Updated: Aug 22, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Protestant-Christians (Lutherans, Baptists, etc.) who have split from Catholicism (stemming from Martin Luther in the 1500's AD) believe that, to make it into Heaven, all that one needs is faith in Jesus. This was a novel teaching with practically zero basis in Christian history. The Protestants who followed Luther disagreed with Catholicism on the Catholic understanding of salvation from sin. Salvation, according to Catholics, is received through belief in Christ, but is maintained by love (good works). The Protestants protested this teaching, and followed Luther's battle cry of "Sola Fide," which was Latin for "Faith Alone!" Eternal life in Heaven is received only on the basis of faith for Protestant-Christians.
The followers of Luther today derive this teaching from a misinterpretation of Scripture. One principal text cited by them is John 3:16, which says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that those who believe in him might not perish, but have eternal life." Protestants have believed since the 1500's that it is faith alone in Christ that grants salvation. They will also quote St. Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians, particularly Romans 3:28, 4:5 and Galatians 2:16, 3:10. In these particular verses, which are analyzed in other articles, Paul draws a contrast between faith (which is good) and works of the Law (which are bad). Protestants believe that they hold St. Paul's teaching of salvation by faith, whereas Catholics hold to the condemned view of salvation by works of the Law.
Protestants misunderstand these passages from Scripture. Scripture frequently speaks of salvation by faith because faith is used in a general sense that includes the notion of acts of love. As Galatians 5:6 says, salvation is by "faith working in love." Catholic teaching is the truly Biblical one. St. Paul condemns salvation by "works of the Law" because Judaism practiced salvation by "works of the Law." The Mosaic Covenant said that one had to follow the 613 commandments from the Old Testament to reach eternal life. Paul condemns that notion of salvation, which included commandments to avoid shellfish and circumcise infants. Scripture emphasizes salvation by faith, but never says "faith alone."
Protestant-Christianity possesses a false understanding of salvation. They follow Martin Luther, who was condemned as a heretic in 1521 AD by Pope Leo X. Heaven is reached by a living faith in Jesus that expresses itself in acts of love. The very Greek word used for "faith" in the New Testament can also be translated as "faithfulness." Christians need to be faithful to Christ's teachings and not simply have a mental faith. To divorce faith from works like Protestants is an unbiblical idea. As James 2:24 says, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."