace in love (after they have already been put right with God into a state of grace). This doesn’t mean they are earning their salvation. Salvation is not just being saved from something but also saved for something. We for instance are saved from hell through being put into a state of grace and initial justification through baptism and confession. This is a gift, and it can not be earned through doing works. Since no one can merit anything in a state of mortal sin. But, we are also being saved for heaven. And, no one enters heaven until they have been made holy. Which requires repentance and conversion to holiness. This is a process that for some of us may not be completed in this life but in purgatory.

For Protestants they don’t have this place of purification after death. So being saved from hell is the same thing as going to heaven. Christ’s death on the Cross applied to us in the Sacraments is enough to save us from hell. It is enough to forgive our sins and put us in a place of peace with God. However, the power of God through the Sacraments is also about transforming us into the image of Christ. That is part of salvation from sin. Jesus said he who sins is a slave to sin. Christ has died to set us free. We don’t enter into heaven until we have been completely freed from sin. As Scripture says no one in heaven will be sinning. So something must happen to change us before we get there. And, since God does not remove our free will that change must be in our own mind, heart, and will.

An anology from Fr. Mitch Pacwa is the dung hills in the German countryside. Luther saw the dung hills and how they were covered by snow in the winter. He likened that to how a person is justified, that we are covered by Christ. Yet, underneath we are really just stinking feces. But, God doesn’t see that, only the snow. Pacwa says that is how Luther saw it, but the Catholic says that it would not be merciful for God to leave us as snow covered dung hills. Instead, he plants flowers in us such that eventually we are transformed from a dung hill into a bed of flowers.

Another analogy from Scott Hahn is the man on death row. The Protestant idea of justification is like a man on death row being pardoned from his offense and allowed to go free. However, the man is also suffering from a terminal disease. So pardoning his offense isn’t completely merciful. Since he is going to die anyways. Hahn says in Catholic justification God not only pardons the offense but he also heals the disease. The disease of sin in us so that we can be completely cured of the thing that got us into prison in the first place. This is part of the salvation process. Since we are indeed being saved from something and being made fit for the kingdom of God.

Come home for the Eucharist, the Sacraments. If they really are what they claim to be then they can not fail to be efficacious for the one duly disposed to receive them. As love never fails according to 1 Cor 13. Then you may see the answer more clearly from inside the church then from without.

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