Historical Protestantism (particularly in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions) have since the Magisterial Reformation held to two doctrines relating what is required of an individual for salvation.

The first is the doctrine of Sola Fide, meaning "by faith alone". This principle states that salvation is not by works of man, but by faith in Christ. In fact, not only are works insufficient to merit salvation on their own, they account for not even a portion of our salvation--it is, rather, wholly through faith in Christ.

The second doctrine was worked out by Luther and put into its present form by his collaborator and successor, Melancthon. This doctrine is simply a definition of faith, or sometimes known as the three aspects of faith--as such, it is intended to explain what is required of the "faith" for salvation "by faith alone". The doctrine has three steps:

  1. notitia One must know the basic information (or "content") such as Christ's death and resurrection.
  2. assensus One must agree that the basic information is correct. In other words, he/she must not only have heard that Christ died and rose again, but they must believe that he did do that.
  3. fiducia One must trust in Christ, and rest on the knowledge that the content to which he/she assented is sufficient to save.

It is this last piece--fiducia--that I struggle with reconciling with the concept of Sola Fide. Scripture makes clear that these first two points are insufficient (James 2:19), and on the face of it, it makes sense that we must trust in Christ for our salvation.

Where I struggle is that fiducia puts faith in functional terms. This means that, although in theory, I trust in Christ for my salvation, I don't always do so in practice.

Here's an example: I'm can be a bit of a control freak, and sometimes yell at my wife in trying to assert my control. I am not loving her as I'm commanded to do so, and it stems from my pride. Although I think I trust in Christ for my salvation, my actions show that I am considering another functional 'gospel' (control) of 'salvation' and another function 'god' (myself) that will effect that 'salvation'.

When I stop and think about it, I know that I am no god, and that my gospel is no gospel, but I do stumble and my actions reveal my heart. In fact, I would argue (and Luther has) that every sin follows such a pattern.

To come at the problem more directly, this notion of fiducia makes my faith dependent upon my works, whereas "Sola Fide" asserts that salvation is through faith and not works. How does this puzzle fit together?

  • Related (but different) question: What is faith?
    – jimreed
    Oct 21, 2011 at 13:59
  • And: What is saving faith? Mar 13, 2015 at 21:30
  • "To come at the problem more directly, this notion of fiducia makes my faith dependent upon my works, whereas "Sola Fide" asserts that salvation is through faith and not works. How does this puzzle fit together?" - I am struggling to understand what the precise nature of the problem is. Why does what you have spoken about make faith dependant on works? Can you explain this a bit more, because at the moment I cannot see why you have asked the question. May 28, 2019 at 18:27
  • "Where I struggle is that fiducia puts faith in functional terms. This means that, although in theory, I trust in Christ for my salvation, I don't always do so in practice." - What do you mean by this also? Faith in Christ is the root of obedience. If I disobey, such as while trying to control my wife, I deny my faith, I act contrary to my faith, but do not lose my faith. We all sin every day in all sorts of ways: these act contrary to our faith but do not destroy our faith. It's a perfect Saviour, not a perfect faith, which saves. May 29, 2019 at 13:27

5 Answers 5


The apparent contradiction stems from a misunderstanding of "works," and specifically of what Paul wrote about them. Two passages in particular tend to cause a lot of confusion:

Romans 10:9

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Ephesians 2: 8-9

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Some people have taken this to mean that salvation comes by some simple act of claiming faith and that after this, the person is saved and salvation is not affected by a person's works. This is a very bad notion, because of what you get when you take it to its logical conclusion: "I have free license to sin because I'm saved and what I do doesn't matter!"

This isn't a hypothetical problem, either. Here's what Richard Hill, an 18th century Wesleyan theologian, had to say on the subject:

"God sees no sin in believers whatever sin they commit... adultery, incest and murder shall, upon the whole, make me holier on earth and merrier in heaven."

This notion is in direct contradiction to the words of the Savior, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, where he taught that not only do sinful actions put us in spiritual danger, but also sinful thoughts. Of particular interest are his words at the conclusion of the sermon:

Matthew 7: 21-23

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

In verses 22 and 23, the Savior reaffirms that works of righteousness do not bring salvation if the person's heart is not in the right place and they do not truly know Jesus, but in verse 21, we see what appears to be a direct contradiction of Romans 10: 9.

James 2, which has already been quoted, states that faith without works is dead and cannot bring salvation. Peter warned his readers about misinterpreting Paul and wresting the scriptures to their own destruction. And John, in Revelation, makes it clear that in the resurrection we will all be judged according to our works.

So here we have Jesus himself, and also Peter, James and John, the three most trusted of his apostles, all contradicting the simplistic notion of salvation by faith alone and without works. Faced with this, we must either condemn Paul as a heretic, or seek an alternate interpretation, and I don't particularly think Paul was a heretic.

Let's look at Romans 10: 9 first. Remember that he was writing to Roman Christians, subject to Roman law, which wasn't all that favorable to Christianity at that point, to put it mildly. Being willing to confess belief in Christ with your lips was no simple thing the way it is today; it was exposing yourself to persecution and possibly even death simply for the sake of your religion. That's quite a difficult thing to do, even for someone with a lot of faith!

