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Sola Fide—Faith Alone

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 3:21–22

Our own righteousness can never gain us acceptance before God. But that which we lack, He provides through faith in Jesus Christ—the righteousness of God Himself. What a glorious gift He has given to unworthy sinners like us.


I will never forget standing with my wife in a beautiful park in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. We stood there gazing at the Reformation Wall, a memorial wall that stretches 300 feet long and rises 30 feet high.

Carved into the stone wall are statues of ten men, including John Calvin, William Farel, and Theodore Beza. They were leaders of the Protestant Reformation. They brought the church in Europe out of the Dark Ages by telling the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chiseled into the stone of that wall are the Latin words that mean “After darkness, light.”

One of the key doctrines that had been all but lost in the corrupt Roman church was fanned back into flame by these brave reformers. After centuries of darkness in church history, it gave birth to the Protestant church. And that key doctrine—which still separates false religion from the truth—is the doctrine of sola fide.

Sola fide is Latin for “faith alone,” and it refers to the doctrine of justification—how one is declared right with God. How can anybody be right with God? How can you really be sure you are going to heaven, and how do you get there? It is by faith alone.

Martin Luther, the converted monk and university professor in Wittenburg, Germany, was the spark of light—a persistent voice that called the corrupted church back to the Bible. He wrote this, more than 500 years ago:

[Sola fide is] the article with and by which the church stands, without which it falls. . . . Without [sola fide, “faith alone”] the world is utter death and darkness.[1]

Is it any wonder, then, why the next paragraph in our study of Romans 3, where the apostle Paul explains the doctrine of justification, is so important? These next few verses (verses 21-26) have been called by evangelical theologians the most important paragraph of Scripture in the book of Romans. Why? Because this paragraph explains that justification—being made right with God—is sola fide, by faith alone. These verses effectively unlock the gates of heaven.

Paul begins by grabbing our attention here in verse 21, where he writes, “But now.” Stop there for a moment. We could spend this entire session on those two words, “But now.” But . . . we won’t!

Have you ever thought about the significance of this little contrastive conjunction “but”—it can make all the difference in the world. Have you ever interviewed for a job, only to be told, “We like everything about your resume, but . . .”? Or, on the positive side, perhaps you have said, “The doctors told us we would never be able to have children, but . . .” Your personal testimony might say something like, “Most of my life I ran from God, but . . .”

For nearly three entire chapters of Romans, the apostle Paul has revealed the darkness of sin, the depth of human depravity, and the coming judgment of God—that no one is justified before God, no one is right with God, no one is good enough to ever hope to live forever with God. Paul even ended the previous verses by showing us all of sinful mankind standing before a holy God with no excuse, no defense, and no hope—only darkness and despair.

Oh, but now—but now—everything is going to change. Paul says, in effect, “Listen, everything I have said about sin and mankind and hopelessness and judgment is true, but now . . . ”

Yes, the darkness of sin has been declared, but now the deliverance of salvation is declared. Paul writes this in verse 21:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.

When Paul says God’s righteousness has been revealed “apart from the law,” he is saying, “This righteousness that I am about to describe has nothing to do with keeping the law.”

By the way, a person who thinks he is going to heaven because he has been a “good” person is deceived on two counts. First, he is deceived because he actually has not kept God’s law and just will not admit it; second, he is deceived because he does not realize that justification has nothing to do with being good.

It is not the righteousness of man that saves you; it is the righteousness of God. We have nothing to offer God but our sin. God has everything to give to us, and He begins by giving us His righteousness.

Paul says this is not really a new idea. This goes all the way back to the prophets; this gospel goes all the way back to Moses.

He writes in verse 21 that the “Law and the Prophets bear witness” to the manifestation of God’s righteousness. In other words, the truth of the gospel appeared in the Law. “Law,” or nomos in the Greek language, refers here to the Law of Moses, or the books of Moses. This is the Pentateuch, the books of the Law—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The “Prophets” refers to the rest of the Old Testament writings. So, together “the Law and the Prophets” refer to the entire Old Testament.[2]

The promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3:15, the system of sacrifices to cover sin throughout the Old Testament, the prophecy of the suffering Savior in Isaiah 53—it all bore witness to the truth of God’s righteousness and the need for a final sacrifice, which was accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.[3]

That is why Paul says here that the gospel is not new; it is actually the old, old story, as the hymnwriter put it. The Law and the Prophets promised salvation. They preached it; and through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God accomplished it.  

Now, not only has the deliverance been announced, but the Deliverer has been introduced. Romans 3:22 goes on to clarify that this is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Our hope is not in becoming righteous by ourselves but in placing our faith in Jesus Christ alone.

The apostle Peter preached the same gospel of faith in Christ, when he spoke these words in Acts 4:12:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The first thing you need to understand about salvation is that it is not something you do for God; it is something God’s Son has done for you. Salvation is not something you earn or merit by offering yourself to God; it is something you receive as a gift because Jesus offered Himself up for you.

We have broken God’s law, and we are without excuse. We will never be able to do enough good things to counterbalance the scales of our sinful thoughts and actions. We are all guilty before a holy God.

But—but now, there is hope for us hopeless people; there is pardon for us sinful people; there is grace for us guilty people. How? Sola fide – through faith alone. Or as Paul writes here, “Through faith in Jesus Christ.”

And when we place our faith in Christ alone, asking Him to become our Savior, He answers us. He gives us the gift of salvation, and the gates of heaven swing open for you and me. Beloved, this plan of salvation—this grace of God’s free gift through faith in Christ—is truly amazing!

We have been singing for centuries the lyrics written by a converted slave trader who never got over His amazement at the grace of God. John Newton wrote these words back in 1772:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.[4]

[1] Quoted in R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Baker Books, 1995), 67.

[2] See, for example, Matthew 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; John 1:45.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Right (Chariot Victor Publishing, 1977), 36-37.

[4] John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”

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