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Sola Fide (Again)

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.


4 comments on “Sola Fide (Again)

  1. Benjamin Scott
    August 8, 2015

    Great post except I wouldn’t distinguish between moral law and ceremonial law. All the Torah law was given to the Jewish nation as a defining covenant at Sinai, not just the “ceremonial” aspects. And all this same law is fulfilled in Christ so that He’s our new law as we walk according to the pattern of the cross ourselves. by the Spirit, so that we are not under law at all.

    The underlying “moral” assumption of the Bible as a whole is that God is relational more than legal and thus faith is the means by which we know Him. Law was given to define some of the specifics being played out in the sin of lost relationship. Morality is sort of a crude way to express this relationship based primarily in faith. Law is for those who need it, including moral law. For us “all things are lawful but not all are profitable.” For us it’s “to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, etc….”

    I agree with your thoughts. I am just trying to state a refinement of some of the terminology. I don’t find solid concepts or terminology of “moral law” or “ceremonial law” in the Bible.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 8, 2015

      Interesting way of looking at it. However I think that’s heading too far in the other direction. I don’t think that’s what Paul meant by saying “all things are lawful”. He certainly does not think they are if we consider the things he still condemns. Or the things condemned in the New Testament. And what is fulfilled in Christ is the Old Covenant. However his New Covenant still comes with laws and instructions that we ought to obey (hence why the Church can excommunicate and we are called to be holy living, must partake of the Lord’s Supper and baptism etc).

      Also, in regards to moral and ceremonial, I think it’s quite clear because the prohibition of clean and unclean animals, for example, served as a teaching tool in the Old Covenant. And was not wrong in and of itself. While murder still is and would not be moral in the OT or now.

      It is also important because it makes clear the kind of works that Paul days we are exempt from. Which to me seems clear he is not saying our faith is contrary to moral works, but rather the ceremonial aspects. The Galatians controversy and the passage contrasting
      “works”, to “faith working through love” makes that clear. Though I would agree that in regards to the actual law/covenant given, all was one. But we need to be careful in distinguishing it’s various aspects or we’ll end up in a radical antinomianism, which really can only conceptually work if one held to imputed righteousness.

      Yes it was moral in the OT to keep the ceremonial aspect if you were in covenant. But only in a relative sense. For in and of themselves they were not moral, but rather expressed ones moral commitment to Yahweh.

  2. Benjamin Scott
    August 10, 2015

    I largely agree with your reply and especially with your underlying concerns. I don’t want to press the issue as hugely important here other than that I am trying to accurate with the Bible. But I don’t feel the NP on Paul get quite to the heart of the issues in terms of understanding covenants and law in the Bible. I used to espouse it as a helpful break from the Lutheran view, but Reformed Protestant scholars have offered some valid critiques to the NP as well.

    I have also been dialoging with various Adventists recently, and they have an impossible time dealing with this stuff in their attempts to re-establish the Sabbath for Christians, or in the case of one Adventist group, “all Torah except sacrifices.” I’m too consistent for them to be able to overcome because they all divide the Old Covenant into sections and debate with other Protestants on where to divide, saying that Protestants are inconsistent here or there. When someone like me won’t affirm Torah at all, they loose their grip entirely. The NP on Paul has vulnerabilities in this same way. Of course all of this is only relevant from a Sola Scriptura perspective.

    By “all things are lawful” I am not saying that Paul is asserting that no “moral standards” are at play in a Christian’s life but rather that a Christian moves above that realm into a relational one with God in which moral standards become sub-important to the relational. Morality is more a philosophical concept than a Biblical one, in which there is law and then there is relationship. Relationship isn’t much of a Biblical word but it is a Biblical concept which we express in pistis. We’ve “decoded” this stuff into morality, but the decoding and what individuals mean by morality is always different and reflects their own hearts as much as anything else. Relationship transcends morality and engulfs it, always pulling us up into a proper understanding of “morality.”

    Certainly according to 1 Tim. 1, law does condemn ALL who break it. That is its intended purpose and it thus points us to the need for the empowerment of the Spirit in Christ. For the one willing to look to what is profitable and edifies, something higher is at work. It’s like learning to dance. After a while you have to let go of the specific steps and just follow the music. Specifically the OT law is what Paul is triumphing over because it was a whole covenant that is fulfilled in Christ and has freed him up into a race which he’s running to win.

