The Five Solas of The Protestant Reformation–Part 3a Faith Alone

Martin Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 strikes at the heart of Sola Fide (faith alone):  “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (NASB).   We should view Sola Fide through the lens of the theme, context, and allusion in Romans and concepts of righteous, faith, and salvation.

Theme and Context

The theme and context of Romans 1:1-17 involves God’s righteousness freely and openly available to both Jews and Gentiles.  Note that some translations replace “righteous man” with “the just.” In addition, the latter part of Romans 1:17 alludes to Habakkuk 2:4 as God reassures the prophet of the Jews’ deliverance from Babylonians:  “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” As Ronald Blue explains, “In contrast with the self-reliant, boastful ways of the unrighteous, the righteous are found to be reliant on God and faithful to Him.” 1


How is the term “righteous” used in Romans 1:17?  First, God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence uniquely qualify Him to justify or determine our righteousness (or lack thereof) because humanity’s sin nature prevents us from having right-standing before a Holy and Perfect God (Romans 2:23).  
Second, God declares believers’ righteousness because of their salvation. Witmer puts it this way: “To justify a person is to declare him forensically (legally) righteous.” 2   In this light, notice the legal language at the heart of righteousness: humanity is guilty of sin and deserves eternal death/separation from God because we are unable to keep the law of works.  We’re indebted to Christ who willingly paid the penalty of our sins by dying for us so God would view us as righteous according to His standards (Romans 5:1-21).
Third, God double-imputates believer’s righteousness.  What do I mean? Dr. Keith Mathison explains:  “The Reformers argued, therefore, in opposition to Rome’s idea of infusion for a doctrine of double imputation. To impute something means to reckon it legally. The doctrine of double imputation means that our sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness is imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21).” 3   Stated differently, Christ took on our unrighteousness so that we can be righteous before God.  This is no small matter.

When discussing Sola Fide, we must also clarify several types of righteousness.  Two broad categories of righteousness include righteousness coram mundo (righteousness in the eyes of the world) and righteousness coram deo (righteousness in the eyes of God).  The former involves a works-based righteousness that no one can sustain because of the power of sin whereas the latter involves faith-based righteousness everyone can experience through the power of God.   Lange and others take a different approach to explaining righteousness:  

1. God’s retributive righteousness or justice (now manifested in God’s condemnation of sin, shown in giving His Son to die for man’s sin on the cross—to induce thereby the believer to concur cordially in its condemnation in himself); 2. God’s justifying righteousness (now manifested in Christ’s exhibiting in the character of man a perfect righteousness—imputable to and appropriable by the believer, for his pardon and acceptance with God); 3. God’s sanctifying, righteousness (also manifested in Christ as “the Lord our righteousness,” changing the believer’s heart the moment he is united by faith to Christ, and progressively mortifying within him all sin, and imparting eventually to him universal righteousness—appropriable in like manner through faith by the believer).  4

Here, it’s clear that the righteousness of God stems from His holiness and sinlessness but the righteousness of man stems from unholiness and sin.  For more on this subject, I encourage you to read Justin Taylor’s article: What Does Paul Mean by “the Righteousness of God”?

I will discuss the interrelationship among faith, righteousness, and salvation in my next blog.
1  Blue, J. Ronald. “Habakkuk.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 1513. Print.
2  Witmer, John A. “Romans.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Vol. 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 441. Print.
3  Mathison, Nathan. “The Five Solas.” The Five Solas, Reformation Bible College, 12 Dec. 2017,
4  Lange, John Peter et al. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Print.

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