Many readers will no doubt be familiar with the above title. They might recognize it as the name of a song by singer/actress Tina Turner. But this phrase is also the title of Catholic apologist John Martignoni’s Newsletter #353. This newsletter is actually Part 2 of his theme, “Problems with Protestantism,” and it can be found here:
In this particular newsletter, John attempts to deal with the doctrine of Sola Fide (salvation by “Faith Alone”). John’s whole theme in this newsletter is the question of the role of love in salvation.
“In Protestant theology, one of the two main dogmas is Sola Fide - salvation by faith ALONE! That is the belief that all I have to do is believe that Jesus is God incarnate and that He died on the Cross for my sins and - BOOM! - I'm saved. I don't have to do any works. I don't have to be baptized. I don't have to worry about sacraments or growing in holiness or anything else. All I have to do...the only thing I have to do...the only thing I can do that counts for anything...is to have faith. I am saved by my faith, and by my faith alone, period!”
Ok, I must say that John Martignoni goes out of his way to mischaracterize this doctrine, as I’ve seen him do before. But the truth is, he knows better! No doubt John has spoken to many Protestants about this topic and he has heard many of the arguments for it. So this is not at all new to him. But let’s break his comments down a little.
Notice that he says that a person who believes in Sola Fide does not have to do any works or be baptized. He says that the person doesn’t have to grow in holiness – only have faith.
Yes, getting saved/justified is the beginning of a person’s spiritual journey. But John makes it sound like this person can choose to never, ever do works, get baptized or grow in holiness! This is an utter misrepresentation of Sola Fide and John Martignoni knows this.
Please hear me on this: Sola Fide means that a person gets saved/justified by faith, through God changing his heart. Salvation is caused by faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross APART FROM THE MERIT OF OUR OWN WORK. Protestants don’t hate good works nor do they try to avoid them. John knows well that Protestants will, and gladly do, perform good works. But these works are done because we are ALREADY saved/justified at this point, by God giving us a new heart. It is this faith, this trusting Him alone that saves us, not works, sacraments, or rituals.
How Does Love Fit In?
Now, John is basically asking, “But what about love? Don’t we find love anywhere in this equation when a person gets saved?”
Again, Sola Fide is about denying the merit of good works to cause salvation. It doesn’t say that you won’t afterward do any works, or mandate that you can’t have any feelings of love, joy, peace, thankfulness or desire to serve God. This is John’s faulty definition, his misrepresentation of “Faith Alone”: He’s trying to say that in Sola Fide, only faith can exist and absolutely nothing else! But this is not Sola Fide.
According to his faulty reasoning, he states:
“If we are saved by faith, and faith alone, then love has absolutely nothing to do with our salvation.”
Not so, John. Every true Christian exhibits love. Love toward God and love toward his fellow man. But according to Scripture, it is his faith, his trust in God that saves him (Ephesians 2:8-10).
But You Gotta Have Love!
John Martignoni goes on, using Scripture, to tell us the great importance of love (as though we Protestants didn’t think it was important). He goes on a ridiculous rant to try to convince people that we MUST love. Well, of course we do, John! Nobody’s denying that. But the Bible tells us very clearly, over and over, that the medium that God continually used over the centuries to cause salvation is faith (Romans 4:1-3). Of course, we’ll exercise love toward God and man. But John is attempting to say that our love (i.e., through our actions/works) is necessary to save us.
But no, it is through faith in GOD’S love that saves us, not our own. We cannot possibly love in the perfect way that God loves, since we are sinful creatures who so often fall short in our walk with God. And that is exactly why NONE of our works can save us. Sola Fide believers are not against love or any other fruit of the Spirit.
Our good works are beautiful in the eyes of God… UNLESS we are trying to use them to accomplish our salvation! Then, they are loathsome in His eyes (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10) and they disqualify us from salvation (Romans 4:4-5). Sola Fide is an acknowledgment that our puny works are insufficient to save. Nothing we do can compare with His work on the cross. That’s why God basically says, “Let this, and this alone, save you. And quit trying to add your tainted works to the equation” (Galatians 3:1-3). Catholics actually believe in faith plus works. But salvation/justification is either all Jesus’ work, or it is not of Jesus at all.
John goes on to say:
"For God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life," (John 3:16). Awesome! God loves me. He loves me so much that I don't have to do a thing...not one thing...other than believe in Him...and I am saved. He loves me, but I don't have to love Him, and I am still saved. I can sin all I want, and as long as I have accepted Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior, I'm saved. And who was it that said the road to salvation is narrow and difficult? Silly rabbit...no it's not...it's pretty easy actually.”
John continues to mock this biblical doctrine and suggests that “I can sin all I want” and still be saved. This is an utter perversion of Sola Fide. No valid biblical argument is saying that we can continually sin to our heart’s desire without repentance and still be saved (Hebrews 10:26-29). The person who is truly saved will not want to sin, knowing that sin grieves our Lord.
Interestingly, John’s description of the Sola Fide believer in his newsletter happens in the Catholic Church, as well! For example, in the confessional, many believe you can flippantly say three ‘Hail Marys’ and you are absolved of all your sin. You might object that any person who flippantly says the prayers of the sacrament of penance is not a true Catholic. But that’s exactly my point! Likewise, no truly saved person will say that he can purposely sin all he wants without repenting and still be saved. What John is talking about is a person who has had a false conversion.
