I am struggling to understand Sola Fide and am hoping you can help me in my attempt to gain a better understanding of it. I am clear on the “dictionary” definition of Sola Fide but where my confusion lies might be best captured in the following questions:
1. Is sola fide an essential element of the gospel?
Sola Fide means faith alone. What it means is that salvation is a gift from God and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Another way to say it is that we must believe that God is God and we are not. In that understanding we come to God, asking for his forgiveness and pardon. The pardon comes to us on the basis of Jesus’ death on our behalf. Sola fide says there is nothing, other than Jesus’ death, that can bring us to God by repairing the breach that our rebellion has created between us and God.
So, Sola Fide is essential to the Gospel because it explains how we can come to God. We come by faith alone. Only faith. Faith plus nothing.
When we add anything to that we make the gift less than a gift and insult the giver. In a very minor way it is the same as if you were to give a really expensive gift to your best friend, and in the gratitude process she thanked you by giving you a dirty little marble. And in giving it, she was really thinking that she was buying, earning, or showing her worthiness of receiving the gift from you. Of course the marble could never actually pay for the gift, it was really expensive, and unless she was a little girl and didn’t know any better, the “payment” would actually be an insult to your generosity.
This is what happens when we try to do anything to purchase or earn God’s favor. It also illustrates our plight when we try to become worthy of God’s gift to us. Instead of being worthy, we are only insulting the Lord of Glory. And we can never earn such a wonderful gift. It cost way too much for anyone to ever be able to earn it. It cost the Son of God his life. Grace is the only way we can be saved. And by grace through faith is how God designed it. His grace, our response of faith. Sola Gratia and Sola Fide.
2. If anyone rejects sola fide (and knows what they are saying) then have they rejected the gospel?
If they know what they are saying, yes. As I mentioned above, rejecting the gift of God by trying to earn it or pay for it insults God. The gift is much greater than the car in the illustration above, and the dirty marble is much less than the death of God’s only Son.
So rejecting Sola Fide, meaning they reject the gift of God, means they reject the Gospel, the good news that Salvation is given on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood.
3. Can Acts 15:5 be used as a passage that could teach that those that knowingly reject sola fide still be believers?
It isn’t clear from the text that these folks knowingly rejected Sola Fide. If they held on to their ideas after verse 11, they probably wouldn’t have been counted as believers.
I think what this text says is that this is all kinds of muddy at times. People come to Christ from particular backgrounds and they bring the baggage from whence they came along with the lenses through which they view life and Scriptures. People can be genuinely saved and not know it all. We need to give people time to grow and learn. Of course, we cannot let the fellowship of the saints fall apart while we wait. We always need to require that sin does not happen; bad feelings, anger, bitterness, bullying, etc. But love covers a multitude of sins for times like these.
In Acts 15 we find Jews who had come from the Sacrificial system in the Old Covenant into the Sacrifice of Jesus as the final sacrifice in the New Covenant. They also came from circumcision to baptism. Everything was new to them. So they spoke in a way that showed that they did not “get” it yet. But Peter gave his speech and they had a discussion and then they wrote a letter explaining how Jews were to think about the new Gentile converts and vise versa.
I hope this helps.