Application: Our Way of Life
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, whose understanding of Sola Fide we have taken as representative of the majority of Evangelical Protestants,25 and which has taken the brunt of the criticism in this essay, however, is for the most part correct when he asserts,
[T]he doctrine of justification is central. Not only is the article the standing or falling of the Church, but also of the standing or falling of the Christian. Probably more trouble is caused in the Christian life by an inadequate or mistaken view of this doctrine than any other. When the child of God loses his sense of peace with God, finds his concern for others dried up, or generally finds his sense of the sheer goodness and grace of God diminished, it is from this fountain that he has ceased to drink. Conversely, if we can gain a solid grounding here, we have the foundation for a life of peace and joy.26While he is himself guilty of perpetuating an erroneous understanding of Justification, foreign to the Gospel and contrary to St. Paul's teaching in Ephesians 2:1-10, Ferguson's claim that an erroneous or inadequate understanding of Justifcation will lead the Christian to lose his sense of peace, his concern for others, or his wonder at God's goodness, is indeed true.
As to the first effect, one who believes in Sola Fide may find he has a sense of peace, but it is a false peace based on a false premise. The falsehood cannot satisfy indefinitely. Scripture is too clear on the matter. Believing a false doctrine will lead to doubts and disillusionment.
As to the second effect, one who believes that his salvation is dependent upon his faith, without any need for good works born of love (cf. Gal 5:6), will indeed find his concern for his neighbour waning. Perhaps in a very good person, the grace of God will work so as to foster care and concern for others in spite of that person's erroneous understanding of Justification, but certainly not because of it. The temptation to sloth is far too strong, especially when there is no real motivation to overcome it.
As to the third effect, one must inquire as to which view of Justification presents a greater, more loving God—the one who merely imputes a foreign righteousness to the sinful person by means of a legal fiction, or the One who carefully and artistically recreates the sinful person in Christ Jesus, so that they, through grace, are infused with righteousness, in which they are enabled, by grace, to persevere until they themselves are seated with Christ in heaven?
The application of Ephesians 2:1-10 is clear: that in thanksgiving to God for His great grace in Christ Jesus, we must turn from our sinful ways with His help, and united with Christ, make the good works that God has prepared for us, a vital part of our way of life. And in light of the erroneous understanding of the doctrine of Justification, we must be willing to correct that error, proclaiming the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15), so that all people might have the opportunity to glory in the great riches of God's grace, and through faith in Jesus Christ, walk in that newness of life.
While Ephesians 2:8-9 have often been used, out of context, to put forth an erroneous view of Justification, it is clear that, when studied carefully in its context, the doctrine of Sola Fide is not actually taught by St. Paul. The truth of the matter is that God's grace is even more amazing than the Reformers realised. God Himself calls us to cooperate with Him in His artistic masterpiece of salvation!
25. Ascertaining a definitive understanding of Sola Fide that is applicable to all branches of Protestantism is nigh impossible, since the understanding of this “pillar” of the Reformation varies from denomination to denomination. Luther, for his part, believed a version of Sola Fide that was, in fact, very similar to the Catholic understanding, and the denomination that bears his name was able to sign a "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" with the Catholic Church in 1999. Those following the Calvinist tradition are themselves divided on issues of the depravity of man, and on whether the saved person can lose his or her salvation through sin, while those of an Arminian bent affirm that one can indeed lose one's salvation. Dr. Ferguson, as represented in Dr. Ankerberg and Dr. Weldon's article, in the opinion of this author, portrays the doctrine of Sola Fide in terms that line up with the most vocal, if not the largest, strains of Evangelical Protestantism.
26. As quoted in Ankerberg, Justification. Grammatical errors in Ankerberg's article are corrected for ease of understanding.
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Doctrine of Justification. http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/Salvation/Salvation%20PDF/salvation-justification.pdf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. New York: Image, 1994.
John Chrysostom, Saint, "Homily 4 on Ephesians", Church Fathers. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230104.htm.
Just, Felix, SJ, PhD, Eight Tips About Canonical Arrangement. http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT_Canon.htm#Arrangement.
Ladeuze, P., STD, "Epistle to the Ephesians", Bible Study: New Testament Books. http://www.veritasbible.com/resources/articles/Epistle_to_the_Ephesians.
New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992.
Pope, Hugh, OP, STM, "St. Paul's Epistles", Bible Study: New Testament. http://www.veritasbible.com/resources/articles/St._Paul%27s_Epistles.
Slick, Matthew J. "Total Depravity", Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. http://carm.org/dictionary-total-depravity.
Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Public Domain, 1868. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.
Thomas Aquinas, Saint, Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966. http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/Eph2.htm#3.
Thomas Aquinas, Saint, Summa Theologica. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2111.htm.
Wansbrough, Henry, gen. ed. The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
Watson, Gregory, "Council of Trent: Canons on Justification", Barque of Peter. http://barqueofpeter.blogspot.ca/2006/11/council-of-trent-canons-on.html.
(Category: Soteriology: Justification)