Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sola Fide - By Faith Alone

As mentioned in previous posts, as part of my Christianity study, Pastor Mark is encouraging us to write about the experience and what we are learning.  That is just a good tool/method to use in learning.  Earlier this week, he suggested that we write about one of the five solas that we discussed last Sunday.  Since then, I've been tossing around ideas in my head and trying to pay attention to some materials about the solas in an effort to figure out what to write about.  For instance, I recognized a similarity in Latin terms between bona fide and sola fide.

Last night I happened to do a search on Facebook for Friends meetings.  An exercise in curiosity since the church I attend has its roots in Quakerism.  I didn't really find much (there was a Durham meeting with a fairly active page), but it did lead me to a Wikipedia page about the Religious Society of Friends (and yes, I am well aware of the hazards of using Wikipedia as any kind of authoritative source).  On that page, the authors suggested that some lines of Quakerism reject sola Scriptura and believe instead that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and not necessarily only through the Scripture. That seems like it might be an interesting topic to explore a little further if just in an effort to understand a little bit more about what makes a Quaker a Quaker.

I suppose the proper "scholarly" thing to do would be to come up with some kind of hypothesis about one of the solas and research and write about it.  Pastor Mark sent us a link to a video by D.A. Carson about evangelicism that mentions the solas.  One of the quotes that Mark liked from the video was the idea "It is possible to be an Evangelical confessionally and not be reborn."  Mark asks us who that sounds like and I really have no idea where he is going with that.  Nevertheless, I think that concept is in line with my thoughts about sola fide and what may be a lack of (personal) faith in so many Christians.

I should probably back up a bit though, and touch on that idea of being reborn.  That sounds to me like the concept from the "simple" definition of evangelical that we established.  The simple definition is that evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and in personal conversion.  Personal conversion seems to be similar to "being reborn".  But just what is being reborn?  Could one proclaim to be reborn but not really experience a personal conversion?  How would one know?  Mark has spoken repeatedly about some people who keep "going to the alter" to claim their rebirth and keep repeating that - obviously they are making the confession but not achieving the conversion.

Expanding on the simple definition, we looked at a longer definition of evangelicism that is based on five solas:

  • sola fide - by faith alone

  • sola gracia - only by God's grace

  • sola Scriptura - only by God's word

  • solus Christus - through Christ only

  • soli Deo Gloria - only for the glory of God

From this, we get the idea that one experiences a personal conversion through, among  other tenants, faith alone.  Perhaps on the surface, this is merely a reflection of the reform movement's position that one did not buy or earn their way into Heaven through works.  One could look to the Wikipedia page for some discussion on how this sola fits into the reform movement.  I also did a search and quickly found long expositions (Jesus' Perspective on Sola Fide, John MacArthur and Sola Fide: Does It Really Matter, Dr. John H. Armstrong) that claim sola fide is the central tenant to evangelical Christianity.  They cite numerous examples in the Bible that support this idea, such as these words of Jesus from John 5:24:

24Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

The question I am more interested in is, assuming one accepts that faith alone is necessary to achieve eternal life, how do you really achieve faith?  In my case, I think I have achieved that inner personal belief that my faith is sufficient.  By extension, while I am always looking out for ways to perform "works", it is not in an effort to shore up my faith or balance it out in case my faith is not enough.  Rather, I think it is because of my faith that I end up engaging in "works".

And one of the interesting byproducts of my faith seems to be a peace with this world.  So many people seem to be worried about so much stuff on both a personal level and at other levels (e.g. political, social).  But if one has faith and really believes that through that faith they will achieve eternal life, is there really any need to worry?  This seems to be a bit of the question that Dr. Carson raises in the video.

Have I really figured anything out?  Or just rambled a bit?

Update: I guess it is a good thing this is more of a free flowing type of writing that can be edited and updated as time goes on.  As I finished up some studying tonight, I remembered two things about sola fide that I thought should be included.  One courtesy my own memory, one thanks to a prompt from Pastor Mark in the form of notes from last week.

First, in my notes I ran across something I had scribbled down about sola fide - that a good verse to point to as its source is Ephesians 2:8 -
8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

It seems like it actually combines both sola fide and sola gracia.  "Saved through faith" seems to be pretty clear.  On my own I happened to stumble upon this passage from 1 Timothy 1:12 -
12I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,

As noted in that passage, Christ Jesus rewarded Paul as he had been faithful.  And it makes me wonder whether God, in some very small way, led me to find that passage?

The other thing I had wanted to mention goes back to the book If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat by John Ortberg, which I read last fall.  The book focuses on the story of Peter walking on water when Jesus calls to him from the storm.  Peter's faith in Jesus enables him to walk on water.  But on his way, the following occurs:
30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him,  "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. - Matthew 14:30-32

Notice what was important to keeping Peter from sinking? Faith. And when he started to doubt, he started to sink.  Fortunately for him, Jesus was right there to take hold of him.  As I had touched on earlier, it seems in this day, there are many Christians who worry about all kinds of issues.  It makes me wonder if they have lost their faith, which is going to lead to them sinking.  So the Reformers, based on the little bit I read, seemed to focus on the concept of sola fide as a way to counter the position of the established church (ie the Roman Catholic church) that "works" were also necessary.  But over time it seems the focus has shifted somewhat to being part of the "personal conversion" experience.  And as Dr. Carson noted, it seems we may have some who confess to being converted, but perhaps in reality have not yet reached that point. I would agree and it seems that may be part of the reason why some Christians don't seem to be able to experience the peace of their faith.

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