Then we have the passage from Ephesians, where Paul states that salvation comes from faith and the grace of God, and "not of works, lest any man should boast." Reading the context makes it clear that the works he is talking about are the works of the Law of Moses, through which Jews could find a focus for their faith and obtain salvation before it was fulfilled in Christ. The explanation in verse 9 can be understood in that context by reading Luke 18:

Luke 18: 9-14

9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

There were those in Jewish society then, as there have always been and still are in every civilization, who boasted of their piety and outward good works and thought that what they did made them better than others. Paul is making it clear that that attitude will score you zero points with the Lord, that even with good works and acts of righteousness, you are still a sinner and nothing you do can undo your past. Only through God's grace can you find forgiveness for your sins.

So we see that good works do not bring salvation in and of themselves, but also that professions of faith that are not backed up with actual righteous living "is dead, being alone," as James put it. Fiducia is a principle that bridges the gap, basically equivalent to the Savior's exhortation, "if you love me, keep my commandments," or James's explanation that we show our faith by our works. A person with true faith will not simply sit around believing that they believe, but will go out and live the Gospel, doing good works out of love for God and love for their fellow men and striving to come always a little bit closer to fulfilling the ultimate commandment, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

  • 3
    This is clearly a thorough and well-thought-out answer. It does answer a different question than the one being asked, however.
    – Ray
    Oct 21, 2011 at 18:33
  • 2
    @Ray: I disagree - you asked concerning a conflict between your stated faith and your actions, saying that your actions belie your faith. Mason has quite adequately demonstrated from scripture that a simplistic understanding of Sola Fide fails to take into account the whole revelation of scripture, wherein in your seeming dilemma arises.
    – user32
    Oct 21, 2011 at 18:42

The question of whether the act of having faith constitutes a "work" in opposition to sola fide was considered by Karl Barth. He firmly identifies sola fide as "the opposition of faith to all and every work [...] no human work as such either is or includes man's justification (not even the work of faith as such)." 1

He explicitly disclaims the idea that we can "self-justify" by possessing faith:

"Justification by faith" cannot mean that instead of his customary evil works and in place of all kinds of supposed good works man chooses and accomplishes the work of faith, in this way pardoning and therefore justifying himself. As his action, the action of sinful man, faith cannot do this.

Nor does it make any odds whether a man means by faith a mere knowledge and intellectual understanding of the divine work and judgement and revelation and pardon (notitia), or an assent of the mind and will to it, the acceptance as true of that which is proclaimed as the truth of this work of God (assensus), or finally a heart's trust in the significance of this work for him (fiducia). It is not in and with all this that a man justifies himself, that he pardons himself, that he sets himself in that transition from wrong to right, from death to life, that he makes himself the subject of that history, the history of redemption. 1

The language of "subject" and "object" is important here. The object of faith - Jesus Christ - already exists, and having faith does not change the fact of his existence, nor the saving work that he has already accomplished. We are the "subjects" who do the believing, but that faith is always to be understood as coming from above:

[The believer] has not created his own faith; the Word has created it. He has not come to faith; faith has come to him through the Word. He has not adopted faith; faith has been granted to him through the Word. [...] Man acts as he believes, but the fact that he believes as he acts is God's act. Man is the subject of faith. Man believes, not God. But the fact that man is this subject in faith is bracketed as a predicate of the subject God, bracketed in the way that the Creator encloses the creature and the merciful God sinful man. 2

If we thought that we were achieving justification (or even sanctification) under our own power, that would deny the necessary humility which is a component of true Christian faith: "Man can glory neither in his faith nor in his works." 3

In becoming the "subject" of faith, we are reinvented or regenerated by God, in a "mutual indwelling". This process will not be accomplished instantaneously, and fiducia is not seen as the cause so much as it is one of the means by which it takes place:

Trustful faith is the appropriate counterpart to the fidelity of God as actualized and revealed in His judgement and verdict, and it is particularly an imitatio Christi insofar as the obedience of humility is a true reflection of divine condescension, a human re-enactment, a human mimesis and imitation. Not as if this human re-enactment itself justifies man, since all of this is merely man's doing, yet without this re-enactment faith would not be justifying faith, and would not be a concrete response to Christ. 3

In summary, there is a real problem to be reconciled. Barth achieves the reconciliation by a strong commitment to sola fide; he uses the three aspects of "realization", "acknowledgement" and "acceptance" but does not believe that they can cause justification independently of God's choice. Rather, they are part of the means of the working out of our salvation: by them, we respond to God's call, and through the process of achieving faith we are regenerated according to God's design.

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, "Justification by faith alone".
2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1, "The Word of God and faith".
3 Hans Küng, Justification: the doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic reflection, ch. 15 "Through faith alone", 1964 (translation of Collins, Tolk and Granskou).


I'm a little late to the game, but I hope you'll let me take a stab at your question. But please let me speak a little bit longer because you really seem to be asking two questions. First, what is the essence of faith? Second, why don't I seem to have it?