    Now in the 1 Cor. 6 passage the issue of prostitution is brought up, and ironically in the Torah there is no prohibition on visiting unmarried prostitutes which I can locate. Perhaps this is how the Corinthians were feeling the justification for the practice since food and sex seemed similar to them? I don’t know, but in the New Covenant we see a clear understanding that pornea, which includes prostitution, is a sin against one’s own body and is a deed of the flesh which sets one upon the path of destruction. This way of thinking helps to purify the heart in a way that law cannot do with its list of commandments.

    To divide the OT law up into sections, some of which continue and some don’t, is biblically problematic. All of it was moral because it was commanded and nobody could discern differences except by the Spirit, which was not a prominent part of most Jews lives. It does stand and fall as a whole Covenant, as it was given to the Jews exclusively. I think that discerning moral and ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant is possible on hindsight for Christians, since we are now looking through the lens of the New Covenant, but this discernment is a way of thinking about morality and can be biblically problematic as well, if also helpful in discerning purpose in the Old Covenant, as you are doing. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 had the authority to re-iterate and re-establish continuing relevance of certain aspects of that covenant and leave the rest to rest. They had a discernment and authority that we don’t have. And the Bible itself doesn’t really give a standard by which we are to divide the Old Covenant up. It just says that the whole thing is fulfilled in Christ.

    I hope I’m not being repetitive here but again I’m in a rush and don’t have time to go back and refine this. Our faith is not contrary to moral works but it is the only thing which can ensure them! That’s the real ironic thing. As a whole, law did not empower those who followed it. The Spirit does, and this sets us into a realm in which law is never truly violated but rather fulfilled in love. Love sums up the whole law. I am thinking largely of Galations right now where numerous passages affirm this perspective. “Against such things there is no law” is really a big one for me. “Those lead by the Spirit are not under the law.” This doesn’t mean only ceremonial aspects but also includes “moral” aspects. Looking at the moral aspects of the law as standards by which we shall live is a deadening activity which produces legalism and judgment. We now look to Christ and the Spirit.

    I wish I had more time here but I have to get to work. In understanding that the Old Covenant law was replaced by the New Covenant, we understand what the law written on our hearts is, 2 Cor. 3. It’s something mysterious and alive in Christ Himself and takes us entirely out of legalism into passionate love for Himself and those who’s hearts have been quickened by Him. As well as for those whom we are presenting this same message to, in order to quicken them as well. “The love of Christ controls us.” Otherwise we can find ways to justify various behaviors which the law did condemn. Jesus begins this process in the Sermon On The Mount where He internalizes the law against the externalized understanding of His time. But this internalized understanding itself is not a new law but a new way of life which transcends law into relationship.

    Since salvation is about a real and progressive change in us so that on judgment day we are revealed to be righteous, I view these distinctions as highly important. Those who continue to look at law, even as Christians, find their mechanical self judgments and ways of expressing love to be inferior to Christ’s creative genius which is at play in the hearts of those who follow Him. We have the mind of Christ. This stuff works in my life and I am always seeking outlets to pour out. I feel these ideas are clear in the New Testament and undergird a balanced understanding of salvation in which it is our transformation which the cross enacts through our union with Christ. Perhaps all of this is compatible and latent in Orthodox soteriology and understanding of Torah? I don’t know what the range of interpretations are which Orthodoxy allows.

    What I do know is that I am not saying that we are outside of commandments as Christians but only that we have a completely transformed approach to them. Mennonite groups, with whom I have dialog as well, make NT morality a legalistic thing. They establish rules and order in their congregations which involve dress, TV, internet usage, etc…, down to the nitty gritty. This is not what was in mind in the NT commandments we are given.

    Thanks for your dialog and your heart of Christ which we share. I will write more when I can but I have a lot of work on my plate in the near future. Note that I feel upset that my above writing was not as broad in topic as I had hoped. I dialed in to too narrow an area of how this ties together. Oh well.

  3. Pingback: Original Sin | Irish With A Tan

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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