Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, sola fide (faith alone) has been the primary doctrine defining the difference between the message of Roman Catholicism and the evangelical gospel. According to Roman Catholic Theology, a person is justified by the grace that is infused or “poured into him” in the sacrament of baptism. At baptism one receives sacerdotal regeneration; that is, he is born again through the sacrament and is infused with Christ’s righteousness. Catholic theology agrees with the Scripture’s teaching of the need for Justification on the basis of faith. They believe this requirement is met in Baptism, which is considered the sacrament of faith; as such, faith is the beginning, root, and foundation for justification. In the baptized infant, grace is conferred to the individual making him or her inwardly just as a result of divine mercy. According to Rome, this justification can be lost by “grace-killing” deeds referred to as mortal sins. Sins such as neglecting the faith, murder, adultery, and habitually missing mass, result in a cutting off of the transgressor from the grace of Christ, even though their initial Baptism is supposed to have conferred genuine saving faith. The consequence of such sins can be reversed by the sacrament of penance (confession to a priest). In the end, Rome teaches that one can possess true regenerating faith, but that faith might not be a justifying faith, if the impenitent sinner has committed a mortal sin which is left unconfessed.
Also, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification occurs only as the baptized individual cooperates with the grace infused into him at baptism. So that in order for one to be declared just by God, one must in fact act justly, by acting upon their infused grace. Rome does teach that in the justified person, the infusion of grace and power always proceeds, accompanies, and follows good works, and that good works are not possible apart from such grace; however, even though they would consider a Catholic’s good works as having been wrought in God, it is nevertheless, these very good works that merit the individual to attain eternal life; so, faith-based works then become a determining requirement for the justification of a sinner. As such sola fide is demolished! Whereas, Romans 3:28 says quite clearly: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Sola Fide remains under attack to this very day. Even under the heading of Reformed theology, pastors and churches are defecting from the evangelical gospel and turning back in the direction of Rome through a theology that is referred to as either “Federal Vision,” “Auburn Avenue,” or “New Perspective on Paul.” This theology confuses the works of the Christian, which are the fruit of genuine saving faith, with the works, that this belief teaches, are required in order for one to be saved. They deny that Christ’s righteousness is imputed or credited to the account of those who believe in Him. This despite the clear teaching of 2 Cor 5:21: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Nowhere does the Scripture teach infusion; it does however, often teach imputation (Rom 4:1-8, Gal 3:10-14). Grace is not merely a force that helps us to be saved, as infusion suggests, but it is the power of God which actually achieves salvation. Different from Rome, the evangelical gospel teaches that grace is not infused by imputed. These ideas are diametrically opposed to each other. Imputation means to be counted as righteous because of an external source – that an alien righteousness, namely that of Jesus Christ, who alone kept the law perfectly, is credit to us by faith. The righteousness that is required for salvation then is Christ’s righteousness, which we who are in Christ, are clothed in, and can rest upon. It cannot be added to or taken away from, for it is a perfect righteousness; the very righteousness that is required by the law for one to be saved, is met by Christ’s perfect obedient life and death. One cannot be saved by both: an internal righteousness infused at baptism and lived out in life, as Rome teaches, and an alien righteousness, imputed to the Christian in the New Covenant, as part of the new creation and new heart. These two ideologies are irreconcilable!
Recently R.C. Sproul succinctly and profoundly said, “If you don’t have imputation, you don’t have sola fide, and if you don’t have sola fide, you don’t have the gospel.” Rome does not teach imputation, and therefore does not teach the gospel, but teaches another gospel that is no gospel at all. Eternity lies in the balance in understanding this. Not that one is saved by the understanding of this doctrine – one is saved by faith alone in Christ alone; however if one fails to understand imputation, they will end up believing that there is something within them that merits eternal life, thus nullifying the need for Christ’s work on the cross.