But both of these scenarios are unbiblical! The Catholic mindlessly repeating canned prayers (Matthew 6:7-8) to get right with God is just as futile as the Protestant mindlessly quoting some form of “sinner’s prayer,” but intending to continue living in sin (1 Timothy 5:20; 1 John 3:6, 9).
“Now, someone might say, ‘John, you're being ridiculous. That's not what Sola Fide folks believe.’ First point in response, it is actually what a number of them believe.”
Maybe so, John, but these are not mainstream. And even if they were – even if most people believed it – that still wouldn’t make it right. The “sin-as-much-as-you-want” mentality is obviously wrong and unbiblical. But the misuse or misunderstanding of Sola Fide by some people does not negate its truth.
You may complain that Protestants don’t have a “fixed” or “authoritative” definition of the term, and then dismiss all Sola Fide arguments based on the one you choose to attack. But that’s dishonest. If you want to tear down those non-mainstream arguments, then that’s fine, but don’t pretend that you have disproved the doctrine when you do that.
John says that his statements, his reasoning and examples of Sola Fide in this newsletter are the logical consequence of the doctrine. No, John, neither the Bible nor the doctrine of Sola Fide says that freely and purposely continuing to sin has no impact on your salvation (Hebrews 3:12-13)! Again, you are misrepresenting Sola Fide.
James Settles It
He goes on:
“One final matter: Someone might say, "Well, if you don't love the Lord, or do the works of the Lord, then that means you haven't really accepted Him into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior." My response: Really?! Where does the Bible tell me such a thing?”
Concerning us doing the works of the Lord, yes, saved people certainly will. Of course, it is not in those exact words, but James 2:18 expresses that same concept – a person’s salvation is shown/demonstrated by his works:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; SHOW ME your faith without the works, and I will SHOW YOU my faith by my works.” (Emphasis added)
See that, John? Your works demonstrate the reality of your faith. That whole context in James chapter 2 confirms this fact. So, your argument is with James!
Now, James’ point was not that works are absolute proof of salvation (because even atheists can do “good” works), but rather his point is, if you really are saved, you will have some good works to show for it.
“Furthermore, how many works do I have to do to ‘prove’ that I have truly accepted Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior? 10? 20? 5 years worth? 10 years worth? How many works does it take to ‘prove’ that you're saved?”
Of course, there is no precise number of works that will absolutely “prove” that one is actually saved. And of course, there is no totally foolproof test, since only God knows your neighbor’s heart perfectly. But we can have a pretty good idea if he is saved or not, by his works, as James said above.
Furthermore, I could turn the tables on John and ask him, “If good works contribute to one’s salvation, as the Catholic Church’s teachings insist, how many good works must one do to be saved? Exactly where is the threshold?”
There really is no answer to either of our questions, but my question here is based on a scriptural concept (that works cannot save you). But John’s question is based on an unbiblical concept (that works don’t demonstrate you are saved). It is indeed important to know if a person is saved, so if works don’t show that you are saved, then by what biblical measure can you tell if someone is saved or not?
Actually, the Catholic Church teaches that (without a revelation) a Catholic can never really know if he will be saved, because that would be the sin of presumption (CCC #2092). So, according to this, no matter how many good works are done, I guess that no Catholic can assume that any other Catholic is saved, can he? You see, John, your question cuts both ways.
Ok, John knows what Sola Fide is really all about, but he has resorted to nit-picking the less-than-perfect NAME of the doctrine so that it will appear foolish. The term “Faith Alone” may not be precise, but he knows what it really means.
So maybe the term “Faith Alone” is not a perfect name, so what? Here is an excerpt from one of my previous articles on Sola Fide:
“First off, we want to say that the term ‘faith alone’ is not a perfectly accurate term, in the sense that faith is not the only thing present at the moment of conversion. Along with faith, there will certainly be joy, thankfulness, sorrow for one’s sins, a love for God and a willingness to serve Him, etc. A similar (imperfect) expression would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church saying that ‘Christ alone’ teaches us (CCC #427), yet the Catholic Church (as well as every other church) also has human teachers. Another example is the phrase ‘salvation comes from God alone’ (CCC #169), yet Catholics will argue that the Church certainly has a part in it. Just as these Catholic phrases are not precise, so it is with the phrase ‘faith alone.’ The focus of the term “faith alone” is on the absence of WORK done in attempting to make Heaven.”
See that article here:
The word “alone” in “Faith Alone” is simply meant to deny any saving merit of our works – it is not to suggest the absence of love or any of the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, man’s works are never a cause of salvation, but rather a sign that he has already been saved.
It is important to understand that good works don’t save you at ANY point of your spiritual journey – beginning, middle or end (Galatians 3:1-3). But if you continue in faith till the end, your works will bring you rewards in Heaven. Faith is about salvation itself and works are about rewards.
Salvation – what does love have to do with it? Love is a vital ingredient in the life of the Christian. It should be embraced and used throughout his spiritual journey. But the love and works that man expresses is not what saves us (Romans 4:4-5; Titus 3:5).