Let's tackle faith and fiducia. While it is sometimes useful to speak of the classical distinction between scientia, assentia & fiducia, the essence of faith is fiducia. Fiducia is confidence and trust (Hebrews 11:1). Both the hebrew verb (אמן) and the greek verb (πιστευω) mean 'to trust.' Faith does not mean "make a decision for." The greek and hebrew have a verb for choosing (e.g. εκλεγομαι). That is not this verb. While it is true that the person trusts, it is important to understand that this confidence (fiducia, πιστις) is a gift from God. Specifically, this confidence is given to us through God's word (Rom. 10:17; 1 pet 1:23, James 1:17 et seq.) This is the whole thrust of Luther's "sola fide" emphasis. The only tool which receives the salvation that Jesus won for the world on the cross (οργανον ληπτικον) is faith (again, not a work I do, but a gift of confidence and trust God give me through his word)(sola fide). The only tool that gives faith is the scriptures (οργανον δοτικον) (sola scriptura). The only motivation God had for taking away our sin is found in his undeserved love for us—by grace alone (sola gratia)

Ok, so through God's word he gives me faith in the Triune God. If that's the case, then why don't I act like it? This hits on a different issue, but an important one. We are simul justus et peccator (at the same time sinner and saint). Paul in Romans 7 speaks about the fact that he wants to do good and avoid evil, but yet doesn't. This is because when God creates faith in our heart he doesn't eradicate the unbeliever. It still is there in every Christian waging war inside every day (gal 2:20; Gal 5:17). The fact that we sin (and to borrow Luther's words: daily sin much!) is not proof that we have lost our faith. It only proves that we are sinners in need of God's forgiveness. We know that we have faith not by looking inside of us. Instead we know that we have faith (fiducia) by following a simple, but important flow of thought: 1) Jesus died for the sins of the entire world (1 peter 3:18; 2 for 5, 1 John 2:2, et al). 2) If Jesus died and paid for the sins of the entire world, then he died for my sins. 3) If I understand this at all and find any joy in the fact it is the Holy Spirit that has caused this through his word—not my work, so that from beginning to end both salvation and conversion (the moment that God made me a believer in Jesus) are God's work.

You initially asked your question in a Lutheran context. As a Lutheran pastor, I thought it would be a good idea to answer your question as best as I could.

Pastor Steve Bauer (http://stevebauer.us)


The act of surrendering yourself to God is not works. It is the consent of the mind and heart to allow His Holy Spirit to work in you, and therefore render allegiance to God.

Works are the outward actions of a person, therefore the fruits of faith. But a person is not saved by his fruits, he is saved because inwardly he is changed.

A faithful Christian will always have fruits, therefore "faith without works is dead".

However, salvation is not because of his fruits, he is saved because of his reliance on Jesus to transform him, and salvation is an unmerited gift.


To me, the answer is apparent from Ephesians 2:8-9. Given that one’s deed is not required to receive God’s gift of grace, the fundamental question is therefore "what is this faith, how* do we say or proclaim this faith and to whom should we proclaim this faith?" It can be argued that the Lord's Prayer itself is the proclamation of our faith in the fulfillment of the will of the Father in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is our Christian Creed, taught by no sinful mortal, but by Jesus Christ himself.

An excellent source is the book "The Creed of Christ: An Interpretation of The Lord's Prayer" by Gerald Heard (1889 - 1971). A well-known author, philosopher and lecturer, Heard studied history and theology at the University of Cambridge, graduating with honours in history. He lectured from 1926 to 1929 for Oxford University's extramural studies programme. More information about him can be sourced from Wikipedia.

In the book, Heard describes The Lord's Prayer as the "real creed of Christianity." On page 6 of his book, he writes:

QUOTE (any mistake is mine): At the heart of the Gospels there is, however, one other thing. Beside the new Commandments, beside the new Law, more lovely but far more exacting than the old, there is, put more briefly and tersely, a master-instruction, a set of key-rules as to how that Law may be kept. There is only one passage in the biographies more central than the Sermon on the Mount. It is more central because it is the root from which the action ordered by the Sermon must spring, because it shows the source of power without which the Sermon, the Beatitudes, remain a magnificent but impossible demand, a splendid promise which cannot be fulfilled. That passage is therefore rightly called by a supreme title, the Lord's Prayer. UNQUOTE

Heard goes on to link faith and the Lord's Prayer (for example, as implied by the following passage, page 94):

QUOTE: It is so against the grain of our present nature to realize that any right prayer must first and foremost be something which alters the self, a process whereby desire is transcended and the will transmuted."Bread of the Coming Day...My bread is to do the Will of Him Who sent me." How are we to do that will which is so different from ours? Are we not here involved in a vicious cycle? To live as God would have us live His eternal Life we have to do His will, but to do His will we have to become part of his Life. As long as we are self-willed, motivated by our wills, we do our wills, not His. UNQUOTE

I strongly recommend the book that masterfully examines the Lord's Prayer and raises it to the level where it should be - our Creed.

  • Could you provide more detail, and perhaps cite some evangelical theologians who argue this way? Nov 19, 2018 at 13:49
  • Thank you Nathaniel. I have added a reliable source in my answer above. Nov 20, 2018 at 23:43

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