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Sola Fide (Faith alone) teaches that when Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works, he is not speaking of moral works. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, Paul is contrasting faith to the ceremonial works of Law (Torah). That is why there is a constant Jew/Gentile dialetc going on.
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Romans 3:28-30 ESV)”
The use of the phrase *God of the Jews* and *God of the Gentiles* is being used in a covenantal sense, not a general sense. Because God is already the God of all creation.
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, (Psalm 24:1 ESV)”
Paul is saying that now, in order to be part of God’s people, one need not be part of the Mosaic Covenant. Because Christ has come and instituted a New Covenant. Where faith is the only thing needed to participate in, not the works of the Old Covenant like circumcision and animal sacrifice. In fact, Abraham, father of the Israelites, was counted as being part of God’s people, when he believed God’s promise, apart from the Mosaic Law. What kind of faith was this? God promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. And that at his old age, he and Sarah would have a child. Abraham believed that God could bring life from his “dead” body and Sarah’s barren womb. This prefigured the faithfulness of Messiah. Adam by his disobedience brought death to all. Jesus by his obedience brought salvation to God brought salvation to all (immortality). He was obedient even unto death, trusting His Father to resurrect and Glorify Him. That’s why in order to be counted as part of Messiah’s people, we only need faith. Faith in God to give us new life in Jesus Christ. To save us from our sins and from death. To bring resurrection to our soul and body. So Abraham’s faithfulness looks forward to salvation in the death and resurrection of Messiah. Jesus’ faithfulness is what brings salvation by his death and resurrection. And our faithfulness participates in the salvation brought by Messiah by his death and resurrection.
“Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God (Romans 10:4).” To continue in those practices would be a denial of Christ as being the reality of which they spoke for “the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves (Hebrews 10:1).” Now all people are one in Messiah. That’s why Paul says that Peter was betraying the Gospel, because by not eating with the Gentiles, he was brining a division based on ethnicity. A division that denied the work of Messiah which does exactly the opposite.
“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith ind Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:11-15).”
Paul doesn’t contrast faith against moral works. But faith against the old customs. Believers who are united to God, can by the grace of the Holy Spirit do works that please God.
“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:2-6).
Notice the contrast? It’s not faith vs moral works. It’s the customs of the law vs faith. In order to be justified (right with God/part of his people), one no longer needs to hold to the ceremonial Iaw. And in the New Covenant, righteouness isn’t imputed, but actual. As you participate in Christ’s life, He empowers you to be transfor,ed and please God. This is a synergistic work by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:3-9 NIV)
Paul doesn’t contrast faith and personal righteousness but faith and ceremonial righteousness. Aka having to obey the ceremonial law, in order to be counted as having right standing with God. The ceremonial righteousness isn’t a personal one because somebody could follow it to a fault and still not be considered right with God. Aka the Pharisees. If one claims that Paul’s issue with the “works of the law” is about personal righteousness, then faith which is a required prerequisite for imputation, cannot itself be righteous. But this too is false. Faith pleases God.
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness (Psalm 45:6-7).”
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:5-6 ESV)”
That’s why on the imputed righteousness system the faith we contribute is but a tool in order for Christ’s personal righteousness to be imputed to us. Having no intrinsic moral worth. If one concedes that intrinsic righteousness can occur in fallen man by grace, then imputation is not necessary. Not even the issue of perfect righteousness is an obstacle. For everyone believes that some form of purging of our imperfect souls and characters occurs before beatitude. Whether instantaneous at the moment of death. Or a process (being cleansed by Christ’s presence and love/purgatory). Even if one affirms imputation, I doubt they would say we would be fit to enjoy God’s Glory, if this imputation were all that happened. If still the objection is made that they didn’t live life perfectly and so didn’t merit heaven, then they miss the point of Christ by his blood bringing healing and forgiveness of sins. Not by imputation, but by defeating death, which is the result of sin. It also assumes that the essence of heaven was something to be earned, rather than a relationship to be had.
A final objection might be that faith is a gift of God. So even if it is pleasing to Him, it doesn’t count as personal righteousness. To which I say au contraire mon frère (ou soeur). Let’s look at a passage with; things that are gifts of the Spirt, including faith, which require active human participation.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another FAITH by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).”
And of course, we could not leave out such a key verse as Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both [for you] to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Whether one holds to Libertarian free will or not is irrelevant. For it is the human agent who is the subject of both the willing and works which please God. And could not have been done without the empowering of God. Thus it is Spirit empowered personal righteousness.
In closing then, here are the words of a first century Bishop. St Ignatius, third Bishop (from 67AD) of the church that Peter founded in Antioch, disciples by the Apostle John. He later on in the same letter he goes on to condemn those who say believers must adhere to the ceremonial customs.
“Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians) .”
Sounds a lot like Paul saying that those who seek to be justified by the law have fallen from grace. Is Ignatius saying that we do not live according to the moral precepts of the Old Testament? Or the ceremonial customs? Is Paul saying that we are not under God’s moral laws and order? Or the Old Covenant order?
So, Sola Fide is fine. So long as it’s not Sola Fide.