“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
“Faith alone” is not about faith.
“Faith alone,” sola fide in Latin, is one of the four great “solas” of the Reformation. (Sola is Latin for “alone,” as, for example, a “soloist” is one who sings alone.) The other three “solas”—“grace alone,” “Scripture alone,” “Christ alone”—are about grace, Scripture, and Christ: God’s undeserved love, not anything in us, moved God to save us (grace); God’s Word, not traditions or ideas of men, teach us everything necessary for salvation (Scripture); God’s Son did all the work of saving the world by His life, death, and resurrection (Christ).
But “faith alone” isn’t about faith.
Oh, certainly, “faith alone” means that we receive our salvation by faith. But “faith alone” isn’t at all intended to direct our attention to our own faith. Many people stress a great deal about faith: “What exactly is faith?” “What does faith feel like?” “Do I really have faith? I don’t always feel all that excited about Jesus and about going to church and about reading my Bible. Lots of times I do things that I know are sinful. So do I really have faith, whatever it is?” “Is my faith strong enough? I have lots of doubts. My faith must not be strong enough when I worry so much.” A great deal of stress about faith.
The problem, you see, is that if “faith alone” were all about faith, it would really be all about me. Look back at the paragraph before. Who are those questions about? “Do I have faith?” “I don’t always feel excited.” “I’m sinful.” “Is my faith strong enough?” “I have doubts, worries.” All about me. If we think it’s all about faith, we tend to look inside ourselves.
What “faith alone” really does, what faith itself does, in fact, is look away from me, look away from faith.
In a very real sense, the Reformation burst upon the world when Martin Luther, studying the book of Romans, first “got it” about faith—got this, about faith. “In [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). Faith, Luther realized, is precisely a matter of looking away from oneself for salvation. When we say “faith alone,” the “alone” part is what it’s all about—alone, as in “apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28). As in, our salvation has absolutely nothing to do with me, with my good works, with what I do—or even about how strong my faith is. “Faith alone” isn’t about faith and all those “me questions,” because faith isn’t about anything in me.
So then, what is the faith part in “faith alone”? It’s this: faith is simply passively (that means doing nothing!) passively receiving what God has done to save us in Christ Jesus. Faith despairs of anything in ourselves, simply lives with the reality that I have nothing whatsoever to do or offer to God for my salvation, and that’s okay because He has indeed done everything. Faith is nothing but the helpless slob on whom is showered God’s grace, that undeserved love acted out in Jesus going to the cross.
Look back again at the paragraph near the beginning of this devotion about the other three “solas.” Who are those about? God moved to save us by His grace alone; God’s Word, Scripture, revealing all we need to know; God’s Son, Jesus Christ, doing all the work of saving us. That doesn’t leave much for faith to do. It doesn’t leave anything for faith to do.
That’s the point.